Venture Out of Boredom (Chapter 4)

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Venture Out Of Boredom
Chapter 4

Hyacinthe blinks, and the white cogs disappear.

His heart is beating in his throat, almost suffocating in its intensity; around him the room is spinning because of all the blood rushing to his head, and soon enough he starts seeing things again—shadows and dark spots, like bugs flying around—before he realizes that he’s not breathing at all.

He exhales once, too loudly. Reborn and the others are looking at him with very different expressions. Sawada is suspicious, Reborn is indifferent, Fon is… something.

Colonello looks concerned.

“You alright, pal?” he says.

Colonello doesn’t seem to know whether to address Hyacinthe as man or lady, and Hyacinthe is too old to be called kid, now. It’s a little funny. Hyacinthe giggles, light-headed. “I’m fine,” he says breezily. “Do go on.”

It takes a long time for Sawada to do so. His eyes are shining with disgust and animosity and a stronger glaze of alcohol. Hyacinthe can smell the sake on him from where he’s sitting. Finally, Sawada speaks again, something about half-rings and Xanxus’s long-lasting rebellious behavior that he took care to talk to Nono about, of course, Nono just didn’t listen.

Hyacinthe thinks back to the vision with nausea rolling around his stomach. It isn’t anything like the small-fry type of hallucinations he gets when he’s tired or through sleep paralysis. The ones he’s seeing right now. He’s never heard anything before.

He’s too old to develop schizophrenia, right? Or maybe he isn’t. Hyacinthe hasn’t seen a psychiatrist since he was nineteen, and he’d stopped obsessively diagnosing himself with every disease known to man around that time, too. He thinks he can remember reading about twenties to thirties when it comes to schizophrenia—not too old then. Perfectly in the range. He can’t be sure until he checks.

Great, he thinks, fingers twitching in his lap. He feels overheated, his leggings sticking to him unbearably. He wants to run upstairs and take off his clothes and steal the smaller bathroom for himself for an hour-long shower.

“Reborn,” Sawada is saying now, “I need you to tell me who you’ve selected to be Tsuna’s Guardians.”

“Sure,” Reborn answers, finger stroking the handle of his cup. “One of them is Mukuro.”

Hyacinthe doesn’t know who Mukuro is. Neither do Colonello or Fon, apparently. But Sawada’s face turns crimson, like he’s just bitten into hot pepper, and the “What?” that escapes his lips is nothing but seething.

“Illusionists are a luxury nowadays, especially good ones,” Reborn smirks. “And Mukuro is more than just good.”

“We don’t need an illusionist for the job! Mukuro wants to destroy Vongola!”

“Of course he does,” Hyacinthe mutters, and in front of him, Fon smiles.

“Illusionists are tricky,” he replies mildly. These are the first words he’s uttered since introducing himself. “But they are fascinating people. And not someone you want facing you.”

Tsuna is screwed, then, Hyacinthe thinks. There’s no way Mammon will turn against the Varia.

“Tsuna has already beaten Mukuro once,” Reborn says, as if reading his thoughts. “He can do it again. I’ve already worked out a deal with Mukuro in Vindice.”

“He’s in Vindice?” Hyacinthe asks.

Reborn sips his coffee, which has been mysteriously refilled. “Mukuro will never be physically present by Tsuna’s side,” he tells Sawada. “He’s got an ally that he can use to help. I’ve already done the necessary in case the present situation ever occurred.”

Reborn uncrosses his legs and bends forward over the table, the tip of his hat shadowing his eyes. Leon crawls up his arm and nestles in his neck, yellow eyes flicking open and close. It’s hard to remember that Reborn is mostly made of bullshit when he looks this serious and well-dressed.

“Xanxus will want a battle to decide the heir and Guardians,” he declares. “Most likely one-on-one, so he gets to watch Tsuna despair as all his allies crumble before his turn is even there. It doesn’t even matter to him if his allies win or lose—he’ll kill Tsuna, and take all the rings for himself anyway. Xanxus doesn’t play fair.”

Neither does Belphegor. Or Mammon, who has the soul of a cheater, over and over again.

Thinking about Mammon isn’t really helping.

“Gokudera will be Tsuna’s Storm,” Reborn adds, raising one long finger. “Yamamoto is about perfect for Rain. Sasagawa Ryohei will make a good Sun—Colonello, you’ll get along with him. He’s an idiot.” Hyacinthe feels too tired to find Colonello’s cry of rage funny. “Mukuro will be Mist, Lambo will be Lightning—”

“Lambo,” Hyacinthe cuts in.

Reborn’s eyes are hidden in the shadow, but Hyacinthe knows he’s looking at him. “Yes,” he replies.

“Lambo is five years old,” Hyacinthe says. “All of Varia is made of adults—of assassins! Lambo can’t defend himself from that! A great majority of adults can’t defend themselves from that either!”

“This isn’t for you to discuss, Faure,” Sawada barks.

Hyacinthe gives him the arm, middle finger extended so high up that his knuckles ache. “Shut the fuck up,” he spits. All of his body feels white-hot with anger. He doesn’t wait for Sawada’s reaction to his insubordination and turns his head back toward Reborn. “You’re not assigning a five-year-old to a death match against one of Xanxus’s sbires.”

His tone is final.

“Faure,” Sawada growls, and his tone makes the small hairs at the base of Hyacinthe’s nape stand upright. “If it were in my power, you would be groveling for forgiveness right now.”

There’s a moment of silence. Hyacinthe is still seeing bugs, his temples still buzzing with adrenaline and anxiety, his thoughts occupied by the worry that he really is unlocking another level of screwed-in-the-head.

It doesn’t matter. Hyacinthe knows the Ninth wouldn’t allow a child who can’t even read to take any part in combat against the Family’s elite assassins.

Reborn huffs, and his lips stretch into a satisfied smile. “It’s not in your power, though,” he tells Sawada. His head lifts, and his piercing black eyes meet Hyacinthe’s under the brim of his hat. “Only the Boss can fire the Archivist. Isn’t that right, Hyacinthe Faure.”

Hyacinthe frowns. “That’s right,” he replies. “But what does this have to do with—”

“I’d say the man has some measure of input to give on the situation, then,” Reborn continues. “As an important member of the Family. His position is prestigious—just as much as the Consigliere’s.” Sawada makes an ugly noise at that. “So tell us. Who would you have as Tsuna’s Lightning Guardian?”

Right above his head, and right above Sawada’s, the cogs come back.

It’s all Hyacinthe can do not to faint right there and then. His fingers grip the hard edge of the table, nails digging into the wood until they start hurting; but the white cogs are there, encased with each other, and the men under them turn gold once more.

No one else seems to notice them. Not even Reborn. They all look at Hyacinthe in expectation, and Hyacinthe is tense enough that the brush of a feather would topple him sideways or back, he thinks. He’s waiting for the voice to speak again.

It doesn’t. Eventually he has to answer—Reborn’s forehead is creasing, not in worry, but in irritation. “I don’t know,” Hyacinthe admits. “They’re all kids. Aren’t there any adults in the Family who can take care of it? They shouldn’t have to fight at all.”

He’s been restraining himself from saying it this entire time, but he can’t anymore. The fact that the house is so silent except for them—knowing that Tsuna is recovering from injuries he probably would never have suffered if it weren’t for the men sitting around this table—all of it stings at whatever’s left of his conscience, pulls him forward, swims awkwardly through every fear in him.

The cogs creak, making his heart jump in his chest. They aren’t moving, but they look ready to. Golden filaments link them to Sawada, to Reborn, and to each other. The filaments expand and grow, neither liquid nor gas, crawling out of the men’s chests and heading toward Hyacinthe’s. Toward the key he keeps around his neck. When they touch it, Hyacinthe’s body turns gold as well.

He has to struggle not to gasp, not to raise his hands and observe how metal-like he looks and doesn’t look. It isn’t paint and it isn’t fabric. It’s as though his skin itself is shimmering in the white light.

“He isn’t wrong,” Colonello says, unaware as they all are of what Hyacinthe is seeing. “Maybe he could be Tsuna’s Guardian, rather than the kid.”

“He can’t,” Sawada answers. “If the Ninth could’ve gotten one of his Guardians to take care of the Archives, he would have. But there’s an old rule about that for some reason. Can’t Guardian and Archivist. Apparently the rings and the key cancel each other out.”

“He doesn’t look very sturdy anyway,” Fon adds, eyes fixed onto Hyacinthe.

“Aren’t you the one who picked the weakest girl you could find to be your disciple?”

All of their voices sound faint and faraway. The more Hyacinthe waits, the more the world around fades, until it’s only himself, Sawada, and Reborn, standing gold-on-white, the cogs looking ready to burst.

“Haru,” Hyacinthe says.

The world comes back.

“Miura Haru?” Reborn asks him.

And Hyacinthe wants to say no, because Haru is a kid as well—but something inside him knows. Something, someone, is whispering the words in his mind, and all of him agrees with them. “Yes,” he says, against his will, lips moving despite his best efforts to keep them shut, “make her the Lightning Guardian.”

The cogs click, rotating clockwise for only a second. Then they vanish. The gold bleeds out of Reborn and Sawada’s skins, the liquid-gas strings linking them to Hyacinthe turn to dust and then to nothing, and Hyacinthe breathes in.

He stands up. Wobbles. Catches himself on the table, his skin back to its normal shade of sickly beige. There’s sweat running down his back and his knees are weak. “I’ll be right back,” he tries to say in as neutral a voice as he can make it.

He manages two steps before his legs give out.

He doesn’t even care. The exhaustion is so profound and absolute that he knows he’ll pass out before hitting the floor and probably not wake up until noon the next day; but there’s someone by his side before he can touch his knees to the floor, catching him around the middle, linking an arm around their shoulders.

They smell familiar.

“You don’t look too hot,” Fon murmurs, his cold breath touching Hyacinthe’s neck. “And I mean that both figuratively and literally.”

“Dude,” Colonello is saying from Hyacinthe’s other side. It seems he didn’t get there as fast as Fon did. “What’s up with… Er.”

“Him,” Hyacinthe mumbles. “Or whatever. I don’t give a shit right now.”

“Let’s get you some tea,” Fon offers.

“Fuck off.”

The other smiles, and helps him forward.

It’s a bit infuriating, really. Fon is about a head shorter than Hyacinthe, for once—taller than Mammon, but not by much. His clothes are deceptively loose, too, because what Hyacinthe feels when grabbing the man’s upper arm is nothing but muscle under tense skin, powerful even when unused. Mostly, though, Fon has done nothing all evening but look at Hyacinthe like he’s privy to the funniest joke he’s ever seen.

Hyacinthe lets go of him as soon as the door to the kitchen is open and stumbles his way to the small table there on his own. Nana is gone, probably upstairs to see how Tsuna is doing; and Hyacinthe’s stomach is churning, thinking about how Tsuna must be doing, after being attacked by Squalo.

“You’re a bit weak-willed,” Fon comments from the counter. Hyacinthe glances in his direction and sees him put some water up to boil and rummaging through the drawers, looking for tea. “Understandably so, considering your job, but it makes me all the more curious as to why Reborn gives you the time of the day.”

“He doesn’t,” Hyacinthe replies. “He just thinks I’m funny because I think his ass is the eighth wonder of the world.”

Fon laughs loudly. Hyacinthe knows his face is too hot and too red, but he still glares at the other for it. It seems that Fon really is the cherry on top of the cake of assholes today.

Fon drags a second chair away from the table with his foot and sits down, the movements so fluid that Hyacinthe barely has time to register them.

“I can see the appeal,” he says conversationally, resting his chin on his fist. “His personality makes the package a bit hard to find enticing, though.”

Hyacinthe squints at him. “What are you playing at?”

“What do you mean?”

“This,” and Hyacinthe points to the tea and the table and the door, which Fon has closed as soon as they came in, as if to give Hyacinthe privacy. He’s still so tired that holding up his arm is very difficult. “You’ve been making snide comments at me all evening. Looking at me like I’m doing stand-up comedy. What the fuck is your problem?”

Fon’s lips stretch into a smile. He still smells familiar, somehow; a burnt, strong scent, one that Hyacinthe knows he’ll feel at the back of his throat if he breathes it in for too long—but not unpleasant. Almost sweet. It isn’t food and it isn’t flowers. Not wood…

“Cen, was it?” he says lowly, interrupting his thoughts, and Hyacinthe sneers.

Hyacinthe is good enough for you.”

“Fine, then. I’m not planning anything with you.” He seems sincere enough. “I don’t even care about you, really. You just remind me of someone I know.”

It’s impossible to judge from his tone alone if this is a good or a bad thing.

Hyacinthe doesn’t have time to find a way to answer, because Colonello barges into the room with a bang, apparently deciding to forego the door’s handle and just kick it open with his foot instead.

“This is someone’s house, you know,” Fon points out, already standing up, looking like he hasn’t just had a faintly hostile conversation with anyone.

“Door’s fine,” Colonello replies. “Lal said she hired the engineers who built the place herself.”

“Explains how Reborn has been able to stay here for so long.”

“Anyway!” And Colonello shoves his index finger into Fon’s face, almost close and fast enough to make him lose an eye. Fon doesn’t blink or move away. “Are you gonna be okay, man?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“It’s the Varia. The VariaViper’s gonna be there.”

Fon’s hand comes up, wrapping itself around Colonello’s wrist gently. Hyacinthe can’t tell if this declaration has made any difference for Fon, but Colonello looks both excited and worried.

“I’m not involved,” Fon says evenly. “I came here because Reborn informed me that my pupil might be in danger, that’s all.”

“Like I’m gonna believe that.”

“Believe what you want, Colonello. I trust your impeccable instincts.”

“I know this is sarcasm, but I’ll let it slide,” Colonello says, a charming smirk on his lips. Hyacinthe’s heart isn’t tired enough that it doesn’t flutter at the sight of it. “Still, this is amazing, isn’t it? Four of us together. It’s been a while.”

“Am I bothering you?” Hyacinthe throws in.

“Yes,” Fon says, at the same time as Colonello replies, “Sorry, Faure. How are you feeling?”

“Oh, You know. Fucked up.”

Colonello nods, understanding.

The kettle starts whistling. Fon’s body moves to the counter, still in the same fluid way that seems to leave an afterimage behind and that makes Hyacinthe question if he doesn’t need glasses, too, on top of everything else.

Fon sets a mug full of green tea in front of him only a blink later. It’s the only thing that makes Hyacinthe realize he’s lost a few minutes in the meantime. Colonello is sitting at the table now, the ridiculous eagle from earlier sitting atop his shoulder, and—there’s a monkey.

A very small monkey. It’s sitting in a chair too, right next to Hyacinthe.

“Hello,” he says to it, because he’s too tired to make sense of anything. His back is a solid wall of pain.

The monkey nods, as if to return the greeting, and Hyacinthe takes a scalding sip of tea with his heart beating in his throat, wondering if he’s hallucinating this as well.

“Her name is Lichi,” Fon says. His fingers come up to rest on top of the monkey’s head, scratching her scalp. “So, what did they decide about the Lightning Guardian, in the end?” These words are addressed to Colonello.

“Oh. I think Reborn insisted on that Miura girl after you both left.”

“She’s going to die because of me,” Hyacinthe mumbles into the cup. His tongue is burning.

“Most likely,” Fon agrees. “She might have a better chance than that Lambo boy, though.”

Yeah. Like sending a fly instead of an ant to battle an elephant.

Hyacinthe’s phone buzzes loudly in his jacket. He almost doesn’t take it out at all. All he wants now is to focus on climbing up the stairs so he can crash into bed and not wake up for twelve hours. Not have to think about the white cogs and the voice and the irresistible force inside him that made him say Haru’s name. Just—not think at all.

But a lifetime of habit makes him take out the device anyway, and then it’s Mammon’s name on the screen that shoots through him like electricity, jumping him awake. He opens the text with shaky fingers.

Go back home immediately. Please. That’s all the message says.

Hyacinthe isn’t too tired to feel truly angry, after all.

Go back home yourself, he texts back. Better yet, convince your boss not to take out a bunch of teenagers! How about that!

I can’t fucking do that, Mammon replies.

I can’t leave either! I still don’t have the book!

Hyacinthe can feel Colonello, Fon, and both the eagle and the monkey looking at him. He swears under his breathe and stands up, pushing away the dishonest offer for help that Fon gives him and wobbling out of the kitchen.

Sawada and Reborn aren’t in the living-room anymore. Hyacinthe keeps close to the wall, most of his weight resting against it as he makes his way to the stairs and then up. The railing is easier to use as a crutch but he still feels every single one of his muscles scream. He hasn’t felt this sore since the one and only time he tried to take up cardio.

Hyacinthe bypasses Tsuna’s room without stopping and despite the low voices he can hear inside. The guest bedroom he’s occupying is thankfully free of children and well-disguised hitmen, and for the first time since he’s been here, he pushes the lock down behind him as he enters.

Then he calls Mammon. They pick up after only two seconds.

“I can’t talk to you right now,” they say curtly.

“What the fuck is going on!” Hyacinthe whispers furiously. “Mammon! What the shit is happening? What are you doing?”

“Isn’t it obvious, books-for-brain? We’re leading a coup.”

Hyacinthe knows that. He’s known since Squalo’s name escaped Reborn’s lips. And he’s seen Xanxus around, however distantly. No one who meets the man could ignore the depth of his bitterness, anger, ambition.

Hyacinthe knows that Xanxus is rumored to have already tried a coup, once, eight years ago. He’s never been able to access those files in the Archives. They bear the Ninth’s seal, just like Reborn’s does.

He swallows. “Is that what you meant when you said you’d be busy for a few months?” he asks.

Mammon is so quiet for a moment that Hyacinthe thinks they might have hung up on him, but they do reply, very softly. “You remember the weirdest things.”

“You haven’t talked to me in ages,” Hyacinthe says. He rubs a hand over his face and feels the cold stickiness of old sweat on his forehead. He feels disgusting. The day’s rain has made the atmosphere heavy, almost unbreathable. “I was worried. And tonight when I got back, I got told that Squalo tried to kill the kid whose house I’m staying at, and that apparently, the entire Varia is out for our skins.”

“Squalo is an idiot,” Mammon says, switching to Italian. Who the fuck are you talking about? comes Squalo’s voice in the background, and Hyacinthe can’t help but smile, however little he wants to. “Belphegor, too. No one’s supposed to make contact with Sawada Tsunayoshi and his allies until Xanxus tells us to.”

“Oh well, then I’m fucking relieved.”

Hyacinthe’s legs can’t hold him up any longer. He crawls along the wall until he reaches the bed and lets himself fall on it. The thing creaks menacingly under his weight.

“Xanxus isn’t going to kill you,” Mammon offers to the silence. “He doesn’t even know you’re here. Just go back home and keep your head down once he’s Tenth. He knows I know you, he won’t harm you if you don’t do anything stupid.”

Hyacinthe’s heart is still beating too fast in his chest. His throat feels sore with the inexplicable urge to cry, and it’s only because he wipes the wetness out of his eyes first that he doesn’t sob outright. “You know I’m not gonna do that. I can’t—they’re kids. They’re just kids. They’re not even in high school.” And he’s nominated one of them to die.

He can’t leave, now. Not just for the archive Reborn stole.

Mammon makes a disinterested noise. “They shouldn’t have stood up in Xanxus’s way.”

“Your priorities are so screwed up.”

“I’m an assassin. And you’re the one who spent all of your last coworker’s funeral bitching about his attitude, what the fuck are you talking about now? Morals?”

Hyacinthe laughs, eyes burning and mouth dry. “I think I’m going mad,” he says.

There’s a moment of silence on the other end of the line. Then Mammon sighs, and says something to whoever’s with him, and when they finally stop muffling the mic on their phone, all the distant noises on their side have ceased.

“What do you mean?” they ask.

“I had… a weird hallucination. I think. I can’t even describe it, but I feel like I’ve just run a marathon. Physically.”

“You wouldn’t run anywhere if your life depended on it.”

“Are you gonna listen to me or insult me?”

Mammon hums softly. “Anything more you can tell me?”

“Well.” Hyacinthe pushes himself into a sitting position on the bed, his free hand coming up around his neck to touch the golden key. It’s skin-warm under his fingers. “It looked like the key to the Archives was doing something. And I saw a bunch of cogs. The kind you find in old clocks.”

A pause. “That might not be a hallucination.”

“So you think it’s an illusion?”

“I don’t know,” they reply, irritated. “It might be. This isn’t enough information.”

Hyacinthe almost tells them about the voice, then; but there’s age-old fear in him at the thought. There’s the shame and the anxiety, rising from the depths of his body like a rogue wave, making him remember all the reasons why he doesn’t talk about this sort of stuff. So instead, he says, voice hoarse: “I don’t want to have to stand on one end of a battlefield with you on the other.”

He wants to be back home at the manor, visiting Mammon twice a week and complaining about Lisa and the Mist Guardian, avoiding Belphegor’s murderous presence, touching the top of Fantasma’s rough head. Smelling the incense Mammon sometimes burns in their apartment suite when it rains.

Mammon doesn’t say anything.

Mammon feels worse after calling Cen than they did before. It’s an unfamiliar and unpleasant feeling. Cen has always been someone they feel better talking to than not.

The rest of their team is still sprawled around the hotel suite in the state of drunken haze that they left them in. Squalo is awake but barely—enough to scream, but not to move. Belphegor is playing a video game on the flat screen TV. Xanxus left for his room hours ago with a bottle of red in hand and hasn’t come out since.

There’s still a bit of blood and wine on the table, from when he broke the Romanée-Conti against Squalo’s temple earlier.

Mammon makes their way toward where Levi is sitting, dozing in and out of sleep, head hunched forward. They kick into the foot of his armchair and say, “Wake up.”

Levi does, of course. He’s on his feet and grasping one of his ridiculous umbrellas with rage painted onto his features. He only relaxes when he sees who woke him up, but if the umbrella drops to the floor, his face remains the same unattractive shade of crimson. “What?” he barks.

“Do you know anything about the key to Vongola’s Archives?”

Levi looks pathetically drunk. It’s enough to make Mammon’s low but constant irritation flare up, and it’s without much regret that they turn the floor into ice-cold water under Levi’s feet, making the man yelp and jump in place.

“Stop it!” he pleads.

Mammon drops the illusion. “The key,” they repeat evenly.

It doesn’t take nearly as long this time for Levi to speak. “The key is one of the Family’s oldest artifacts, alongside the rings. They were made by the same person. Why d’you wanna know?”

“The one who made the rings…” Mammon has to think for a moment before remembering the name. “Talbot?”

“Yes.” Levi runs a liquor-sticky hand over his dumb face, and Mammon can feel their lips quiver in disgust at the sight. “They say the first Archivist of Vongola was appointed by Secondo. He wanted to make sure no one could ever forget about the Family’s deeds and glory.”

Mammon squints. “That’s it?”

“Of course not,” Levi scoffs, well and truly offended. “How do you people not know anything about our Family? The key holds power, just like the rings. Stories go so far as to claim Secondo made a deal with Destiny itself to obtain them. Archivists up till the Sixth Boss were rumored to be able to use those powers, but then the last one got killed before being able to teach anyone else how, and since then the key’s just been used to open and close the Archives and symbolize the prestige of the job. The Archivist doesn’t even sit at the council anymore.”

“Powers,” Mammon says softly. They’re thankful for the hood they’re wearing. It does an admirable job of masking the growing horror on their face.

Levi groans, reeking of booze and sweat. “No one knows what kind, exactly.” He squints in Mammon’s direction. “Why do you care? Are you planning on getting your hands on them? I thought the current Archivist was your friend.”

Mammon puts a hand against Levi’s forehead—thinking, with no small amount of bitterness, that it’s a good thing Levi is too drunk to stand straight, because they wouldn’t be able to reach him if he was—and they say: “Sleep.”

Levi drops down, missing the chair by about a foot and hitting his head loudly on the wooden floor. On the couch, Squalo moves with a spasm, half-unconscious but sword raised to stab anyway.

“VOI,” he slurs, loud enough to make Mammon’s eardrums ache. “WHAT’S THE NOISE FOR, SHITHEAD?”

“Levi tried to headbutt the floor,” Bel snickers in front of the TV. “The floor won.”

“HE CAN DO THAT IN FUCKING SILENCE,” Squalo roars. Then he lets his head fall back onto the couch’s armrest and emits the loudest snore that Mammon’s ever heard.

At least Levi looks out cold. He’s unlikely to remember the conversation as well. For once, Mammon thinks, it’s a good thing that the man devotes an almost religious zeal to the Family name.

They think about Cen next, and bite the dry skin off their lip until they can taste metal on their tongue.

Cen better not have unburied centuries-old Vongola powers by fucking accident.

Hyacinthe doesn’t get the privilege of sleeping in the next day. He’s woken up at sunrise by Lambo’s wailing and I-Pin’s shrill voice. The house already smells like breakfast, alcohol gone from the air despite the headache Hyacinthe has that feels like a hangover.

“Sweet Jesus,” he groans under the blanket, not bothering with English or Italian.

Today feels like his own mother tongue. Deadpan and filthy.

He drags his aching legs to the bathroom before it can be invaded by Bianchi’s morning routine. The shower he takes is quick and to the point, leaving him with his hair slightly curled and—too long for comfort, he notices in front of the mirror. That might explain why everyone’s been confused about his gender.

He flattens the black locks back as far as they’ll go and leaves the bathroom in nothing but his towel, ignoring Gokudera in the hallway who blushes an ugly red at the sight of him, all the way to the roots of his hair.

He throws on jeans and a hoodie once he reaches his bedroom, and he’s out.

Reborn catches him before he can step out of the front yard. His fingers dig into Hyacinthe’s damp hair like claws, dragging him back with only the strength of his wrist.

“No,” Hyacinthe says.

“Today you’re with me,” Reborn replies, uncaring. He’s dressed like a fireman, and he looks divine.

Hyacinthe tries to pull the man’s fingers off his cranium, to no avail. “I need to buy cigarettes, darling, or you’ll have to deal with twice my temper.”

“You chose to stay here.” Leon is crawling up Reborn’s neck, lifting the brim of Reborn’s fireman-themed fedora with one leg and burrowing into the mess of black hair under it. “That means I get to do whatever I want with you now.”

“It better be as dirty as it sounds.”

Reborn uses his free hand to flip through what looks like a planner. He takes a folded piece of yellowed paper out of it, and unrolls the illustration of a giant fish monster with very pointy teeth, surrounded by familiar handwriting.

Hyacinthe’s face goes crimson. “Fine,” he spits out. “Fuck you. Jesus Christ, stop keeping them like this, you’re going to wipe off the goddamn ink.”

“That won’t happen,” Reborn replies pleasantly. His hand finally lets go of Hyacinthe’s scalp, and Hyacinthe’s headache is all the more painful for it. He would moan, if he didn’t have one last shred of dignity to hang on to. “Let’s get coffee.”

The words are enough of a shock that Hyacinthe doesn’t immediately react to them. Reborn takes the opportunity to walk ahead, the fingers of his right hand keeping the brim of his hat down so as to shroud half of his gorgeous face in shadow.

“Are you taking me on a date?” he says, at last.

“A gentleman could never promise himself to only one,” Reborn answer suavely. “Come now, Hyacinthe Faure.”

“Never managed to with just pet talk. You might wanna try a more hands-on approach.”

Reborn walks, and doesn’t bother replying.

There’s nothing relaxing about taking a stroll alongside this man. Hyacinthe sticks the very last cigarette he owns between his lips and lights it as best as he can despite the cold wind, but even that isn’t enough to settle him down. If anything his stomach turns a bit queasy, because he hasn’t eaten yet, and the smoke makes him feel light-headed. Pain beats at his temple in pace with his heartbeat.

They stop in front of a convenience store so Hyacinthe can buy a few more boxes of cigarettes, but it’s all they do before Reborn leads him to the seemingly biggest coffee shop in town. They don’t even make small talk. It’s a work day, too; workers and students alike walk in to get their caffeine fix, forming a line that goes on outside, silent and restless.

“There,” Reborn says, materializing next to him with two boiling hot cups of espresso in his hands.


Reborn gulps one cup down and sits at a table, already sipping on the second.

Hyacinthe takes a long, slow breath. “Charmer,” he comments, taking the opposite seat.

“I know. I get that a lot.”

They’re silent for a while longer, Hyacinthe watching Reborn, Reborn watching his coffee, Leon watching Hyacinthe. The murmur of conversations around them is surprisingly tame considering the number of people going in and out. The shouts of welcome that the staff address to newcomers is the loudest sound he can hear. Even the cars running outside have been washed out.

And then Reborn lifts a hand, taking the fedora off his head. His hair jumps out, standing straight and messy and incredibly thick. “You saw something last night,” he declares.

Hyacinthe’s heart makes an awkward little jump, and his guts clench in sudden fear—except he hasn’t eaten anything since yesterday at lunch with Ylva, so all that happens is his stomach letting out a long and sonorous groan.

His face is burning. “I didn’t,” he replies between his teeth.

“Yes you did,” Reborn says evenly. “You woke up the Key.”

Hyacinthe’s hand almost flies up to grab the trinket hanging from his neck. “Whatever hallucinations I may or may not have are none of your business.”

“They are if they’re not hallucinations.” Reborn’s face is only showing a formal sort of interest, but his eyes are glowing like a child’s. “I’ve had my doubts ever since I saw you. You feel off. Pathetically weak, but off.”

“Oh, where should I start?” Hyacinthe says dryly. “Do you want a detailed account of how my transition is going, or should we jump straight to the juicy childhood trauma bits?”

It’s a good thing that Reborn doesn’t give a shit. All the man does is wave a delicate hand, nostrils flaring ever-so-slightly. “I don’t care about that. What I meant is that you’re not Vongola material at all, and yet, you are. You were meant to be. The fact that Timoteo carefully hid you from me is proof of that as well.”

“I’m not.” Hyacinthe can feel himself going cold and angry, all attraction gone and replaced with bitter resentment. “I’m not meant for anything. I’m a civilian. I got picked up by Nono’s Mist by pure luck.”

“There’s no such thing as luck for those who contract with Destiny,” Reborn purrs.

Hyacinthe wishes he had something in hand to crush or throw. “Stop being fucking cryptic,” he hisses. “If you’ve got something to say, just say it.”

“Fine,” Reborn answers. He downs the rest of his coffee, mindless of the heat. “Almost four centuries ago, Vongola’s Second Boss did something truly unbelievable. He got his hands on the power to change fate, locked it inside a key, and gave it to his closest advisor and friend. Vongola’s first Archivist, a woman named Zita.”

Hyacinthe’s mouth goes dry.

“It’s impossible to prove what she changed with it, of course,” Reborn continues. “Only she knows that. No record of her or any following bearer of the Key show insight on how harnessing fate works exactly. But Vongola in that time grew exponentially, gaining unexpected allies out of its worst enemies, winning turf war after turf war, and, obviously, gathering riches beyond measure.”

“This makes no sense.”

Reborn’s smile is as terrifying as it is handsome. “Of course it makes sense. We’re mafia.”

“Yes,” Hyacinthe says. “Mafia. Not magic.”

“What do you think Flames are?”

“I try not to think about them, really.”

Reborn huffs. “Your denial isn’t attractive in the least either.”

Why ‘either’?”

“The important thing is that this kept going, even after Zita died. The Third Boss lived through three different Archivists, all of whom likely had this power as well. Traces of feats that can only be attributed to a literal turn of fate can be found up till the fourth Archivist of Sesto’s time. Those turns of fate became fewer and less important over time, though. When Sesto’s man died, the Key went dormant, and none of the Archivists who followed have been able to use it properly.” Reborn tilts his head sideways, lips still stretched ominously. “Until yesterday.”

‘Destiny’ had been the word Hyacinthe thought of when the cogs appeared. Instantly, instinctively. He swallows despite the dryness in his mouth and how thick and still his tongue feels. “You said it yourself,” he tries. “You have no proof.”

“No one does,” Reborn confirms. “Whatever you saw, you were the only one to.”

Hyacinthe wants to lie, to say, I didn’t see anything. He’s a pretty good liar when push comes to shove. Comes with a lifetime of putting things off and burying them as deep as he can—until they come back to blow up in his face.

If this is some ancient Vongola power, he doesn’t really want it blowing up in his face.

“So what if I saw something,” Hyacinthe says, tight-lipped. “I might just be getting crazier.”

“You said it yourself,” Reborn replies lowly, in a much more elegant imitation of Hyacinthe’s own words. “You’re on the road to recovery, which I respect. You’re not getting crazier.”

It’s a bit heart-wrenching, to hear that come out of Reborn’s mouth. Makes Hyacinthe’s eyes dampen. “You are so full of shit,” he says tearfully.

Reborn nods, spinning the fireman-fedora on the tip of his index.

“I don’t feel like telling you what I saw, sugar,” Hyacinthe continues. It’s hard to swallow back the burn in his eyes, but he manages. “You’ll just have to guess.”

“That is fine. I already know that you used it.”


The spinning hat stops, and Leon runs down Reborn’s shoulder and arm, landing softly on the table. A waitress is looking at him with wide eyes but not doing anything to approach them.

“I did plan to make that weakling Tsuna’s Lightning Guardian,” Reborn says. “But after you told me to pick Haru instead… I found myself completely unable to disagree. In fact, I can’t think of anyone else more suited than her for the job.”

“You were really going to send Lambo out there?”

“He’s just a child now, but he’s got some interesting abilities that he’ll eventually grow into,” he replies. “Oh, well. It doesn’t matter. Lambo is still Tsuna’s ally, Guardian or not. Haru might not be a bad choice in the end.” His eyes flicker up to meet Hyacinthe’s once more. “Not a bad first turn of fate, Hyacinthe Faure.”

Hyacinthe is feeling more nauseous by the second. “I don’t want to change fate at all. I’ve watched enough science-fiction to know that it’s a bad idea.”

“Is it?” Reborn waves at the waitress from earlier, and she comes by their table with a coffee pot in hand, ready to refill his cups. “Everyone makes choices. Definitive choices, even. The only difference is that yours can alter the course of events a bit more strongly.”

Destiny doesn’t even exist,” Hyacinthe retorts. “Or at least not for me. I’m not religious, I’m not… I didn’t grow up in a culture or with a mindset that taught me to believe anything is set in stone. At most I’m partial to the multiverse theory.”

“Let’s go with that, then.” Reborn shoves both his cups forward gently, batting away Hyacinthe’s hand when he tries to take hold of one. “This is our timeline,” he says, pointing to one cup. “Let’s imagine that a drop of coffee is falling, ready to hit the surface. You use the Key, and suddenly that drop of coffee falls into a different cup entirely.” He hits a nail against the handle of the other cup. “A different timeline.”

“I jumped into a different timeline?” Hyacinthe says, eyeing the cups with envy.

“No,” Reborn replies. “You made something jump into a different timeline. In this case, myself.”

Reborn hadn’t been the only one to turn gold. Sawada had, and Hyacinthe himself as well. But Hyacinthe isn’t sure that he should mention it at all.

“You might be mixing up different universes,” Reborn continues, face alight with curiosity. “Teleporting elements of one to another, back and forth. Opening entire new worlds with your own strength alone. Or,” and his voice turns gleeful, “it might just be that we are, indeed, following a path set in stone, which only you are able to alter.”

“Just—give me the damn coffee,” Hyacinthe mumbles, head bursting with pain. Reborn is gracious enough to let him grab a cup and down half of it in one go. “Fuck. I don’t want to have to think that much about every damn thing I decide on.”

“I’m sure you’ll be able to differentiate regular everyday choices from turns of fate,” Reborn says. “The interesting part is what else the Key can do.”

Hyacinthe’s heart drops somewhere around his stomach. “Isn’t this enough?”

“It’s too much. This sort of power would turn you into a god. There must be limitations… people you can’t affect, things you can’t change. There must be a goal. It’s very likely that you can only ever use it to serve Vongola’s interests, and that it must give you access to other things that I couldn’t find out from rumor alone.” Reborn extends a hand, too fast for Hyacinthe to counter, and tugs the key out of Hyacinthe’s collar, brushing lightly against his collarbone. Hyacinthe has to lean forward to accommodate him, face red and furious. “It might be interesting to have you develop your Flame more, since you have one.”

“Stop touching it,” Hyacinthe barks, pulling the key out of Reborn’s fingers and shoving it back under his hoodie. “And my Flame sucks. It’s not even useful when I forget my lighter at home, since I pretty much collapse on the spot when I use it more than twice a day.”

“Mmh. That can change with training.”

“Over my dead body.”

Reborn’s eyes turn darker. “That could happen quicker than you think,” he says lowly. “Especially if you can’t defend yourself against Xanxus.”

Hyacinthe sobers up. He’s still trying to make sense of where he stands, and, mostly, where Mammon stands.

Reborn isn’t privy to these musings, however. His relationship with Mammon is no one’s business but his, no matter how disapproving everyone has been of it since it started.

Reborn chooses this moment to stand up abruptly, dropping a few bills on the table and planting his hat back onto his atrocious hair. “Now we leave,” he declares. “I have schemes to scheme and you—” he points to Hyacinthe “—have a twelve hour intensive Japanese course booked with Ylva Byquist.”

And maybe moving is a bit much to ask of him, still, but Hyacinthe gives Reborn the finger anyway. With every bit of its literal meaning in heart.

It becomes incredibly clear as the day progresses that Mammon has to meet Hyacinthe face-to-face to talk.

When Xanxus emerges from his room, dressed for battle and wearing his half of the Sky Vongola Ring, they realize that it’s already too late.

“Let’s fucking go,” Xanxus says.

Squalo is on his feet immediately, roaring and laughing. Bel drops the food he’s been binging on for the better part of the last hour, Lussuria lets out a frightful laugh, and Levi has been ready all day anyway.

Gola Mosca is silent. Slowly sucking the life out of the Ninth boss. It’s probably the scariest thing out of them all.

Mammon makes their way after the rest of the group without a word. When Xanxus tells them to, they sneeze out a location and names, and that’s all the incentive they all need to make their way there and scare the shit out of a bunch of kids.

Mammon would hope that Cen isn’t there when they come, but the paper had his name on it, too, right next to Reborn’s. Alongside all their enemies.

They hid it from view, but Xanxus will find out either way.

Namimori at night is as utterly boring as it is during the day. The city doesn’t have a red lights district or even any sort of nighttime entertainment, except for a few cinemas here and there. As they jump over rooftops all they can hear is the murmur of cars and open restaurants. All they feel is a light breeze and the smell of trees.

Sawada Tsunayoshi’s house looks exactly the same as the ones surrounding it. Mammon keeps watch over it and tries without much hope to guess which room Cen is staying in—maybe, they think, there’s still a way to communicate to them that they shouldn’t come outside.

Their fingers drop into the deep pocket of their cloak, disrupting Fantasma’s sleep, until they brush the case of their phone.

The entrance door blasts open, its smoking debris landing all over the tidy front yard, and out comes a tiny child with bad hair and a slightly less tiny child with worse hair.

Sawada is easy to recognize only because Levi has been diligent about making all of them memorize the boy’s face and daily routine. Mammon watches him flail around with mostly disgust and annoyance. The other kids who come after him look no stronger. Perhaps even more obnoxious.

“This one is the Prince’s,” Belphegor giggles. He’s looking at a boy with silver hair. “Smoking idiot.”

Shut up,” Levi says, louder than necessary. “We’re waiting for the Arcobaleno to come out.”

“Look, Levi, I found the Lightning half-ring! Yours is a girl.”

Mammon stops listening to anything the others are saying. They don’t care about battle, they don’t even care about the coup, really. They’re waiting for Reborn to make his appearance and for Cen to follow.

They don’t know what they’ll do when it happens. Possibly combust on the spot.

But then—”Who’s that?“ This is Xanxus’s voice, and it doesn’t sound happy.

There’s another man standing in the entrance. It doesn’t matter that Mammon can’t immediately understand what they’re seeing, because their face grows blood-warm and their spine shoots with adrenaline, and what comes out of their mouth is, “Oh fuck no.”

Fon is there, his stupid monkey hanging from one wrist and the other holding the remnants of the door open. Mammon can feel their nose fill with the scent of deep incense and wild grass despite the distance. It’s getting hard to breathe and harder to stand still. The urge to turn heels and run has never been stronger than it is in this instant, and Fon, of course, chooses this precise moment to turn his head and look right at where they are hiding.

Mammon crouches lower behind the chimney exit they’re using as an anchor for their illusions.

“Is this—is this another fucking Arcobaleno?” Squalo fake-whispers.

“Fon, right? His name didn’t show up in Mammon’s location,” Lussuria croons. “Must mean he isn’t an enemy.”

He’s still trouble, Mammon thinks faintly. Then they stop thinking, because Colonello is coming out too.

“This is a reunion,” Squalo laughs, excited. “Mammon, look, all your old pals are here.”

“If Verde is next I am leaving,” Mammon says between their teeth.

Verde thankfully isn’t next, but Reborn doesn’t make for much of a reassurance. Cen is trailing behind him, looking about the same as he did when he left. Irritation marring his pretty face and flowers all over his clothes. The sight of him only makes Mammon’s stomach turn, and they can’t help but glance quickly in Xanxus’s direction.

Xanxus isn’t looking at the house anymore, though. His greedy eyes are fixed onto Sawada.

“I’ll show them,” he growls. “I’ll show them death.”

He meets Mammon’s eyes with an order on his lips, and Mammon closes theirs tightly, dropping the illusions.

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