Word count: 14,000
Character(s) or pairing(s): I-Pin, Kyouko, Haru, Tsuna, Gokudera [Tsuna/Kyouko, Gokudera/Haru)
The first day of her official duty as Sawada Kyouko's personal bodyguard was nothing like I-Pin had imagined it would be.
There was a lot more crying than she'd expected, for one thing.
The house majordomo, Sergio, had provided her with a copy of Kyouko-san's daily schedule, looking all the while like he wasn't convinced that such secrets should be entrusted to a seventeen-year-old girl. I-Pin had memorized it, even though she'd already known most of the particulars, and presented herself promptly, just as Sawada-san was kissing Kyouko-san goodbye. He smiled at her and thanked her, again, for being willing to serve in this fashion, and then headed in the direction of his study, where Gokudera-san would be waiting to start the day's business.
Kyouko-san went in the opposite direction, to the private morning room that looked out over the east gardens, where she and Haru-san normally had a cup of morning tea together and--I-Pin wasn't entirely sure what Kyouko-san and Haru-san could spend morning after morning talking about, but she supposed she would find out. I-Pin followed after her, trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach at the thought that this was it--she had really, truly been given charge of the safety of the Vongola Tenth's wife.
"It's so good to have you here, I-Pin," Kyouko-san murmured, when they'd come to the little sun-soaked room, and pressed I-Pin's hand between her own. "You don't know what it means to me."
"It's my honor, Sawada-san," I-Pin murmured, embarrassed by how damp her palms were and the way Kyouko-san took no notice of it.
"None of that, now." Kyouko-san released her hand. "I remember when you used to call me 'nee-chan'. Don't be formal with me now. It'll make me feel old."
"But--I--" I-Pin stopped when Kyouko-san laughed. "Perhaps in private?" she ventured, for the sake of compromise.
"I suppose that's only proper." Kyouko-san turned and gestured at the little tea table and its array of teacups and pastries. "Will you join me while we wait for Haru?"
"I don't think that would be proper," I-Pin said, after a moment's hesitation.
Kyouko-san's smile was rueful. "I suppose you're right." She sat, and poured a cup of tea for herself. "I hope you don't mind this duty," she said, as she added a bit of sugar to the cup and stirred it. "It won't be nearly as exciting as the things the boys get up to, or what Bianchi-neesan does. The Vongola's wife tends not to get out very much."
"Of course I don't mind!" I-Pin bit her lip, and then rushed on, before her sense of propriety could get the better of her. "I'm so young, and this is my first assignment for the Vongola... It's such an honor to be given such an important task. I don't think I--I don't think I really deserve it."
"Of course you do," Kyouko-san told her, brisk. "I wouldn't have requested you, otherwise, and Gokudera wouldn't have agreed if he hadn't agreed with me."
It wasn't elegant, or professional, to gape. I-Pin gaped at her, nonetheless. "You requested me?"
Kyouko-san smiled at her. "I did. Sometimes it seems like Haru and I are drowning in a sea of testosterone."
Haru-san let herself in just in time to hear that. "What's this about testosterone?" she asked, taking the second seat at the table.
Kyouko-san poured a second cup of tea. "I was just explaining why we're so glad to have I-Pin back."
"It's because boys are stupid," Haru-san said.
Kyouko-san paused in the act of handing her the teacup, and I-Pin stared. "Haru? Is everything--"
"I'm fine," Haru-san said, but I-Pin thought that she certainly didn't look fine. Her lips were pinched, and as I-Pin watched, she helped herself to one of the delicate pastries that were heaped on a plate, only to begin tearing it to pieces.
Kyouko-san put the teacup down. "What happened?"
Haru-san shook her head. "It's nothing. He just proposed again."
"...ah." The syllable was full of understanding. "You fought?"
Haru-san drew a breath. "For a while. Like usual."
Kyouko-san seemed to be studying her. "Normally, you like fighting with him."
That seemed to be enough to tip the balance of Haru-san's composure. "Normally he doesn't all but call me a whore to my face!" she exploded, and then burst into tears. "I'm sorry," she choked out, between gasping sobs. "I don't know why that bothers me--we always say such awful things to each other--we never mean them, except last night it seemed like he did, and--"
"Shh," Kyouko-san murmured, as she moved her chair around the table and put her arms around Haru-san, while I-Pin watched, mute with astonishment. She'd heard the rumors that Gokudera-san and Haru-san had a stormy sort of relationship, but Lambo-kun had been irritatingly vague on the particulars, and certainly hadn't said anything that would have made her expect this.
Haru-san leaned against Kyouko-san; after a few more gulping sobs, I-Pin could see her taking hold of herself again. "I'm so sorry," she said, as Kyouko-san produced a handkerchief. Haru-san accepted it to wipe her eyes, and then stared at the smudges of makeup on the pale cloth. "Damn it."
"It's only a handkerchief," Kyouko-san said. "Don't--"
Haru-san shook her head. "I'm being a terrible bother." She straightened her shoulders. "Especially over such a silly fight."
Kyouko-san, I-Pin noticed, simply pressed her lips together tightly, and said nothing.
Haru shook herself. "Give me just a moment," she said. "I'll wash my face, and we can get down to business."
"Take your time." Kyouko-san watched her leave the room, drumming her fingers against her knee, as if considering something. Then she rose and went to the side table, and dialed something on the house telephone. When she spoke, it was in a tone that I-Pin was sure she'd never heard Kyouko-san use before. "Tsuna? Yes, I'm sorry for interrupting you, but it's important. Is Gokudera still with you?" She paused for the answer, and her mouth firmed. "Good. When you're finished with him, send him to me. I need to speak to him." She listened. "Thank you."
She returned the receiver to its cradle, and restored her chair to its proper place. When she'd done that, she favored I-Pin with a wan smile. "I'm so glad you're here. It would be... difficult to handle this in front of one of the boys."
"I'm not sure I understand what's happening," I-Pin admitted.
"It's a very long story. Listen for a bit and see whether it comes clear." Kyouko-san busied herself with filling a plate with a selection of the tea dainties. "If not, then we'll find a way to muddle through an explanation."
It was on the tip of her tongue to ask what was so wrong between Haru-san and Gokudera-san that a proposal would cause them to fight, but the sad, set look in Kyouko-san's eyes made her bite her tongue.
When Haru-san returned, her eyes were puffy, but her expression was composed. "Are those the ones I like?" she asked, when Kyouko-san gave her the little plate.
"I asked for them, just for you." Kyouko-san's expression had gone back to the sweet, gentle smile I-Pin was used to seeing.
"You're wonderful." Haru-san fell upon the little cakes. "Never let Lucia-san go. The woman's a saint and a marvel."
"Isn't she? Rosetti-san is never going to forgive me for hiring her away from them." Kyouko-san sipped her tea, with a complacent smile. "How was your shopping yesterday? Find out anything?_"
Haru-san looked at I-Pin and then Kyouko-san, and only answered when Kyouko-san tipped her chin in a brief nod. "It was sparse."
"Tell me anyway," Kyouko-san said, over the rim of her cup.
"I still haven't found anyone willing to talk to me. The Modigliani are terribly closemouthed." Haru-san frowned. "The one man who was willing to give me the time of day wanted to hear about the Vongola's business."
Kyouko-san looked troubled. "Mm. I don't like that."
"How do you think I feel? Men are supposed to be putty in my hands, not concrete." Haru-san nibbled on one of the pastries. "Maybe I just need to give it more time. Flirt harder or something, or get closer to someone who's not a foot soldier."
Kyouko-san looked even more troubled at that. "Be careful, Haru. If anyone realizes--"
"I'm always careful." Haru-san tossed her head. "No one's going to realize anything I don't want them to." She punctuated that with one of her chirpy giggles and a smile that I-Pin would have supposed was genuine, if it hadn't been for the lingering redness of her eyes and the very serious look on Kyouko-san's face. "Don't worry. I'll be fine, and I still bet you that I'm going to be able to get to the bottom of this before--well, before anyone else does."
"Mm," Kyouko-san said, and looked up. Her expression changed, and she laughed. "Why so confused, I-Pin?"
I-Pin felt her cheeks turn hot, and she tried to school her expression. "I'm sorry, Kyouko-san. I was--um. It's nothing."
Haru-san's mouth kicked up at the corners. "You're wondering what on earth we're talking about, that's all."
I-Pin ducked her head, acknowledging the point.
"It's as I told you," Kyouko-san said, after a moment. "The Vongola's wife isn't free to move around. There's not much I can do about that, but I do have to know what's going on. Tsuna tells me what he can, but..."
Haru-san picked up where Kyouko-san's voice trailed off. "He has a tendency not to share some things."
"He doesn't want to upset me," Kyouko-san said, tone mild.
"He just doesn't think it's any of your business," Haru-san retorted. To I-Pin's ears, the exchange sounded practiced, like they'd had it many times. "None of us can afford to be ignorant of what's going on around us. Especially not Kyouko-chan."
"So Haru is my eyes and ears." Kyouko-san looked at Haru-san, expression something that I-Pin couldn't quite decipher: it looked like affection and regret and worry, all mixed together. "She finds out the things they don't tell me, and together we piece them into something that I can use to help the Vongola."
"It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it." Haru-san grinned, cheerful.
"That someone doesn't have to be you," Kyouko-san murmured. "We could--"
Haru-san interrupted her. "We're not having this argument again." Her voice was almost harsh. "You need me, and no one else can do what I can do for you. No one else is going to have the position I've created for myself and no one else is going to have my protection, and besides, I want to do this for you."
"But when it costs you so much..." Kyouko-san began, and stopped at the fierce look Haru-san gave her.
"Am I or am I not your right hand?" Haru-san demanded. "I knew perfectly well what I was getting into from the beginning."
Kyouko-san's mouth quirked. "That was more than I knew," she said, and sighed. "You're not just my right hand, you're my only hand, and I do wish you would have a care for yourself."
"Don't worry so much about me. I can take care of myself." Haru-san's tone was very nearly brusque, as if she was defying either of them to mention the tears from just a few minutes ago. "Anyway, it's not going to be just me for that much longer. We're already off to a good start, yes?"
I-Pin found her position changed abruptly from interested observer to the focus of their scrutiny. "Me?" she said. "But I--why me?"
"You can get to places that even I can't," Haru-san said, blunt. "I'm not a fighter, so the boys don't take me seriously, and I can't flirt for information inside the Vongola because Hayato would lose face if I did. You're Kyouko-san's bodyguard. You're practically one of the boys yourself."
"But--what about Bianchi-san? Or Chrome-san?" I-Pin said, a little desperate. "I mean--they're much more important and they know their way around--"
"And Chrome belongs to Tsuna," Kyouko-san said, gently. "And Bianchi-san..."
"Bianchi-neesan is already part of the Vongola system," Haru-san said. "She's already focused on her role. We want people who are willing to be more flexible." She paused; I-Pin thought it must have been deliberate. "And whose interests will follow Kyouko-chan's."
I-Pin froze. "I--but--" she said, with the sense memory of kneeling before Sawada-san and the solid metal of his ring beneath her lips flashing through her mind. "I've already promised to serve the Tenth. I kissed his ring."
Haru-san's smile was tiny. "So did I. And Kyouko-chan, she wears his ring. We both still serve the Vongola. It's just... in our own way."
"If you say yes," Kyouko-san murmured, "and you don't have to, if you prefer not to--but if you say yes, the things I will ask you to do will be for the sake of helping me help Tsuna. Do you see?"
I-Pin bit her lip till it stung. "I--may I think about it?"
"Of course." Kyouko-san's smile was gentle. "Speak to Tsuna, too, if that would help set your mind at ease."
I-Pin bowed. "Thank you, Kyouko-san."
"Think nothing of it." Kyouko-san refreshed her tea, and turned back to Haru-san. "So you're having as much trouble with the Modigliani as everyone else is."
"A little less, I think." Haru-san's smile was sharp. "I was the one who noticed there was something wrong there in the first place."
"True. Again, Tsuna thanks you for that." Kyouko-san sipped her tea. "What of the other families? Anything interesting I should know?"
Haru-san lifted a shoulder, shrugging. "Not really. The Barassi are starting to think about marrying off their younger daughter. It looks like the Orsini and the Leone are both going to try for her hand." She thought for a moment. "Feretti-san's mistress may be pregnant, so things are upset there."
"I imagine so. Poor Maria." Kyouko-san sipped her tea. "He's not still threatening to put her aside for the mistress, is he?"
"Why do you think they're so upset?" Haru-san asked, tone dry.
"Perhaps I'll have her to tea," Kyouko-san said. "It's not much, I suppose, but I do like Maria. She's so sensible."
"And goodness knows we could use as much of that as we can find," Haru-san said, and then snapped her fingers. "Oh yes. Vieri-san is expecting again."
"Again?" Kyouko-san looked astonished. "She already has five!"
"Well, in another few months, she'll have six." Haru-san drained her teacup, and shook her head at Kyouko-san's abortive move towards the teapot. "Better her than me, that's all I can say."
"Maybe this time she'll have that girl she's been wanting," Kyouko-san murmured. She glanced at her watch and started. "My goodness, is that the time already?"
"It is," Haru-san said, looking at her own watch. "That's about all the gossip I have for you at the moment, anyway. I'm going into town later to see what my girls have to say. Hopefully, we can get to the bottom of this Modigliani business soon."
"That would be nice. Tsuna's worrying over it too much." Kyouko-san looked up at Haru-san as she stood. "Haru. Do be careful."
Haru-san's smile was quick. "I'm always careful, remember?" She smoothed her skirt, laughing at the sound Kyouko-san made, and let herself out.
I-Pin waited for a sign from Kyouko-san; the itinerary she'd memorized suggested that the next thing Kyouko-san would do would be a trip downstairs to speak to Sergio and make sure that the household's affairs were running smoothly.
Kyouko-san stayed seated instead, and finished her cup of tea, quietly--waiting for Gokudera-san, I-Pin supposed. Presently, she set the teacup down and took up the handkerchief she'd lent to Haru-san, and spread it across her knee. The smudges of Haru-san's mascara were very dark against the fabric. "It would be a good idea if you could make yourself as inconspicuous as you can," she said, studying the handkerchief.
"Of course, Kyouko-san." I-Pin dipped her head and then retreated to the corner, where she could watch the room, and stilled herself.
Not long after that, someone knocked on the door, and Kyouko-san called for them to come in. It was Gokudera-san; he left the door open behind him, until Kyouko-san said, voice very clear and calm, "Close the door, Gokudera."
I-Pin had a good vantage point for watching his face; Kyouko-san's tone turned his expression wary. "Is that appropriate, Kyouko-san?"
"Close the door," Kyouko-san said, again, voice so calm that it sent chills running down I-Pin's spine. "I'm sure I-Pin will be able to guard our reputations for us."
Gokudera-san glanced at I-Pin, but shut the door. "You wanted to speak to me?"
"Yes," Kyouko-san said. "I have some things to say to you." When Gokudera-san nodded to show that he was listening, she went on. "This is about Haru."
Gokudera-san's mouth went flat. "Kyouko-san, with all due respect, I have a lot of things I have to get done today. I don't think now's the time to be talking about my personal life."
"And I disagree with you," Kyouko-san said, and that was when I-Pin finally placed her tone: it was the same one that rang in Sawada-san's voice when he was in the grip of his Will. "Has it honestly never occurred to you that perhaps Haru has more to do with her life and for the Vongola than to sit around at home and make your babies?"
"No," Gokudera-san said, mouth still flat, lines etched at the corners of it. "But maybe it would have if she did more with her time than spending it shopping and gossiping and flirting with other men, since those are services that I didn't think the Vongola really needed."
Kyouko-san's voice didn't get any louder, but it turned sharper. "Do you think the only way to serve the Vongola is to carry a gun or a box weapon? Or the only life a person can give is the one that the body holds? Does service only matter when it comes to the forms you approve of?"
"Of course not, but I'll be damned if I can see how frittering your life away does anyone any good at all," Gokudera-san snapped.
"Is that what you think we've been doing?" Kyouko-san asked, and I-Pin had to suppress a shiver at the still expression in her eyes.
She'd always thought Gokudera-san was a smart man; certainly he was smart enough now to say, "Not you, Kyouko-san. You're the Tenth's wife. You couldn't fritter away your life if you wanted to."
"And yet all I do is spend my time giving parties and standing by Tsuna's side with a pretty smile," Kyouko-san said. "How very useless of me."
Gokudera-san backtracked faster. "You're the last person I would call useless," he said, gesturing. "I don't know how many times I've seen you jigger a negotiation in our favor just by saying the right thing and smiling. You're one of the most respected women in the mafia world."
"Then tell me this," Kyouko-san said, slow and deadly calm, "how do you suppose I know what exactly the right thing to say is?"
Gokudera-san blinked. "I assumed the Tenth must tell you things." He smiled. "And maybe women's intuition?"
"Then you're ten kinds of fool, Gokudera Hayato." Kyouko-san's voice cut like the fine edge of a knife. "The kinds of things I need to know aren't found in how many men the Barassi can muster or what kinds of box weapons are in production now. I need to know who's allied with whom and what they get out it, who's feuding this week and where their weak spots are, and who holds the balance of power and who doesn't. I have to know where the right word would help and what the right word is. I have to pay attention to which families have sons at loose ends, and whose mistress is pregnant this week, and who has a daughter they'll trade to another family for trade concessions, and who was insulted at last week's garden party and won't speak to the Leone for love or money. There's no intuition to it. It's a lot of hard work, and a lot of sifting through hints and rumors and speaking to the right people and cultivating the right contacts. And I ask you, Gokudera, is that the kind of information that you think Tsuna can give me?"
Gokudera-san opened his mouth, and then seemed to think better of it. "...some of it," he said, finally. "And I know he receives reports about some of the other things."
"And where do you think those reports come from?"
"I..." Gokudera-san stopped, and stared at her. "Surely not."
"From me," Kyouko-san said. "And my information comes from Haru and the network of contacts she's built up, piece by piece. Person by person, for years now. She goes where I can't and sees the things that I won't ever see and listens for the things that will never reach my ears." She stopped, and drew a breath, and said, with slow, careful emphasis, "Tsuna is not the only member of this family who has a right hand, and without Haru, I couldn't do the many things I do for Tsuna and the Vongola."
"Your..." Gokudera-san began, and stopped, like he couldn't quite bring himself to say it.
"My right hand," Kyouko-san said. "The one who does the things I'm not able to do. The one who puts herself into danger every day when she speaks to the men of other families and cultivates them for whatever tidbits of knowledge she can coax out of them." She stopped, perhaps to let that sink in, and then picked up the stained handkerchief that had been sitting, forgotten, on her knee.
The motion caught Gokudera-san's eyes, and he stared at it. The moment comprehension flickered over his poleaxed expression, Kyouko-san spoke again. "A married woman isn't free to act, you know. It wouldn't be honorable. But a woman who isn't so firmly bound... she can, perhaps, flirt with whomever she likes. If it's known that she has a man--a protective man, a dangerous man, a man whom very few people would care to cross--perhaps she can even do this with impunity. And if her man is an important person to her family, then perhaps people might be freer with their attentions than they might otherwise be, because they hope she may be indiscreet in her turn. But she's never indiscreet, because her loyalty is to her family and to the man she loves." Kyouko-san stopped, and drew a breath. "And she's proud of her service, and how vital it is, even if no one else knows what it is she does, but at the same time, she's painfully aware of the things that she can't do because of that service."
Gokudera-san listened to that, nearly impassive, except for the muscle that flickered at the corner of his jaw. When she had stopped, he stood silently for nearly a minute before asking, voice taut, "And no one thought that this was something that I ought to know?"
"We decided that the fewer people who knew the truth, the easier it would be for Haru to keep people from suspecting what it is she's doing," Kyouko-san said.
"Including her own boyfriend."
I-Pin bit her lip at the heavy bitterness in his voice.
"To protect her, yes." Kyouko-san lifted her chin, by a fraction. "It was my decision, in the end."
"To protect her. Of course." Gokudera-san's voice was still taut with--bitterness and anger and outrage, I-Pin decided. "And I suppose the only reason you changed your mind was because her cover story is in danger now."
Gokudera-san gestured, hand cutting through the air, sharp. "Because I told her to stop fooling around on me, or it was over."
The quick intake of Kyouko-san's breath was loud. "She didn't even mention that. Only that you'd proposed again."
"Yes, again, like an idiot. If I'd just realized that it was my protection she'd wanted, I wouldn't have bothered." He ran a hand through his hair. "I suppose that wouldn't have been as plausible, though, would it?"
Kyouko-san pressed her lips together, firmly, before she finally replied to that. "I know you're angry, but did you not hear me when I said that she loves you?"
"I heard," he said, grim. "I also heard how convenient it was for her boyfriend to be me. I assume she chose me because of my position in the family, and because Hibari wasn't available."
"She chose you because she loves you," Kyouko-san said, and I-Pin wondered how angry she actually was, for it to be seeping into her voice like this. "This wasn't something we planned, Gokudera. It grew out of our circumstances. And this is why I was reluctant to tell you, because I knew you'd be an insecure ass about it!"
I-Pin flinched, and Gokudera-san went white and clenched his hands at his sides. "We both know I was her second choice," he said, from behind teeth that were clearly gritted together. "Can you really blame me?"
Kyouko-san curled her fingers together around the handkerchief. "Now you really are being an idiot," she said, voice soft. "You know better than that. You know that Haru is better than that."
"I know you only think the best of people," Gokudera-san retorted. "But if you want to pretend that she didn't spend all that time mooning after the Tenth, then I don't think I'm the idiot here."
I-Pin held her own breath as Kyouko-san took a breath and let it out, and then another, before she finally said, "That was a very long time ago, Gokudera, and we were still children. People do change, you know."
"And yet you're married to the Boss, like we all knew you would be. They don't change that much."
Kyouko-san closed her eyes. "You've obviously made up your mind to think the worst. Is it even worth it to argue with you?"
Gokudera-san's voice was very even. "What would you have me do, Kyouko-san?"
Kyouko-san opened her eyes again, and looked at him. "I would ask you to bear with it a little longer, until we've dealt with the Modigliani. After that, you and Haru can go your separate ways, and she and I will figure out something new. Will you do that for me?"
Gokudera bent his head, but the motion looked stiff. "I live to serve the Vongola."
"I know you do," Kyouko-san said, slowly, almost sadly. "Even when we don't treat you so well as you deserve." She sighed. "Thank you for your patience, Gokudera."
"As my lady commands," he said, mouth twisting around the words. "Will there be anything else?"
"No," Kyouko-san said, softly. "Not today."
"Thank you." He bowed, short and jerky, and spun on his heel to let himself out.
When the door shut behind him, I-Pin released a long breath.
"Damn," Kyouko-san said, so quietly that I-Pin barely heard her. "Damn it."
"Kyouko-san?" I-Pin ventured.
"I'm afraid I've made a mistake," Kyouko-san said, smoothing and folding the crumpled handkerchief. "A rather large one. And for the life of me, I'm not sure how to fix it." She shook her head. "What a mess."
"He'll change his mind, won't he?" I-Pin asked, hesitant.
Kyouko-san smiled at her, but it didn't reach her eyes. "I hope so." She stood. "But it's no use worrying about it just now. There's work to be done."
I-Pin fell in at her side, watching and worrying all the while.
It was something of a relief to get out of the Vongola mansion and away from its stifling atmosphere, and to linger at the salon, letting Adele fuss over her hair and insist on a facial--"Haven't you been sleeping, dear? Your eyes are all bloodshot."--to deal with the morning's storm of emotions. There was unfortunately limited amounts of information to be heard in the salon that afternoon, since Haru was nearly the only customer, but that was a relief, too, and Haru relaxed into the simple pleasure of being attended to.
Still, she did pick up a few interesting tidbits; Giovanni Barassi was specifically interested in allying with a family that would help him recoup some of his losses since the Vongola had curtailed his smuggling operations, which gave the Orsini boys an edge over the Leone son. The Orsini weren't as fond of the Vongola as they might be, to boot. It was something worth thinking about, at any rate.
Haru picked up a few more scraps of information as she made her afternoon rounds--Antonio at the dress shop mentioned that it had been an unusually long time since Caterina Modigliani had purchased a new dress, and he knew for a fact that she hadn't been patronizing another shop. Haru believed him; Antonio prided himself on his tenacity and attention to his customers, and was fully capable of interrogating an unfaithful client until he'd discovered the cause of her infidelity. That Caterina Modigliani wasn't purchasing new dresses seemed odd; the woman was beautiful and knew it, and had a reputation for accentuating her beauty fairly enthusiastically.
Haru tucked that bit away to discuss with Kyouko-chan.
Nothing else in her rounds was particularly fruitful, save for the coffee she stopped to enjoy, because there she met one of the boys who had a connection to the Risso arm dealers. Nino was a nice fellow, and so far one of her best leads regarding the Modigliani, since he seemed to be pretty much head over heels for her. Haru smiled at him and let him buy her another coffee, and flirted delicately with him as he hinted at the same important deal he'd mentioned before. It wasn't anything she didn't already know, but it confirmed that whatever it was that the Modigliani were up to, it was proceeding apace.
All told, it wasn't a bad afternoon's work. Haru returned to the Vongola estate in something she supposed would pass for good spirits.
"I should have known better," she announced to the air, when she found the message that Kyouko-chan wanted to speak with her waiting for her.
When Haru found her, Kyouko-san was in her study, standing at the window under I-Pin's watchful eye. "Was there something you needed to tell me?" she asked.
Kyouko-chan's shoulders rose and fell, and then she turned to look at Haru. Her expression was drawn. "I'm afraid so."
Haru took her usual seat and braced herself. "How bad is it?" It couldn't be anything that affected the Vongola as a whole; things were too peaceful for that, and Kyouko-chan merely looked strained, not terrified.
"It's--difficult." Kyouko-chan gathered herself, hands pressing together; that was what she did when she didn't want to fidget. "I--spoke with Gokudera this morning."
"You... oh, god." Haru pinched the bridge of her nose; so it was only a disaster for her personally. Wonderful. "Why?"
"Because I hoped I'd be able to help." She paused. "Why didn't you tell me he was talking about ending it?"
Haru sighed and looked up at her. "Because he always says that, if I don't say it first."
Kyouko-chan blinked a bit at that, momentarily distracted. "You two have a very strange relationship."
Haru shrugged; she couldn't deny it. But then, not everyone could be as sweet a pair of lovebirds as Kyouko-chan and Tsuna-kun managed to be. "Normally it works out all right." That didn't seem to soothe Kyouko-chan very much. "So... what did you tell him."
Kyouko-chan gave into the inevitable, fingers twisting around each other, which wasn't a good sign. "I explained why you do what you do. He... wasn't pleased, really." Before Haru could ask what that meant in practical, Hayato-specific terms, she rushed on. "He seems to think you chose him because of... business-related reasons, and not for his own sake. And that you might still be carrying a torch for Tsuna."
Haru could only stare at Kyouko-chan for a moment, absorbing that. "You're not joking, are you?" Kyouko-chan shook her head. Haru pinched the bridge of her nose again. "Oh, no. He's such an idiot." And of course he would have taken things entirely the wrong way, because that was just how Hayato's brain operated.
One of these days, she was going to persuade Tsuna-kun that the Vongola didn't really need Hayato's family, and then she was going to go out and do her very best Hibari Kyouya impression for several people the world would be better off without.
"There's... I'm afraid there's more." When Haru looked up, Kyouko-chan looked positively miserable. "I'm afraid... I didn't know that you... threaten to end things regularly. I, um, gave him permission to end things after the Modigliani thing is taken care of."
"You..." Haru groped for words in the face of the enormity of that, because it was one thing for the two of them to scream that this was it, it was over for good, get out when they were arguing, but for the Tenth's wife to give Hayato permission to end things, when he was in a calmer frame of mind... "Oh my god."
"I'm so sorry." Kyouko-chan was wringing her hands so hard that they were probably in danger of being rubbed raw. "I swear I didn't realize--if I'd only known--"
"How could you have known?" Haru asked, from around the hard lump in her chest. "We have the apartment we do because it's so far away from the rest of the house and no one will have to hear us yelling." That didn't seem to reassure Kyouko-chan, so she dredged up a smile. "Don't worry. It's going to take us forever to crack the Modigliani business open. That'll give him plenty of time to think things over and come back around to being sensible."
"Do you really think so?"
"Sure I do," Haru said, with all the briskness she could muster. "He never stays angry for long." Usually, anyway. This might be a special case. "Don't worry. This might even be a good thing. If he knows what I'm doing now, then I can compare notes with him directly, instead of running things through you and Tsuna-kun."
"Still, I am sorry," Kyouko-chan said, although she looked a little bit more hopeful around the edges. "I'll do anything to make it up to you--"
"Hush, don't say things like that." Haru gave her a smile. "That's too dangerous for the Vongola's wife to be saying." She stood. "It'll be fine. Don't worry about it. Now, I have some things to put away..."
"Of course, of course." Kyouko-chan gave her a worried smile. "I'll see you in the morning."
Haru nodded, and saw herself out, and didn't give vent to her emotions until she was safely behind her own door. "Fuck," she announced, to the too-still apartment.
And then, because it was pointless to dwell, she went to unpack her packages and put them away.
"You know," Tsuna remarked once the door was closed behind him, in tones of wonder, "this morning, one of the things I told myself was, 'At least this is the worst Hayato's mood can possibly get.'" He hooked his fingers in his tie and unknotted it. "I guess it's good to know that I can still be taken by surprise." He hung his coat over the back of a chair and sat on the edge of the bed. "What on earth did you say to him?"
Kyouko turned from watching his progress in her mirror to look at him. "I explained what it is that Haru does for me."
His eyebrows went up. "I see," he said, pulling his tie off. "Once he's had a chance to think it through, I suppose he'll calm down."
"I wonder," Kyouko said. "He seems to think he's been used rather badly."
Nothing in Tsuna's expression even hinted that he might be thinking I told you so, and she loved him for it. Instead, he sighed, and said, "I'll speak to him--"
"Don't." When he looked at her, she added, "I think this is something they have to do for themselves."
"Do you think so?" Tsuna frowned, and stretched to drape his tie over the arm of the chair. "I hate watching them argue with each other."
"Me too." Right now, she'd give anything for it to be an ordinary argument. "I'm afraid it's worse than that. He's--after the Modigliani business is dealt with, we may need to rebuild Haru's network."
Tsuna's fingers stilled on the buttons of his shirt. "Ah," he said quietly. "That would be unfortunate." His fingers began moving again. "But I suppose that we'll do it if we have to." He shook his head. "Though I really would rather not have to."
"Same here." Kyouko watched him undress, and went to him when he held a hand out to here. "I hate to see them so upset," she said, against his shoulder. "Especially Haru."
"I don't know. Right now I'd trade you Hayato for her," he said, against her hair.
She couldn't help laughing. "I'm not sure that would be a fair trade."
"No? Pity." He lifted a hand to her hair, and she sighed at the warmth of it. "They're both intelligent adults. They'll figure it out, surely."
"Let's hope so," Kyouko agreed, as he reached for the lamp and turned it off, and let him draw her into bed. When they'd arranged themselves comfortably, she told him what news Haru had brought her. He made interested sounds at the news of the Barassi's daughter, and vaguer noises when she mentioned poor Maria Feretti--well, it probably didn't make all that much difference to the Vongola whether Paolo Feretti got his children from his wife or his mistress, but Maria was a good person and didn't deserve the indignity of being put aside after all the years she'd endured her husband's infidelities. "And Anna Vieri is expecting again," she finished.
"What, again?" Tsuna asked, sleepy voice rich with amusement. "Don't they already have enough?"
"I think she just likes children a lot," Kyouko said, listening to the slow, steady heartbeat under her cheek. "She's not the only one, you know."
Tsuna's chest rose and fell on a sigh, and his arm curled tighter around her. "Things are still unstable," he said, quietly. "I don't think--"
"I don't think it's ever going to be stable," Kyouko told him, and then forced herself to take a deep breath. "I just--I'm afraid of waiting too long, Tsuna."
Kyouko lifted herself up on an elbow to look at the dim outline of his face. "Think about it," she said, softly. "Maybe, after the Modigliani--"
His fingers against her lips stopped her. "There'll be time," he said, softly. "I promise."
Kyouko let him coax her back down, and sighed. "I worry," she told him, after a moment.
"Too much, sometimes," he replied.
But he wasn't the one who was left at home to worry about him, Kyouko thought, and didn't say. He wasn't the one who had to wonder whether she'd be left alone, with nothing to show for the time they'd had together, and he wasn't the one who'd have to deal with the family if he died without an heir. "Just think about it," she said again, finally. "Please?"
"I'll think about it," he said, and Kyouko could tell he was smiling. His lips brushed against her temple. "Go to sleep, love."
Even if he was humoring her, it was a start. Kyouko sighed again, and nestled against him, and tried to let go of her worries, at least for a little while.
Link to Part II.