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Sass and Win

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“This is a little brutal don’t you think?” I complain as I slump heavily against Ren’s back. 



He doesn’t really give any indication that the extra weight bothers him in the least. He just keeps scribbling out his equations in his overstuffed notebook. Under normal circumstances I would be perfectly content to just lay about and watch him write, his hands are lovely and I’m rather fond of that little wrinkle of irritation that he gets when the equations aren’t working quite right, but-



“Is it really?” He asks blandly. 



He sounds a little cross. I don’t know why. It’s not like he’s the one who’s been tossed around like a rag doll for the past three hours. 



“Yes?” I answer carefully, “You’re sitting here watching Fon beat me up. I don’t remember doing anything to warrant this sort of egregious treatment of my person. And if I did I am deeply sorry for it. Can we call it a day now?”



“It’s training, Tsuki,” Fon says with a look of fond exasperation as he comes to sit across from us. “And you are improving.”



Fon is looking irritatingly refreshed and chipper considering I’m all gross and sweaty now. 



“You say that. But I’m pretty sure that you’re both just enjoying watching me get tossed into walls,” I huff and press my forehead against the middle of Ren’s back. He’s wearing the charcoal grey number today with the waistcoat and it is doing things to me. 



Extremely distracting, ‘letting Fon throw me into walls while he watches me make an idiot of myself’ kind of things. 



“And I still don’t understand the ‘why’ part of this,” I complain as I wrap my arms around his waist and start fiddling with the button on his very attractive waistcoat. 



“You broke your hand, Brat” Ren answers tapping my wrapped-up hand with the end of his pen. 



“This seems very counterproductive to that statement. I hope you realize that. Unless your hope is that Fon breaks my other hand as well and I’ll be very reliant on you for... actually now that I think about it that might actually be fun, but you can get a similar effect by tying me up. I know you like that~”



Fon laughs as he sets himself down on the mats in front of us, a tad more shirtless than the last time I looked up... I might need to rethink my position on this. 





Lal is charging back up the winding staircase. 



It looks like she’s had just about enough of the infinite loop. 



Mads shouts and ducks for cover as she pulls out the Magnum and aims it at the symbol etched in the wall-





Virgil is looking through a microscope at one of the tissue samples from The Decayed that Ren managed to bring back last week. 


It wriggles and writhes in its wormy malevolence. The only surviving victim is still in the hospital screaming about the holes and worms inside him. 




Uni is sound asleep in her cradle under the careful watch of three eyes and a fox plush. 





“I don’t want you to break your hands at all,” Ren says dropping the pen entirely and tugging my arms forward a little more so that he can wrap my hands in his bigger ones and presses a kiss against my fingers, “Particularly not when you appear during a field mission and attempt to ‘help.’”






“Not that your assistance isn’t appreciated, Tsuki, but we would all prefer that you didn’t irreparably damage yourself in a misguided attempt to save one of us,” Fon adds. 



“It was one time!” I protest, “And I did it to save your lives.” 



“It has been more than one time,” Ren interrupts my outrage, “And if you insist on throwing yourself into the field you are going to be combat-ready. Or do you not think that you can handle it?”



Smug, smarmy bastard. 



I bristle at the challenge. Pulling my hands out of his and scrambling to my feet so that I can, for a brief and glorious moment loom over the two of them. 



“Can I handle it?” I repeat, “Who do you think you’re talking to, Sunshine? You two do realize that I’m your handler right?”



“You’re a very adept support tactician, Mio Caro, but I don’t think you quite have what it takes to work in the field.”





Do you even have the slightest clue when you are? I didn’t realize that it was ever this bad...





I feel the corner of my eye twitch as I look down at Ren who is giving me this dark dead-eye stare. I don’t know if he’s being serious or if he’s just trying to provoke me but either way I’m not going to stand for it. 



Not combat-ready my ass. 



“Fon, I suddenly feel extremely motivated to do more training if you’re amicable.”



“I’m more than happy to be of assistance, Tsuki,” Fon smiles as he stands up in one very graceful motion turning to walk back to the practice area showing off extremely well-defined muscles and the scales of the dragon. 






Me and Ren kinda tilt and admire as one. 



It’s very hard not to.









“Feel free to join in as well, Renato,” Fon says with a backward glance, “You can’t rely on those firearms of yours for everything.”








‘Minerva,’ Juno snaps drawing the attention of the eye I keep with her, ‘If you’re just about finished playing with your pets we have reports of an unnatural phenomenon in Death Valley. Something about a circus. I need you to SEE-”















You can finish having your fucking nervous breakdown later. Right now you have to get Lambo away from that fucker. 






Fucking hit that fucker!





Fists and glitter fly in the enclosed space as I make a mad lunge for Lambo. 



Zakuro swears as electricity and sparkles flash in front of his eyes and I manage to get in one good hit across his jaw as Lichi drives needle-like fangs through his ear. Shock and awe are all I’ve got at this point. It’s all I ever have really. I don’t exactly have any formal martial arts training I’m mostly a scrapper which is becoming more and more obvious to all now that Tsuna and Takeshi are getting formal weaponry training and Kyoko talked Hayato into taking karate lessons with her mom at the community center. 



The fact that I’m a flailing idiot is becoming more and more obvious. 



It’s the detriment of starting the adventure at a higher level than the rest of the party.  They’ve all leveled up while I’m struggling through an ongoing identity crisis. 



Zakuro catches my hands in one huge fist, not a difficult maneuver considering how tiny I still am (I shouldn’t be this small. I was never this small before. Something is wrong) and then all I feel is white-hot agony as my hands start to burn. 



And I scream. 



“STOP! STOP HURTING FRATELLO!” Lambo’s terrified shouting cuts through the haze of pain, “LAMBO-SAMA WILL BEAT YOU UP IF YOU HURT,  FRATELLO!” 



The grip releases abruptly and my gloves are ripped off my hands in one rough motion. 






The unnatural blaring rage of a tuba fills the car as Lambo’s tantrum takes a very different turn from the usual tears. 



“Shut the fuck up you irritating little fucker,” Zakuro snaps. 



There’s a blur of motion and suddenly Lambo’s shouting turns into quiet sobs. 





What the hell are you doing?!



Wondering what the fuck is going on? Lamenting my terrible life choices? Wondering why the fuck I’m talking to myself like a crazy person again?! Really, take your pick at this point. 



Really isn’t the time for any of that.



Thank you so much for that extremely useful and relevant news bulletin, me, have any other helpful tips?



Stop fucking around or Lambo is going to die!





I don’t even think before lunging at him again. I use my size to my advantage and get a little more momentum by kicking off with my legs. We collide into his side of the car with enough force that the entire vehicle swerves dangerously. 



A horn honks as I slam my bare somewhat burnt fist into the bridge of his nose and it connects with a satisfying crunch. 



And then a huge hand lashes out catching me hard across my lower jaw and the side of my neck. Which would have been shocking enough, but then the burning sets in and I yowl like a fucking alley cat. 



He shoves me off of him hard and Lichi releases his ear and follows me, hissing and spitting as her arms lengthen unnaturally. 



“Try that a fucking’gain and the kid is fucking done,” he snarls holding Lambo up between us. The storm coiling dangerously at a point in his chest.



My awareness narrows down to a singular point as the threat hangs in the air between us and Lambo’s confused and terrified whimpers fill the space in the back seat. One of Zakuro’s massive hands wraps around Lambo’s upper body immobilizing his arms and pinning him in his very dangerous grip. 







You fucking don’t panic!





“Fuck off!” I snap, more to the irritating voice in my head than to Zakuro, but the sentiment is still the same. 



“What was that?” He rumbles dangerously and Lambo cries in his grasp. 



I still can’t see the Storm but I can sure as fuck feel it’s teeth and along with them the promise to rend and tear and break down all matter until all that is left is bone and then not even that. The fresh burn across my lower jaw and neck stings as I swallow hard and begrudgingly sit back pressing my back against the door. 



I let myself relax as much as possible. My panting slows. 



“Don’t hurt him,” I plead quietly. 



“I wasn’t plannin’ on it until you decided to go feral on me, Idjit.”



My eyes flicker up to meet his, and as much as I fucking loathe this man right now I can tell he’s being honest. The threat remains, but there is a very defined line in the metaphorical sand that he isn’t going to cross. 



My breathing evens out a little more and a tense sort of silence fills the car. That is until my phone starts buzzing again. 



It’s been going off almost constantly since Zakuro nabbed us outside the Sports Emporium. I haven’t exactly had an opportunity to answer it what with the threats and the violence and the fabric of reality tearing against the grain as an unnatural piece of the Tri-ni-sette froze a conduit. 






He would be disappointed if he was here to witness the artless flailing that I’ve been trying to pass off as self-defense. 



He taught me better than that. 



He better be okay. 



‘You’re a little out of practice, Dearest,’ Lichi consoles me, ‘I’m sure he will be more than happy to give you some lessons when this is all done.’












Of course Fon was the only one sensible enough to keep his real name. It just too bad that it’s fucking with me this badly. 



My vision statics out. 



My last hold out. 



The damning evidence. 



Of what Juno’s creation wrought. 



Of what I didn’t stop. 



Even though I hardly need it now. 





Later. I know this is all fucked and a lot, but it needs to be later.





My gaze travels down to where the glitter gloves lay smoldering and discarded on the floor mat. They still sparkle as dim light passes through darkened windows. But they’ve started to melt into something that looks less glove-like and more like a lump of rock. Even the highly experimental superconductive compound was no match for whatever the hell Zakuro’s flames are made of. I try to ignore the pang of heartache and disappointment as I look at them. I loved those gloves, not for any practical reason of course, but I had loved making glitter art in the sky and snapping my fingers to lights and giant hands. And they had been a gift. 



Verde had made them just for me. 






██r██l made those for me. 










“You ain’t going to need those where you’re going, Idjit,” Zakuro sneers and settles back into his seat. 



The industrial district flys past in the window behind him as the car speeds through the streets of Namimori. 



I have to bite my tongue to keep from blurting out something that will undoubtedly just make this entire situation exponentially worse. Zakuro’s already made his threats. One more wrong move from me and Lambo is quite literally toast. And I am not going to do anything stupid to risk his life. My own, sure. But not his. I will never willingly do anything to endanger any of my babies. 



Past, present, or future. 



Lambo whines quietly in our captors grasp and flashes his big green teary eyes at me. He’s holding steadier than I thought he would and I am so proud of him for that. I am also filled with murderous rage toward the towering asshole sitting next to me for that. But I’m going to focus on the pride. 



I try to smile at him in a comforting way. It feels like it comes out a little more crooked than usual. I think the burn is making the side of my face swell a little bit. I’m also pretty sure that there is a raw burn on my face and neck in the shape of a massive handprint which I am really not down with. I’m not a vain guy, that’s more Ren’s deal than mine, but I don’t really want to spend the rest of my life with this dick’s hand on my face. 



This is hardly the most traumatic or painful thing that has ever happened to me during a kidnapping. Anyone who knows me will tell you, I have been kidnapped, taken hostage, and assaulted way more than any person should be. And I’m not even counting my time as Tsukishima Inari. Just this past year I have been kidnapped eleven fucking times, and four of those times were before Reborn and the bloody mafia showed up on our doorstep. 



I will actually have to rank this as one of the more pleasant kidnappings that I’ve been through just for the fact that I have yet to be physically restrained yet. 



No, I’ve just been bitch slapped by a fire giant. 



And there is something demeaning about getting bitch slapped into fucking submission. Even if said bitch slap was accompanied by molten heat and magical disintegration properties. At least his nose is a little messed up now. Little victory. 



My face still stings like hell though.



All things considered I guess I’m lucky that he managed to muster up enough restraint to avoid burning my entire face off. I’m grateful for that at least. It feels like that would be a particularly shitty way to go. 



And somehow I doubt Reborn would be keen for date night if I was sans face. I might not exactly be much to look at but I like to think I have at least some attractive features.






Fuck it, I’m a living trash fire and I know it.



“I wasn’t expecting you to be so scrappy,” Zakuro finally says breaking the silence and gingerly prodding at his nose with his free hand. 



“What do you want? An apology?” I grumble. 



I take a moment to coil myself into any even smaller shape pulling up my knees and curling my hands close to my chest. My phone into my midsection and continues to buzz every so often. I don’t know for sure who keeps calling me, but I can guess. 



I still don’t dare answer it though. 



The way Zakuro keeps eyeing me makes me wish I’d had the foresight to put the ringer on silent today. 



“Naw, It would’a been disappointing if ya hadn’t fought back at all,” He says, “Though I was warned about yer mouth, not the rabid squirrel routine.” 



I’m getting a distinct impression that I’m being mocked right now. 



“My ‘mouth?’” I ask incredulously, “I didn’t realize my loquaciousness had become so legendary. Unless of course you were warned about my ‘mouth’ in the more hands-on sense, in which case you are going to be sorely mistaken.” 



Of course it’s going to be my reflexive defensive innuendo that is going to get me killed. 



Zakuro’s mouth drops open a little as he stares at me wide-eyed. I can see the gears in his head grinding to an abrupt halt. 



Alright then.



“And please don’t take that as an invitation to whip it out. I might be easy, but I’m in a committed relationship and my partner is really picky about who we invite for threesomes.”






Me? Stop? Never.



Welcome to the newest episode of ‘I’m uncomfortable and I’m going to keep digging this hole until everyone else is too.’



“Though I can understand that you’d be a little bit pent up, what with the whole molten fire hands. Out of curiosity, can you jack off? And if so how fucking weaponized is your jizz?”



There is a moment where nothing happens. Zakuro just keeps staring at me as I glare back at him with more sass and moxie than I actually feel as his faces starts turning increasingly deeper shades of red as he fails to breathe. 



Go ahead, take away all my weapons and options. I’ll defeat you with my fucking dialogue wheel, dick. 



His hold on Lambo slackens enough that my padawan slips through his grasp and lands on the seat with a little squeak before scurrying over to me. I unfold myself enough for him to crawl into my lap before re-cocooning around him protectively. He half crawls into my oversized hoodie like some sort of baby kangaroo. He turns and presses his head into my chest and starts making teary little sobbing noises. 



Crocodile tears.



To cover up the fact that he’s already gotten his little hands on my phone. 



I just keep up the ice-cold glare as Zakuro sputters and fumbles in the face of the vulgarity that I just threw in his face. I do feel a little bad that I just exposed to some seriously R-Rated bullshit, but at least he’s no longer in the grips of Mr. ‘I-may-actually-have molten-cum.’ 



Honestly, doesn’t this jackass know that I’m on vacation? Or, you know, in the middle of a somewhat intense identity crisis/nervous breakdown? I don’t have time for parallel universe shenanigans. And, not that I want to tell hostile demonic, time-traveling, parallel universe gangsters how to spend their time but, do they always have to come bother me? Tsuna’s the protagonist they can go bug him for once... 



Not that I want to wish gangsters on Bro-Bro. 



It’s just that he reliably has at least one or two nuclear deterrents with him at all times. 



And also I’m sick of getting typecast as the damsel in distress. 



I fix Zakuro with the iciest glare that I can muster under the circumstances as his expression flickers through confusion, embarrassment, murderous rage before he finally settles into a burst of maniacal laughter. Unsettling, but it provides a decent cover for the sound of Lambo’s little fingers hitting a button on my phone followed by a click. 



And a faint voice that sends a wash of relief through my entire body. Not that we're out of the woods yet, but just knowing that Reborn is sort of with us in spirit (and in eaves-dropping) makes me feel so much better. 



My Padawan has learned well. As a Bloodhound Scout I shall bestow upon him his subterfuge level one patch. 



Now I just need to pray that Zakuro doesn’t notice our new wire situation. Hopefully, he will just be thrilled that he doesn’t have to listen to the electronic bops going off every thirty seconds and won’t think of the whole MacGyver’d wire thing we have set up on our end. 



But, really, what’s the worst he can do?



Kill Lambo.



Burn off my face. 



Contact his, quite frankly, terrifying boss who seems to be trying to get a jump start on global conquest. 



That was Byakuran’s deal right?









“Fucking hell,” Zakuro hoots as he turns his manic attention fully onto me, “He wasn’t kidding when he said you were brutal.” 



I can’t really do much to avoid getting cuffed across the head in my current position. It smarts a little it jostles me, but it’s doesn’t make any part of me burn. Which is nice... and I guess sort of answers the jerking off question. 



I flinch a little as he messes up my hair, even more than it already is, and I resist the urge to sink more into the rabid squirrel routine and bite his fucking hand. 



“Relax, Idjit, I’ll let you have this one for free,” He leers at me, “Ya got me fair and square.”



“So good to know that my fucking kidnapper has comedy standards.” 



“And he keeps going,” He laughs as his gaze shifts slightly, “I’m glad, for a second there I thought I might’ve nabbed the wrong one.”



“What? Vongola Decimo isn’t good enough for ya?” I taunt incredulously. I’m a little insulted on Bro-Bro’s behalf. 



Zakuro shrugs as he sprawls out across the backseat. His irritatingly long legs encroaching into my personal space bubble. 



“He said ‘it isn’t time for Decimo to play his part,” Zakuro says as he turns away to look out the window, “Don’t worry though. Your ‘Bro-Bro’ isn’t going to be left out.”



“... What?” My voice comes out cold and stilted. 



While my brain is still somewhat affected by the static I am pretty sure that Zakuro and Millefiore equals Byakuran. Thanks to Mukuro traumatically jumpstarting my memories I’m a little bit clearer with the progression of events that could have happened in this timeline if things had progressed without me. 



Including ridiculous time travel to take down a global dictator that was fucking with the balance of the universe. Honestly, I don’t really remember much of that story. It hadn’t made much sense to me then, and when I had tried to bring up the topic of a time-traveling bazooka and alternate timelines to Concetta she had just laughed at me. 






For a really long time. 



I try not to push too much with the time travel shit. Thinking about it always leaves me feeling like I’m about to have an aneurism. Lucky for me Lambo tends to keep fucking with the continuum to a minimum when he’s around me. Though Tsuna and the guys have had their fair share of encounters with ‘adult Lambo’ while I had my own shit to deal with.



I don’t remember any of them mentioning an imminent time war though. And that feels like one of those things that I would have latched on to. If only for my fascination with science fiction and the headache that any mention of a time war would undoubtedly give me. 



Byakuran... is powerful and dangerous. 



“What’s that supposed to mean!?” I demand when Zakuro continues to fucking ignore me. 



And he wanted something with the Tri-in-sette which is a whole bunch of NO. There have been too many attempts to fuck with the delicate balance of reality as it is and I would really like the get Reborn (who may or may not be Renato) untangled from all of it before some megalomaniacal dictator decides to go poking at it. 



If that is what’s happening. 



I’ve already learned my lesson about making assumptions based on my ‘foresight.’






It probably goes without saying but I don’t like any part of this. I don’t like the part where I’ve been kidnapped. I don’t like the part where Lambo was brought along to threaten me with. I don’t like the feeling of cold fingers tugging on the strings inside my head to whisper at me. And I certainly don’t like the implied threat against Tsuna.



But the thought of anyone, let alone a guy who has the power to transplant people into parallel universes an in at least one of those universes will grow up to become a fucking global dictator, having a ‘role’ for my brother is creepy.



And a little too soon after the last bout of creepiness. 



I’m really hoping these ‘plans’ don’t involve body jacking. We already did that horror trope to death.  



“Relax, Idjit,” Zakuro laughs like a condescending prick, “you never know, you might even like it.” 



“And that doesn’t sound threateningly suggestive at all. Are you sure you aren’t about to whip it out?” I snark. 



Great, that isn’t ominous at all. 





Hey, Me? Any more helpful advice?



... I fucking hate wibbly wobbly timey wimey bullshit. 



Are you the Doctor now?




The car takes a hard left off the byway and the last remnants of the industrial district start to fade into small scattered residences and rolling farmlands as we roll onto Expressway Seven. My ... favourite Expressway. I always love seeing the disturbing imagery advertising ‘Heaven’s Gate’ emblazoned on twenty-foot billboards. 



The decayed roadsigns announcing 150 km to Kokuyo Land, because no one bothered to take them down after our neighbouring town was destroyed. 



And the looming closer and closer the Western Peak of Mount Namimori. 



It doesn’t take long for the greenery to vanish and the landscape around Expressway Seven to turn dry and brown. The earth out here is scorched the ground caked and cracked with expansive fissures that look like spiderwebs. 



I suddenly like this impromptu field trip even more than I did before. 



Which was, not at all. 



“So, since I, apparently, have to pick up the ball since you were too cheap to spring for inflight entertainment,” I snark breaking the somewhat awkward silence, “Any idea how much longer this kidnapping will be going on for? Rough estimate, so I know how much material to jam into my routine. There are a limited number of destinations out this way.” 



“Nice try, Idjit.”



“Not really joking, dude. There are only like three places you can go on this road; a ghost town, and extremely dangerous mountain trail that is prone to tectonic shifts and landslides, and a funhouse attraction.”



And he just yawns at me. 



Fucking asshole. 



If you’re going to murder me at least act interested in the process. 



I scowl at him. 



It’s times like these that I’m glad that my fight or flight response is a little screwy. It makes it so much easier to compartmentalize the terror and move on to being pissed off and self-righteous. 



“Just sit tight, kid,” He says, “This will be over soon enough.”



I just continue to scowl at him as his eyes drift shut. He’s not sleeping. The heaviness of the flames that he’s putting out is proof enough of that, but this is a pretty obvious ‘I’m sick of playing now so shut up before you piss me off again.’






I don’t particularly want to talk to him anyway. 



Though it would have been nice if he had let anything at all drop about our final destination. 



You know, so the rescue team that’s eavesdropping right now will have something better than Expressway seven to go on.



I glance down at Lambo who has my cellphone open and angled in such a way to best avoid notice and yet pick up most of the conversation. The call has been going for a while now. And while there aren’t any more frantic voices coming from the other side I can make out the distinctive rumbling of a motorcycle. 



Cavalry is on the way I guess.



I have a terrible feeling that there is a Cave Troll with them, but beggers can’t be choosers. I glance back through the rear window hoping to catch a glimpse of Kyoya’s ridiculous ride rumbling up the Expressway behind us. 



“This almost reminds me of that time in Death Valley. When we found Sam...” 



It comes out barely a whisper as I stare out onto the charred landscape. I hadn’t been a field agent. But every so often the need arose and I ended up having to stare into some aspect of the abyss. And Ren would always come find me without fail. No matter how lost in the dark I got. 



I’ll admit,’ Lichi says as she curls around my neck, her entire body thrumming with energy as whatever Zakuro did finally starts to wear off, ‘It has been exciting watching the hero’s work. We never understood why you liked them so much.





Ten minutes later the car finally rolls to a stop. It pulls off the main road kicking up a cloud of dust as we pass beneath the flickering neon sign. The arching letters lighting up at halted intervals beneath the massive technicolor visage of a three-headed hound. 



“Heaven’s Gate.”



“It looks more like the gates of hell to me,” Zakuro says suddenly leaning in way too close and sending my heart rate back into panic mode. “Thought it was some Japanese thing.”



It’s really not. 



And he’s not too far off. The driveway up to the parking lot is lined with the husks of long-dead trees. The bark is the colour of rust and there is an energy around them that just feels sick. Just passing by them in the car makes my stomach hurt. 



Beyond the trees there are fixtures built into the caky Earth. Basins of concrete and stone, what I assume was once a garden of some sort but is now filled with dry red clay. The advertisement company should really start doing their research because Heaven’s Gate looks nothing like the commercials on TV. 



I am really glad that we decided to have Hayato’s birthday party at Take Sushi now. I’m pretty sure if we decided to have it here we would have ended up living out some campy 80’s horror movie. 



“Don’t try anything stupid, Idjit,” Zakuro says as he grabs me around my upper arm and hauls both me and Lambo out of the car in one smooth motion. 



As if our combined weight amounts to that of a can of beans. 



“Ow! Fuck, you could have just said get out of the car. You don’t have to keep getting all handsy.”



I do my best to keep a hold on Lambo as my body is forcibly pulled out of it’s balled up position. My legs are all pins and needles as my feet are planted on the ground and for a moment I’m stumbling around like a newborn foal. 



I really want to kick his ass. 



“You’re a tricky one, Sawada,” drawls the driver lightly accented Japanese as she exits the car and gives us a cursory look over the hood, “He was warned not to let you out of arms reach. Gives you too much to ‘improvise’ with.”



She looks different than the last time I saw her, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is the same woman that had us all running for our lives during the summer training camp with the Doll-Face and the Cavallone boys. The distinctive pattern of burn scars that cross the left side of her face. The carrot-orange hair. The cane. 



This is... Ginevra Rosco. 



Dino’s personal chauffeur. 



His storm guardian.



And the woman who has been missing in action for weeks now. Ever since all that shit went down with Della Rosa framing Dino and Dad sicing Vongola’s murder squad and half the alliance on them. 



“Nice seeing you again, Baby Vongola,” Ginevra says with a smile that doesn’t seem to twist the scar tissue on the left side of her face quite as bad as it did the last time we met and a voice that doesn’t sound like she has been eating a box of cigars daily. 



“Dino’s been worried sick about you,” I blurt out, forgetting everything else. “He thinks you’re dead! What the hell are you doing hanging out with this asshat!?” 



Ginevra cocks her head to the side thoughtfully before her smile softens. 



“Dino... Dino will understand when his time comes,” she says as she rounds the car with a limp that isn’t as pronounced, “We will be reunited when the time is right.” 





Well... That’s unsettling.



Oh, really? You think?!





“Uh huh,” I say and try to backpedal, forgetting that Zakuro has me in a vice grip, “That’s nice. But you know what would be nicer? If we forgot about this whole kidnapping thing, ditched this guy, and head back to see Dino. Seriously, he’ll be thrilled to see you. I bet he’ll even forgive whatever the fuck this has been.”



“I have already been forgiven,” She intones, “I am clean.”








Does she look kinda... high to you?




Ginevra reaches out and gently tilts my chin up so that our eyes meet. Which, ow, because of burn. But it also gives me a closer look at her and, yeah, she looks kinda high. 



But also she looks shiny? Which might be because of all the white she’s wearing. It feels like more than that though. Like looking at someone through an opalescent filter. 



And there’s something else. 



It’s too... quiet. 



Lichi bristles on my shoulder and hisses at her. 



Don’t touch him!



Ginevra releases me and steps back. 



“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend,” her gaze flickers up to Zakuro, “You weren’t supposed to harm him. HE won’t be pleased.”



Zakuro doesn’t answer, but I felt him flinch. 





So, I know it’s against your nature because it’s against mine, but try not to do anything stupid. Kay?



You’re not any help at all you know that? 



I’m plenty helpful. 





“Fratello,” Lambo interrupts, “Lambo-sama is hungry.”






I give him a helpless kind of look because... I’m not anywhere close to being in control of this situation. We are 90 km out of town. I have no money, and even if I did Heaven’s Gate looks more like a horror movie set than an actual functional entertainment attraction. 



“I don’t have anything on me, kiddo.”



“LAMBO-SAMA WANTS SNACKS!” He shouts and I wince as my phone is thrown to the ground with a crack. 



It’s fine. Nothing that can’t be replaced. It just would have been nice to have kept our rescue party on the line as an extra security feature. 



I admire this kid's resilience and ability to bounce back, but now really isn’t the best time for a tantrum. 



“I don’t suppose either of you has a chocolate bar? Fruit snack? Something? Or did you drive us out into no man’s land to starve us to death?” 



“Now ain’t that just impolite of us leaving y'all out here cold and hungry.”



A drum roll. 





Be chill. This is going to get fucked so be chill. 



Says the fucking voice in my head. 





All three of us nearly jump out of our skin as the large double doors to the Heaven’s Gate Fun Complex slam open to reveal an old man. 



An old man who I had once know very well because he had at one point been my Grandpa’s constant companion.  



He’s the one who-





Breathe! Breathe you, ridiculous little boy!





Yamaguchi Minatozaki. 






Guardian of the Gates to the Underworld. 





He’s the one-





Stop that! Find the connections. Match the rhythm. KEEEP. THAT. INSIDE.”





He barks madly with laughter as we all turn wide eyes on him. A crooked man with dark wrinkled skin and wild white hair. His eyes are buggy. His hands are craggy. And he is dressed in a long white robe that has been ‘decorated’ with splatters of red. 



“Y'all are late,” He declares with a click of his tongue as he descends the steps. 



Though he doesn’t so much descend as he skitters like a demented spider moving faster than any of us can register apparently, because one moment he’s at the top of the steps and the next he’s right next to me grinning up at Zakuro like a mad dog. 





You drug yourself back this far, my boy. I didn’t do that. Just a little further and we’ll put you back together. Good as new. Better even.






S’all right kiddo,” Yama-chi sobs as he bleeds his life and lightning into me, “I’ve got’ya.





Rough calloused fingertips grip my face gently and I’m too stunned to struggle so I let Yama-chi tilt my head from side to side. He lets out a low rumbling growl as he catches sight of the fresh burn across my jaw and neck. 



“Oi, what the fuck are you doing here you old fart!” Zakuro snaps, “You’re supposed to be watchi-“



Zakuro’s rant transforms into a scream as Yama-chi snaps forward with a growl. I use my free arm to hold Lambo tightly as I’m nearly pulled off my feet before I’m suddenly released. 



Wet spots of red plop against the dry ground before being sucked down leaving nothing but rusty stains. 



Zakuro is screaming and swearing. Ginevra shouts and draws her sword.



And Yama-chi grins with two dismembered fingers sticking out between sharp teeth. 



“I’m pretty sure we was fairly clear about the stipulations of our contract, boy,” Yama-chi says after spitting the fingers out. “You weren’t to lay a hand on him. An’ I can dis-tinctly see your handprint.”



I feel Lambo twisting around in my arms to get a better look at what’s going on. I don’t really have the presence of mind to stop him, what with being wrapped up in the rapidly escalating action before me. 



“THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU!?” Zakuro roars and lunges as everything around us starts burning and breaking apart. 



Yama-chi stomps his foot down on the fingers and howls. A howl that makes the ground quake and a massive pillar of lightning crashes down from the heavens and slams into Zakuro. 



“Just sit your ass down there, boy, and be glad I’m in a merciful mood and that you’re still needed at the moment.”



He slings one heavily muscled arm around my shoulders protectively and before I can think to move away or question I’m swept up into a drum duet our rhythms matching so perfectly that it’s impossible for me not to feel safe. 






This is the man that gramps used to jokingly call his dog. 



The man that helped save my life. 



He grins at Lambo with bloody teeth and because Lambo is a certain kind of baby monster and more like us than I know how to deal with he laughs. 



Mafia babies can be scary creatures. 



“You was hungry right munchkin?” He says as he nudges the fingers with his bare toes, “I can fry these up in some barbecue sauce.”



“Yuck!” Is Lambo’s immediate rational reaction to the temptation of fucking cannibalism. 



What the fuck. 



What is this fucking escalation?



Did I drink myself into a coma?



Is this a coma nightmare?



I let him usher us forward and we come to a stop next to Zakuro who is groaning and smoldering on the ground. Yama-chi rolls his eyes and kicks him in his side. 



“Get up ya lazy mongrel,” he orders, “Ya still have work to do. That was nothin’. That was hardly a nibble. ‘Nari here took twice that and went off to take on the corrupted spawn of Dionysus.”



He keeps prodding at Zakuro with his foot before our paradox man finally starts to rouse. 



“Up before I decide to cast some bigger stones at’cha. HE was benevolent enough to give you another chance boy. You best tread lightly or  HE might need to think about upgrading to a better model.” 



Apparently, that is enough to get him up on his feet looking wild-eyed and frantic as he clutches his bleeding hand to his chest. 



“Get on then you fat-headed reptile. Before you really make me lose my temper.” 



The threat is accompanied by a roll of thunder that I can feel rumbling beneath my feet. 



Zakuro looks like he wants to say something. Or try to hit the very old man who just kicked his ass. Or maybe like he’s about to throw up. I can say from experience that getting hit with that much voltage is not fun.  I think this has been a very good learning experience for him personally. And if I currently had the ability to speak I would be taunting him about it. 



As it stands I’m a little tongue-tied. 



“You have everything in order, sister?” Yama-chi asks Ginevra as she saunters up next to Zakuro. The brass end of her cane clicking against the ground with each step. 






“Be-eau-tiful~ Make sure that the hothead here doesn’t lose it again. He needs the Light’s guidance more than I thought.”






Far be it from me to judge my goddamn kidnappers, but this is starting to feel a little cult-y to me. 



“Of course,” Ginevra’s clothes smolder slightly as she laces her free arm through Zakuro’s, but the disintegration stops at a point. “Come, Zakuro, it’s almost your time to stand in judgment. To see if your efforts have proven true.”



He sneers at her. The ring on his finger glinting dangerously and dripping with blood. 



“I don’t need a newbie like you mouthing off about my ‘efforts.’”



Yama-chi laughs and starts heading me forward toward the abyssal entrance to the ‘Heaven’s Gate Fun Complex.’ I try to dig my heels into the ground to slow our progress even a little bit. I’m desperately holding on to the hope that Reborn somehow managed to overhear our destination before the call was unceremoniously ended. 



“Hey, can I at least grab my phone?” I ask desperately. 








“Phone?” Yama-chi asks, “Sonny you’re not going to need a phone where we’re going.”



That doesn’t sound threatening at all~



“What if my Mama calls? I was supposed to have the kids back by three. She’s gonna be wondering where we ar-GH!”



I’m unceremoniously shoved through the doors and seconds later plunged into total darkness as Yama-chi slams the doors behind us. Bolts and locks scrape momentarily before my new captor is at my side his fuzzy snout pressing against my ear as he bends in close. 



... what the fuck was in that sake?! Fucking LSD?!



“WAHHHHHHH!” Lambo yells, “DARK!”



“Shhh, Don’t worry it’s okay,” I soothe, “We’re on a quest, right? We just have to beat the dungeon and then we can go home kay.”



I’m grasping at straws. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know what these guys want from me. But this kid is counting on me right now. So I have to make this at least somewhat bearable for him. Somehow. 



“You’re so much like Pluto, Minerva,” Yama-chi says, “You both always liked the games. You’re kinder though. That’s why HE chose you. That’s why he’s going to help.”



I’m starting to get a really bad vibe here. 



Worse than before I mean.



I have so many questions, like; who is HE? What the fuck do you all want? What the fuck is going on?



They all die in my throat as a light switch flicks on and the room that I’ve been pushed into comes briefly into focus-









Too late. 



I see. 



And then the world is static. 



Darling, stay with-



And I scream as I feel my EYES. 



Hold him! I can-‘ Booms the dragon. 



And I scream as I feel the VOID. 



I scream as I’m torn in three directions and I hang on to dear life to the only thing in the universe that is strong enough to keep the pieces from scattering to the four winds. 











“I am sorry, Inari,” Cerberus says from everywhere and nowhere, “I helped to make Humpty Dumpty out of you. Pluto said we were helping. But he lied. He LIED. We’re going to make you better.”






I am vaguely aware that we aren’t where we were before. And I’m even more aware that we aren’t alone. Zakuro and Ginevra are looming over me in this enormous cavernous room backlit by a pool of pearlescent light radiating from the floor. 



“Fratello,” Whines Lambo, and I look around madly for him when I realize that he’s no longer in my arms. And that I can’t move my legs. 



Different, but equally upsetting things to worry about. 



Where did Lichi go?



“Stop struggling, boy, you are needed to break the lock.”



I have to blink my eyes a few times to bring the rest of the room into focus. We’re not in Heaven’s Gate. This isn’t any room in a building. This is an underground cave, a cavern. 






There are five figures of various sizes with hoods tied over their faces that are being held in place by smiling men and women dressed in white who don’t seem even the least bit moved by the muffled shouts and thrashing. 



One of the captives is missing an arm. 



One of them is very small and hardly moving. 



And all five of them are slowly bleeding a spectrum of colour into the ground accompanied by a low droning sound. Three notes played at a frequency that is almost painful. 



“You’ll all be blessed by the glory of the Lord of Light. He shall cleanse you and make you anew.”



Holy fuck.






“Is this actually a cult?!” I demand, “You have to tell me if this is a cult or else it’s entrapment!”



Yama-chi ignores me and starts walking with Lambo to a gap in the circle of terror.



“Hey! Stop! Get your hands off of him!”



“You’re taking too long with this, Old Man,” Zakuro grumbles.



“Don’t worry, Hot Head,” Yama-chi says as he sets Lambo down on the ground and walks to the one-armed figure next to him and takes off her hood. “This place is hidden by the Tri-ni-sette. No one can find it unless they know where it is.”



Gabriella shakes her head and starts looking around in confusion. Our eyes meet and she tries to launch to her feet, but just like me it looks like her legs aren’t working either. 



He goes to the next figure and takes off the hood and-









“... I-Inari-san?”



“Long time no see, dude, been a while since the last time we were kidnapped by a psychotic cultist.”






“Now really isn’t the time for pleasantries,” Gabriella snaps as she glares daggers into the back of Zakuro’s head. 



“Now is the perfect time for pleasantries,” I giggle hysterically, “We might as well get to know each other before we’re sacrificed to the fucking Lord of Light or whatever fucking douche set this shit up.”



The hood on the figure next to Red is ripped off and my heart stops and I proceed to have a ten-second freak out at the sight of Mukuro-who-should-be-in-Vendice-custody right now. And then I realize that, no, that is not Mukuro. That is a girl.



A girl who looks remarkably like Mukuro.





Chrome. Or Nagi, I guess. 



I’m glad at least one of us remembers this shit. But while I have you WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?!





She looks around the group looking a hell of a lot more chill than I feel considering she’s been kidnapped by a fucking murder cult. 



“Umm, e-excuse me,” She stumbles, “Where are we?”



“Don’t worry Nagi-chan,” Red says super heroic like, “We’re going to get out of here somehow... Right?”



“Why are you looking at me?” I snap at him. 



Yama-chi stops next to the tiny figure on the ground and removes her hood.






“I-PIN!” Lambo shouts. 



I blink at him in bewilderment. 



How the heck does he know... oh, time travel. 



She’s not moving. 



It looks like she’s hardly breathing. 



“Good timing,” Yama-chi says with a click of his tongue, “Any longer and this one woulda run out’a juice.”



Oh god.



Oh god. Oh fuck. 



“Is she breathing?” I call over to Nagi who is the closest one to I-pin’s unmoving body. 



Nagi leans over as much as she can since she too seems to have been struck by the whole ‘immobilized legs thing. 



“Yes, she’s breathing.”



The last hood is removed and Hibari Kira starts looking around the cavernous space wildly. 



“We’re all ready now,” Yama-chi says, as he steps into the circle, “Bring him here.” 



Zakuro makes a face before he bends down to pick me up by the collar of my shirt and proceeds to drag me toward Yama-chi who is standing at the center of the technicolor rainbow nightmare. The closer I get the louder the sound of the song becomes. So loud that I can’t hear any of my fellow victims screaming. 



“Don’t worry,” Yama-chi smiles, “You won’t feel a thing.”



There’s something rumbling down in the dark tunnel and a blindingly bright light. Heralded by a trumpet scream. 






And then he’s pushing me down into the miasma of light and colour. 



Lambo screams. 



And I guess someone forgot to frisk him for weapons. Because my mouth fills with the taste of chemical purple, the world rocks off its axis, and with a KABOOM of cotton candy pink I’m swallowed whole.