Rating - PG
Characters - TYL!Tsuna, Byakuran, and Irie Shouichi. No pairings.
Notes/Warnings - First off, major spoilers for the Future Arc. Second, seeing as this was written before the release of chapter 252
Summary - Irie Shouichi and the two men who changed his life. On making mistakes, and dealing with the consequences.
The Vongola Tenth listens, intent and silent, until at last Irie concludes and breaks off, waiting anxiously for this last, most crucial step. Everything Irie has done until now, everything he’s planned to do after this—all of it rests on these next critical seconds. What Tsunayoshi decides will either make or break the future.
Finally, Tsunayoshi leans back in his chair, a strangely distant look on his face, and asks quietly, “You’re sure this machine will work?”
“Yes,” says Irie firmly, willing as much conviction as he possibly can into his reply, because it’s essential that Tsunayoshi believes him. “I’m positive.”
Tsunayoshi continues to look far away, his thoughts off in places Irie can only guess. You have to believe me, he urges desperately. I can’t do it without you.
At last, Tsunayoshi meets his eyes… and smiles.
“And you believe that by doing this, we can stop Byakuran.”
Relief floods Irie, and he smiles in return. “I’m positive,” he repeats—and he is.
Tsunayoshi looks at him thoughtfully. Then, finally, he stands and offers Irie his hand. Irie hesitates for a split second, then grasps it. The other man’s grip is gentle but sure. Irie feels a kind of heady charge run through him, powerful but somehow almost soothing, reassuring. And he knows in that moment that it is not just Tsunayoshi who has made the right choice; he has, as well.
“I trust you,” says Tsunayoshi simply, and when he releases his grip and smiles again, for the first time in a long while, Irie feels hope. He simply nods.
“How soon can you build it?” Tsunayoshi asks, and Irie offers a smile of his own.
“I’ve already started.”
“Good.” Tsunayoshi rubs his jaw, looking contemplative.
“It won’t be hard to transport,” Irie continues. “If I go to work now, with a little help I can have everything moved out of my lab and into your base by tomorrow morning, before anyone there notices anything’s happened.”
Tsunayoshi glances at him suddenly, as if startled out of his thoughts. “What?”
“I said that if I move now, I can have everything essential transferred from my base to yours by the morning.”
Slowly, Tsunayoshi shakes his head.
Irie frowns, but before he can say anything, Tsunayoshi continues.
“Irie-san… I need you to stay in the Millefiore base and act as though nothing has changed. You need to stay undercover.”
Irie feels his stomach twist as an all-too-familiar anxiety settles on him. “What? But that’s—!”
“I’m sorry.” Tsunayoshi scratches the side of his head, a startlingly boyish gesture, but when he continues, his tone is steady and mature. “I trust you,” he repeats. “Now you need to trust me.”
Irie frowns, meeting Tsunayoshi’s gaze uneasily.
“…I can’t explain why,” Tsunayoshi continues. “But it’s important… maybe more important than anything else. You have to stay undercover. It’s crucial that no one other than me knows that you’re really working for the Vongola.”
Irie swallows and looks Tsunayoshi over, his stomach turning apprehensively as he thinks of just what this request truly entails. “I don’t understand,” he says at last.
And Tsunayoshi must have picked up on the edge of desperation in his voice because he looks away, almost guiltily, and when he finally responds, the plea in his own tone is evident.
“I know it’s asking a lot of you. And you’ve already risked this much….” He trails off, as if unsure how to continue, and when he meets Irie’s eyes again, for the first time that night it hits Irie that this man—the head of the most powerful mafia family in the world and a leader with more grace and influence than Irie could ever hope to achieve—is still just a man, barely graduated from boyhood, no older than Irie himself. Human, mortal, fallible. And as much alone in this as Irie is.
“Please,” Tsunayoshi finishes simply, imploringly.
And in that moment, Irie realizes two things. The first is that he has already made his decision. He is in this to the end now, no matter what is asked of him… even if it kills him.
And the second is that Tsunayoshi really is impossibly like Byakuran, possessed of the same quiet charisma, that ability to persuade and influence nearly effortlessly, to inspire an almost blind devotion in everyone he meets. Despite having met him for the first time barely an hour ago, Irie is already certain that he would do anything for him.
“…All right,” he says at last, feeling almost sure that those two words have sealed his fate and, all the same, meaning them from the very core of his being.
“Thank you,” Tsunayoshi says, and there is real gratitude in the words. Irie steadies his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose and nods, thinking again of the similarities… and the differences.
That same uncanny ability to instinctively understand people’s hearts. But where Byakuran’s presence is always cool and unnerving, Tsunayoshi’s is gently comforting, even now, after making a request that Irie is almost sure will ultimately get him killed.
Thinking again of the man he has been asked to try and deceive, Irie thinks reprehensibly, I should have known from the start. I should have known from the very beginning just what kind of man Byakuran really is.
Now all he can do is follow this plan and hope.
He is nineteen when he first meets Byakuran, young, naïve, and not a little enthusiastic, having just completed the preliminary design of what he believes will be his magnum opus. Certainly it is his proudest achievement to date, and he takes great pleasure in describing his model in meticulous detail to anyone at the expo who expresses an interest.
And the man who shows the most interest is a young mafioso with a shock of white hair and a pleasant, though slightly off-putting smile. He seems fascinated by the model, completely absorbed in Irie’s animated estimates and explanations. He nods and prompts with insightful questions at all the right points, and before Irie realizes it, he has been talking to him for at least half an hour.
When he points this out, laughing in surprise, the other man joins in enthusiastically, seemingly even more amused than Irie himself. “My apologies,” he smiles, “I have a tendency to get carried away at times.”
“I think I’m the one who got carried away,” Irie replies, adjusting his glasses with an awkward grin.
“Not at all. Ah—but have I even introduced myself yet? I’m Byakuran,” he offers, holding out a hand. Irie accepts it. The grip is confident with just the slightest hint of power beneath it.
“Irie Shouichi,” he says in return.
“Shouichi-kun,” Byakuran smiles widely. “Of the Bovino family, if I remember correctly?”
“That’s right,” says Irie, a little surprised. Had he mentioned that earlier in their conversation? He looks at Byakuran questioningly, and the other man smiles again.
“I must confess, I’ve had an interest in your work for quite some time now. If I’m not mistaken, in addition to designing this wonderful Melone Base here, you’ve also done some extensive research on time travel?”
Irie nods, and somehow it doesn’t occur to him to be thrown off by the other man’s knowledge. “The Bovino have had the technology for short-term time travel for many years now, of course. But I’ve been trying to take it to the next level in my work.”
“And have you had any successes?” Byakuran asks, and again Irie does not hear for even an instant anything other than genuine curiosity in the question.
“Not yet… but I feel like I’m getting closer to a breakthrough.”
“How exciting.” Byakuran stands back and brings a thumb to his lips for a moment, eyeing Irie with a suddenly perceptive gaze. For the first and only time in this conversation, Irie feels a sudden glimpse of foreshadowing, a feeling that perhaps this man is not all that he seems.
And then Byakuran smiles once again, and the feeling floats away as if it was never there to begin with.
“This may seem sudden, Shouichi-kun… but I would like to make you an offer.”
It’s easy enough, as the commander of the Melone Base and one of Byakuran’s top captains, to keep people out of his research lab. All Irie has to do is label the project top-secret, and just about everyone knows to stay out of his business. There are certain privileges that come with the white jacket that he so hates to wear, and he isn’t one to waste them.
No, he already knows the real problem isn’t going to be convincing his subordinates or the other captains to leave him alone (even that troublesome Black Spell, Gamma), but rather the man he now fears above all others: his boss.
A week passes, then two, and with each new day, the knot in his stomach closes tighter as he grows increasingly certain that he’s going to be found out, that he’s already been found out. That Byakuran is only biding his time, simply toying with Irie until his patience finally wears away and he makes the call to have him detained… or worse.
But by the beginning of the third week, the knot is slowly starting to ease. There’s simply been no interest directed at him from Byakuran’s end whatsoever. No random calls to “see how you were doing,” no sudden flower deliveries (he’s kept an especially wary eye out for any sign of monkshood or lavender), no inquiries as to how his projects are going. It seems that Byakuran is fully absorbed in his war against the Vongola and the Arcobaleno; for once, Irie is flying comfortably below his eye-level.
And so he continues to work, aware that with every day that passes, their time is growing shorter.
Seventeen days after the plan went into motion, he receives a communication on the secure private line he gave Tsunayoshi. Opening the channel once he’s sure they won’t be detected, he finds an email with a rather large file attached.
I hope all is going well. As you know, things have been getting a little rough lately, but fortunately we haven’t sustained any heavy casualties since we last met. I’m hoping this war is at least keeping Byakuran occupied for the time being.
And I also have one more request for you. The file attached to this email contains a set of seven blueprints. They’re new box weapons designed specifically for the members of my family. If you succeed in getting the rings back, I have a feeling we’re going to need them.
Thank you for all that you’re doing for us. Please hang in there—and hurry.
Irie notes that Tsunayoshi signs off with his name, rather than his title of Vongola Decimo. Another likeness between him and Byakuran. Opening the file, he scrolls through the designs that Tsunayoshi has sent him. A smile slowly touches his lips, and he sets to work again.
“I have a present for you, Shou-chan,” Byakuran says brightly, and Irie can’t help but fluster a little.
“I—what?” he starts to stammer, and Byakuran waves a hand to cut his startled questions off. As Irie struggles to rein in his shock, Byakuran pops another marshmallow into his mouth—the bowl on the end table between their two chairs is full of them—and grins.
“Now, now, don’t act so surprised! It’s only natural to reward a trusted subordinate for all his hard work, isn’t it?” He takes a small sip from his glass (the wine is a moderately expensive Vin santo, one of Byakuran’s favorites because of its renown as a dessert wine; Byakuran rarely indulges in any meal other than dessert) and seems to take a doting pleasure in Irie’s continued discomfort. “Shou-chan… you really need to relax. Or do you not feel that you’ve earned it?”
“It’s—not that! It’s just….” Irie rubs his head awkwardly, feeling his stomachache come back and trying to push it down. “Well, I just wasn’t expecting… that’s all.”
Byakuran laughs, and Irie feels slightly more at ease.
“Would you like to know what it is, then?” his boss asks. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small box tied with a simple white ribbon. He offers it to Irie, who takes it after a moment’s pause and pulls the ribbon undone.
Inside is a winged silver ring, simple and elegant in its craftsmanship. He lifts it from the box, astonished. “Byakuran-san—!”
“Is it to your liking?” Byakuran asks, smiling.
“This is…” Irie’s eyes widen. “…A Mare ring!”
He finally manages to pull his gaze from the polished white stone in the ring’s center, and finds that Byakuran is looking at him very closely, that smile still in place. A shudder runs through him for just an instant, and then it’s gone.
“I would like you to become one of my new captains, Shou-chan. And I’m putting you in charge of the Melone Base once it’s completed.”
Irie feels an odd combination of pride and, strangely, apprehension. Nonetheless, he nods after a moment and finally slides the ring into place on his right hand. “…I’m honored.”
“I think it suits you,” Byakuran chuckles. “How does it feel?”
Irie stares at the ring on his finger for a long moment, then nods again. “Good.”
“Excellent. Well, then, let’s discuss the details of your new command.”
As Irie leaves the Gesso headquarters an hour or so later, it dawns on him that for some reason, though he’s not sure why, he’s glad that Byakuran is in Italy and the Melone Base is in Japan.
When Byakuran finally does make his move, his aim is frustratingly ambiguous. Irie emerges from his research lab one day to find the Cervello waiting for him with a message: Byakuran has just arrived and is waiting to meet with him. Trying to suppress his immediate fight-or-flight response so that he can think clearly, Irie allows himself to be led to the briefing room of the Melone Base.
“It’s good to see you, Shou-chan,” Byakuran says quite amiably when he enters the room. “Please have a seat.” He gestures to the chair across from him, and Irie complies, forcing himself to keep a calm face. He reminds himself that he has no idea whether or not Byakuran even suspects anything; for all he knows, he’s just here to visit.
Byakuran nods dismissively to the Cervello, who bow and take their cue to leave. Irie, meanwhile, notes the yellow bouquet to his right with both wariness and vexation. Forsythia flowers.
“Do you like them?” Byakuran asks, noting his interest.
“Anticipation, is it?” Irie questions in return. Byakuran smiles.
“That’s quite correct. You’ve been studying, Shou-chan,” he adds with a light note of approval.
Irie reaches to adjust his glasses automatically. “Anticipation of what?” he asks carefully, trying not to give anything away.
Still smiling, Byakuran leans over the table, folding his hands and resting his chin on top of them. “Of many things,” he says cryptically, and Irie fights the reflexive urge to roll his eyes.
“I take it the war against the Vongola is going well?” he asks despite already knowing the answer.
“Indeed. But you should know, Shou-chan,” he adds with a hint of playful teasing, “you’re on the front lines, after all.”
“I wasn’t aware the fighting had moved back to Japan,” Irie replies with a dubious frown.
“Oh, it hasn’t. Not yet. But it will… very soon.” Byakuran pauses for a moment and gives Irie a very shrewd look. Irie has the sudden impression that he’s left himself wide open somehow, and feels an abrupt surge of hatred for the man sitting across from him. It isn’t just Byakuran’s evil actions that he loathes; it’s the fact that he seems capable of effortlessly seeing right through everyone he meets, while always remaining maddeningly, damnably unreadable himself.
And Byakuran must be able to read him, as always, because a moment later he leans back in his chair again. “Do I frustrate you, Shou-chan?” he asks plainly, though pleasantly, and Irie gives a start in spite of himself.
“…Sometimes,” he admits at last, finally giving up on the possibility of predicting how this meeting will end.
“I’d noticed.” Byakuran eyes him in that same shrewd way again, just for an instant, and then breaks into a delightfully amused laugh. “Shou-chan… would you like to know a secret?”
Irie blinks. “All right,” he replies after a beat.
Byakuran looks at him for a moment, calmly, and then says with no hint of irony or deception in his tone, “I trust you more than I trust anyone else.”
And Irie feels like a dagger has been plunged into him as he finally realizes what the true purpose of this meeting really is.
Laughing lightly, Byakuran rises to his feet. “Well,” he says as he pushes back his chair, “I believe we’re through here, then.”
Still in shock, feeling cold all over, Irie just barely hears him. He knows. Maybe not everything, maybe even nothing for sure, but all the same… he knows.
And as Byakuran starts to head for the door, Irie realizes that he has only one last chance to somehow keep things from completely falling apart.
“Byakuran-san,” he says, breaking the silence as he rises from his chair as well. Byakuran pauses and turns back toward him with an inquisitive tilt of his head.
“It’s not complete yet… but there’s something that I would like to show you.”
As Byakuran smiles again, raising a quizzical eyebrow, Irie thinks he understands the meaning of the forsythia bouquet, as well.
Irie originally created Choice as a simple board game designed to improve the players’ grasp of strategy. Since then, it has somehow evolved into a massively complex computer simulation capable of a near-infinite number of scenarios. It’s also become one of Byakuran-san’s favorite diversions. Irie finds he doesn’t quite mind.
“Hoh… you win again, Shou-chan,” Byakuran mourns with an almost giggly feigned disappointment as Irie’s point man takes out Byakuran’s simulated target. As the inventor of the game, Irie is unsurprisingly quite good at it, something he also doesn’t mind.
“Well, it all comes down to luck in the end,” he replies, though they both know luck has very little to do with it.
“Alas,” says Byakuran, looking highly amused over the communication screen. “Well, it seems I’m at your mercy. What would you like as your reward?”
“I’ll settle for bragging rights, this time,” Irie smirks after a moment’s consideration.
“How benevolent of you,” Byakuran laughs. “But are you sure? Remember, you’ve just defeated the boss of the most fearsome organization on earth. The entire world now rests at your fingertips.”
Irie chuckles, raising a thoughtful hand to his chin in an exaggerated gesture of contemplation. “Well… since you put it that way, I suppose it might be nice to claim a country or two.”
“Shou-chan the conqueror.” Byakuran grins. “And what of the unfortunate remnants of the army you just defeated?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ll probably just kill them,” Irie says with a mock dismissive wave of his hand.
For just a moment, Byakuran’s grin fades into something more subtly, almost peculiarly, amused. “Indeed? What a terrifying man you are, Shou-chan.”
Irie pauses, his show of pretend arrogance briefly faltering. “It’s… just a game,” he tries to laugh, except that all of a sudden he feels rather awkward and timid, so the laughter comes off much shakier than intended.
“Of course,” Byakuran smiles reassuringly.
“…Well,” says Irie after a silence that he’s pretty sure feels much more uncomfortable on his end than Byakuran’s. “I think that’s probably enough recreation for one afternoon.”
“Is that your subtle way of reminding me how busy you are, Shou-chan? If you’re dissatisfied with your workload, all you have to do is tell me, you know.”
“It’s fine,” Irie replies, now feeling thoroughly uneasy and trying very hard not to show it.
“Ah, so it’s that I’m being dismissed. Very well, then,” Byakuran says, offering a quick wave of farewell. “I could hardly call myself a good boss if I continued to distract my trusted right hand when he needs to get back to work. Ciao, Shou-chan.”
Irie nods awkwardly and the communication clicks off. Letting out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, he puts one hand wearily to his brow and is a little surprised to find that he’s broken out into a sweat.
By the time he finishes breathlessly explaining the situation to Tsunayoshi, Irie has reached a full-blown panic. Tsunayoshi, however, just sits with an almost unnerving calm.
At last, the young Vongola says carefully, “I think it will still be all right.”
Some part of Irie’s already-strained nerves finally breaks at the cool dismissal of all his frantic worries, and before he knows it, he finds himself nearly shouting. “It’s not all right! Have you even been listening to what I’m trying to tell you? He knows! About everything! At this point, even if I do get the machine to work, it will still be a disaster!”
“Irie-san,” Tsunayoshi says, raising his voice just enough to grab Irie’s attention in spite of his panic. “Calm down.”
And somehow, as he meets Tsunayoshi’s steady brown gaze, Irie miraculously does feel a little more composed. He takes a deep breath, then nods very slowly.
“I don’t think he knows as much as you guess,” Tsunayoshi goes on, his brow furrowing a little in thought. “Maybe he suspected something was wrong, but I don’t think he’s necessarily pegged you as a traitor. Not yet.”
“…Then why would he have come to Japan?” Irie questions, finally sitting down again. “Why meet with me like that? And the flowers, too! He definitely knew something!”
A strange look crosses Tsunayoshi’s face for just a second, and he looks away. “I think there’s something else he’s very likely anticipating.”
“And what is that?” Irie presses, watching him uncertainly.
Tsunayoshi meets his eyes again, and there is a determined look in them that inexplicably makes Irie nervous.
“He’s asked me to meet with him tomorrow.”
Fear grips Irie suddenly and profoundly, and almost before he’s aware of it, he’s out of his chair again, his fists tightly clenched and his mouth half open before he can even stammer out his protests. “You—you can’t! You absolutely can’t!”
Tsunayoshi closes his eyes, saying nothing.
“It’s a trap! Don’t you understand? All he wants is your family dead! He’ll kill you!”
Still Tsunayoshi doesn’t respond, and Irie’s growing urgency turns cold and foreboding. “Tsunayoshi-kun—”
Struck silent by the shockingly resolute tone of those words, Irie just stands there, staring at him, his stomach suddenly so tight he can’t breathe.
Tsunayoshi does, though; a long, drawn-out breath that comes back out of him with a resignation so bleak Irie almost can’t bear it. And when he finally opens his eyes again, for the first time, Irie sees more than just determination there; there is another emotion, so acute and painful it seems to be nearly brimming over.
“I know,” he says again, and the pain in that voice, now barely disguised, hits Irie so hard that the ache in his stomach seems meaningless by comparison.
“Then… why?” he asks finally, his own voice tight with a confusion-laced despair.
And Tsunayoshi smiles, sadly.
“Because all of this… everything that’s happened… all of it is my fault.”
Irie blinks, starts to shake his head, and Tsunayoshi cuts him off.
“I made a mistake. Because I didn’t want to fight, because I didn’t want to see my family get hurt… I made a mistake. I destroyed our greatest hope.”
“The Vongola rings?” says Irie quietly.
“I destroyed them. I thought it would be better… that if I could just get rid of the things that everyone was fighting over… that somehow it would end.” A bitter laugh. “But I was wrong. The wars continued. The fighting only got worse. And because I’d taken away the only weapons my family had to fight back….” He trails off.
“…I made a mistake,” he repeats at last. “And now I have to make up for it.”
They stay there in silence for almost a full minute before Irie finally says, “That doesn’t mean you have to die for it.”
Tsunayoshi blinks, looks up at him, and then, unexpectedly, laughs.
“I don’t want to die, either,” he says wholeheartedly. “But don’t you see?”
“I don’t see at all,” Irie answers in dismay.
“I know that in all likelihood, it is a trap. I know that you’re probably right, and that if I go there tomorrow, Byakuran will almost certainly try to kill me. But… if there’s a chance… even the slightest chance that he really does want to end things, that we might finally be able to come to a ceasefire… then it’s a risk that I have to take.”
He runs a shaky hand through his hair once, and then concludes: “I nearly destroyed our hopes once. I can’t risk doing it again.”
Irie meets his eyes, looking for any glimmer of doubt. He finds none. At last, defeated, he sits back down.
“If you die,” he says quietly, “it will destroy all of our hopes.”
“That’s not true.”
Irie shakes his head. “Now that Byakuran-san knows about the machine, our element of surprise is gone. He’ll be ready to strike as soon as we bring your younger selves here with the rings. He won’t wait around for you to prepare.”
“No, he won’t. That’s why we have you.”
“…Me?” Irie pauses in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“We’re going to have to change the original plan. I realized it a little while ago… we can’t just bring everyone here from the past and take the rings. That’s why I sent you the designs for the new boxes.”
And Irie leans forward in shock as realization finally hits. “You can’t mean—”
Tsunayoshi nods. “As much as I hate to admit it… this isn’t our fight anymore.”
Irie opens and closes his mouth a few times in disbelief before finally stammering, “But you—they—they’re just kids.”
“You’ll have to space it out instead of bringing them all at once,” Tsunayoshi continues. “That’s why I needed you to stay undercover—this way, you can control things on the Millefiore end. So that they’re not overwhelmed. So that we’ll have time to train them and get them ready before they finally have to face him.”
“This is insane,” Irie finally mutters, already knowing that it’s futile.
“Irie-san… you and I both know that Byakuran can only be defeated in this era. I’ve thought it through… and as much as I hate it, this is the only way.”
He looks at Irie pointedly, and finally Irie closes his eyes, forced to accept that even if he’s still not convinced, Tsunayoshi is, and there’s nothing he can do to change his mind.
“I’m sorry,” Tsunayoshi says, quietly breaking his thoughts. “To put this all on you.”
And as Irie opens his eyes again to meet Tsunayoshi’s, he feels a wave of helpless devotion.
“I thought it would be me,” he confesses very softly. “Who’d end up getting killed over this. Not….” He can’t finish the sentence.
Tsunayoshi smiles. “You’re a sun type, aren’t you, Irie-san?”
Irie blinks at him in surprise. “Yes.”
Gently, Tsunayoshi reaches out to touch the Mare ring sitting on Irie’s finger.
“Then it shouldn’t surprise you.” He grips Irie’s hand, and slowly pulls it up. “After all, what are the characteristics of a sun flame?”
Irie looks at him in wonder. Tsunayoshi laughs.
“You’re not meant to die… you’re meant to heal.”
“I’m not sure I understand your reservations, Shou-chan,” Byakuran says patiently. “Or do you not want me to succeed?”
“You know it isn’t like that,” says Irie slowly, trying to quash his frustration.
“You don’t approve of my plans?”
“I just….” Irie adjusts his glasses, trying to think of the most diplomatic way to put it. “I don’t see why we have to do it like this.”
“Well, I did try asking nicely, first,” Byakuran laughs, and Irie feels just a little aghast at how he can treat so serious a matter with such utter disregard.
His discomfort must be pretty obvious, because after a moment, Byakuran stops and smiles contritely. “Oh, it seems I’ve struck a nerve. My apologies, Shou-chan; you do feel rather strongly about this, don’t you?”
“I’m just a little uncomfortable,” Irie says after a careful pause.
“I suppose I can understand. After all, to challenge the Arcobaleno… it’s a very bold move. But necessary, you see.”
“For the pacifiers?” Irie asks.
“Indeed,” Byakuran eyes him for a moment and then asks, “Tell me, Shou-chan… how much do you know about the tri-ni-sette?”
“I know they originally came from the ores that supposedly created the world,” Irie replies after a pause. “And I know that there are three sets: the Arcobaleno pacifiers, the Vongola rings, and our own Mare rings.”
“And do you know of their true power?” Byakuran asks, and there is a very curious tone in his voice, one that Irie has never heard before. He frowns and shakes his head.
“I’ve always been told that was a secret known only to the highest-ranking members of the most powerful families.”
“And so it is. Well… suffice to say that if someone were to ever bring all twenty-one rings together and combine their power… the result would be quite terrifying indeed.”
He smiles, and a chill runs up Irie’s spine.
“…And this is the power that you’re seeking?”
“I’d say it’s worth the risk, don’t you think?”
Irie can’t think of any good response, so finally he just yields a noncommittal sigh, hoping that will be enough. To his relief, Byakuran gives an amused chuckle and rises from his chair.
“Byakuran-san?” Irie speaks up just as other man turns to leave.
“Just what is it that you plan to do once you’ve gathered all of the tri-ni-sette?”
And as Byakuran turns to face him once more, Irie feels a horrible shock as he looks into the other man’s eyes, sees something cold and terrifying and altogether evil, and realizes that he is truly seeing his boss for the first time.
“I’m sure you can guess that, Shou-chan.”
The corner of his lip tugs up once more, and that smile—how could he have ever thought of it as pleasant?—sends Irie’s stomach plummeting.
He nods, very numbly, then sits there paralyzed as Byakuran makes his exit. After a long, long moment, he finally drops his face into his hands.
How could he never have seen it before?
What will I do?
…What have I done?
Tsunayoshi was right. Byakuran must not have guessed everything after all, because the day after that fateful meeting when he was forced to reveal his “plan” to his boss, Irie finds himself still in command of the Melone Base. Surely if Byakuran had really seen his true intent, he’d have had Irie killed, or at least removed from a position of power. For the time being, though, it seems that he is safe.
But Tsunayoshi was also right about Byakuran’s intent to kill him.
Twelve hours after bidding the Vongola Tenth farewell, Irie receives word that he is dead. The news hits him like a hammer to the gut. He doesn’t let himself show it.
(You have to stay undercover. It’s crucial that no one other than me knows that you’re really working for the Vongola.)
And it’s more important now than ever.
He’s not sure how he’ll manage to carry out the plan without someone helping out from the Vongola side. The answer comes a day after Tsunayoshi’s death when he receives another communication over Tsunayoshi’s private line.
The idea that it could somehow be Byakuran lurks worriedly beneath the surface of his thoughts, but if that’s the case, then he’s already a lost cause. Once he confirms that he’s alone and the channel is still secure, he answers the call. A young man—vaguely familiar, though Irie can’t place him—appears, glaring at him over the screen. Irie frowns. “Who are you and how did you get this line?”
“I presume you are Irie Shouichi?” the man asks blandly, ignoring both questions.
“Yes! Now, who are you?”
The man eyes him coldly for a moment, then replies, “The Vongola Guardian of Cloud. Hibari Kyoya.”
Irie’s jaw drops open. “Then, Tsunayoshi-kun—”
“Is dead, thanks to your people.”
Irie feels a pang of fresh sorrow and ignores it. “They’re not my people!”
Hibari favors him with a long and probing gaze, and Irie gets the feeling he is being examined very closely. He holds his ground, despite his belated recollection of the Millefiore’s most-wanted list, which is now reminding him that the man on the other end of the communication line is a real force to be reckoned with.
Finally, Hibari simply nods once, as though satisfied. Irie surreptitiously lets out the breath he’d been holding.
“Sawada Tsunayoshi told me of your plans. He informed me that in the event of his death, I was to contact and advise you that I will now be taking over matters on the Vongola end. You will proceed as you have done, and keep in regular contact until the machine is completed, at which point we will confirm a final schedule.”
Before Irie can even open his mouth to respond, the other man shoots him another glare and abruptly cuts off the transmission.
Irie just stands there for a moment, blinking in surprise. Then he sits down, takes off his glasses, and puts a hand to his stomach.
So this is what it all comes down to, he thinks.
(Do I frustrate you, Shou-chan?)
(I’m sorry. To put this all on you.)
(You don’t approve of my plans?)
(You’re not meant to die… you’re meant to heal.)
(If someone were to ever bring all twenty-one rings together and combine their power… the result would be quite terrifying indeed.)
(I made a mistake. And now I have to make up for it.)
Slowly, Irie lets out a breath, closing his eyes.
(I made a mistake…)
So did I.
(…and now I have to make up for it.)
Irie opens his eyes again.
“We are going to stop you,” he whispers, and swears it with all of his heart.
You guys, KHR 252 (aka the one with SHOUICHI'S GODDAMN FLASHBACK) came out not one week after I finished this--in fact, it went up on One Manga the same day this was posted at khr_undercover. And Amano's version of things? WAS ONLY ABOUT A HUNDRED TIMES BETTER THAN EVERYTHING I CAME UP WITH. You have no idea how much I wanted to lol/flail/flip out over the whole thing, only I couldn't because I was still undercover. Sob sob never again sob. XD
(Also, just out of curiosity, did anyone manage to spot me in the guessing round?)