In her dream she is drowning.
It’s not too much of a surprise; in a literal sense, it is one of the few ways she can be killed. Vongola has taught her all about Flames–fire a lesser form of energy–and being Lightning natured makes her nigh impervious. No blade can cut nor bludgeon can break a Guardian protected by Lightning Flames. From Shamal and Bianchi she has gained an immunity to most known and some unknown poisons in the world. And if somehow, something were something to break through all those defenses, her Dying Will allows for a multitude of second chances.
But drowning… while water cannot douse Flames, it is still an unstoppable force. The sharpest of weapons and sturdiest of shields are useless against an ocean. While her body can fight off poisons, it still requires air to breathe. And a drowned body reawakening at the bottom of a pool will find themselves drowning a second time.
Ah, but drowning in a figurative sense. That is nothing new to her. How easily she had been submerged into the world of mafia. How little fight she put up when following her friends and family deeper and deeper into Vongola. How her glares at Reborn so so swiftly and subtly became gazes at her reflection in a mirror: Vongola’s Lightning Guardian, second best hitman in the world.
In her dream she is drowning. In reality, she startles awake as soon as the water reaches her fingertips, hand dangling over the side of the bed. She is not the first awake, but she is not the last either–the water level rising so quickly that soon enough all of the recruits are awake and squawking at each other. Something about toilets and shower heads. Perhaps they mean to find the source of the flooding?
The water is already up to her waist, but she is the shortest so the others are fine still. She goes for the door instead, being the closest to it and tries to pull it open, to increase the volume of the container if they cannot decrease or at least halt the volume of the water. It is locked. She pulls at it again, but it does not budge.
The water is at her chest.
There is a small window in the door. With a Lightning enhanced punch, she breaks the glass and carefully reaches through to see if she can unlock the door. She cannot. But she punches away all of the glass, even a little hole can mean a few more seconds of air. When she turns to see what the other candidates are doing, the water is already high enough that were she standing instead of treading water it would be at her eyes.
Most of them are clustered by showers and toilets–breaking tubes from the shower heads, snaking one end into the toilets and the other to their mouths. She wastes a few moments staring in a combination of disgust, incredulity, and bewilderment, before realizing there is probably a logical reason behind it.
But not all of them, she notices, still treading water at the opposite wall. One of the candidates, one of the newer ones to her nonverbal alliance, is over by his bed for some reason. He’s still moving of his own volition, but his head isn’t above the water. Trapped, or simply unable to swim. He’ll be drowning soon enough if nobody helps.
She thinks of Ryohei, of their teenage years with his inability to swim but a desire to be a lifeguard, nonetheless. She and Kyoko hadn’t let him, and though he wasn’t quite convinced, he acquiesced because he would have been putting more lives at risk.
She kicks her way over to him, and under the water their eyes meet blearily. She hopes she doesn’t lose a contact lens. She checks to see that he isn’t tangled up somehow, before hooking her arms under his and kicking them both up to the surface. It’d be comical, her being almost a foot shorter and nowhere as thick, were the need for air not desperately burning in her lungs.
The water has risen high enough that they can reach the ceiling with an outstretched arm.
“Can you not swim?” She splutters out as they both breach the surface.
He coughs but doesn’t answer; he’s kicking his legs, at least, which makes it easier for her to keep him afloat, but it’s not in the way meant for treading water which answers her well enough. She keeps them up there for a while, spotting the others with their toilet breathing tubes, taking a final glance around the room.
The hole she punched in the door’s window is a constant drain, but ineffective over all. The rate at which the water is rising is faster than that leak. It’s unlikely she can punch through concrete even with Lightning Flames enhancing her, but surely there must be some other solution? Withstanding an underwater environment isn’t exactly impressive, working out how to escape is what she would test.
“One last breath,” she warns the man in her arms, and they both inhale deeply before the water level rises to meet the ceiling. He is deadweight, but not literally, not yet. So she drops him over by the others crouched by the toilets, ensures that he’s added into the strange breathing tube rotation, before picking up one of the discarded shower heads.
In the bathroom area of the dorm is a large mirror, nearly half the wall. It’s odd, and it’s convenient. She presses a fingernail against it, notes the lack of a gap between the reflection, and knows that this is not a mirror. It’s a window. Much larger than the sliver of one in the door. Large enough to make a difference.
She flips the shower head around in her hand, holding the bulb and ramming the handle into the window. A smaller point of impact, with enough force behind it, has a larger chance of putting a crack in the glass; after that, the water pressure should take care of the rest.
But rather than making cracking the glass, her blow pushes her backward instead–the lesser resistance. She tries again, carefully harnessing a tiny amount of her Flames around the tip–to sharpen, to harden–but again is pushed back.
She’s beginning to become light-headed.
As she’s about to try a third time, someone tugs from behind her. The recruit she had carried earlier. He offers the tube to her, she takes a breath. He takes a breath of his own before handing the tube off to one of the other recruits around the toilet. Then he brackets her body between his arms, a reversal of before, this time her back against his chest, and grabs onto the sinks below the window.
Ah, he’s bracing the both of them. This time, when she rams the shower head against the window, it cracks. Once more and the glass breaks entirely, shards and water and all of the candidates spilling out into the observation room.
Merlin, ironically wearing a rain jacket despite being the only one dry, looks appraisingly at the lot of them; piled on each other like wet puppies shivering and coughing miserably. He begins speaking, something about plumbing and breathing. Teamwork. Whatever. There’s water in her ears and she really can’t be bothered to listen.
Plus, having been the closest to the window, she ended up at the bottom of the pile. And as she noted earlier, she’s probably the smallest of the candidates, it is not a fun experience. She drags herself out from everyone else, glad for the armor protecting her from glass shards.
As she is wringing water from her hair, Merlin calls her alias, “Azuma-san.”
She looks up expectantly.
He startles slightly, but continues, “Excellent work on both looking after one of your fellow recruits and on noticing the two way mirror. While you could have thought out the execution of your escape a little further; Nathaniel’s reciprocation of your help was what enabled your plan to succeed.”
She blinks at him, trying to decode what he said from Scottish-accented English into the mix of Japanese and Italian that her thoughts tend to run in these days. “Thank you,” she replies when the silence grows long enough.
He dismisses them, sending all of the candidates towards a dorm room identical to the previous one except for the fact that it’s dry. There’s a bit of a shift on the beds chosen, but the one closest to the door is left alone.
As she roots through her new locker for a change of clothes, the candidate in the bed next to her speaks. It’s Nathaniel, the mutually helpful candidate.
“Thanks for… getting me air,” For not letting him die, more like.
“You’re welcome,” She responds, before shrugging out of the wet pajamas and pulling a dry set on top of her armor.
“You seem to have developed heterochromia iridum,” He adds, tapping below one of his own eyes when she turns to look at him.
She doesn’t know what that means, and her blank stare must tip him off.
“Your eyes are different colors,” he elaborates.
One of her contact lenses! If he noticed, then Merlin definitely noticed earlier. One night and already she’s revealed one of her (and Vongola’s) secrets.
A/N: Finally got to the damn underwater scene… though I have no idea what’s up with that exchange at the end.
I kind of wanted it to be like… Tetsuki is at an advantage because not only has she been basically guaranteed she’ll live, but she also has years of experience with the crazy shit of canon KHR. Also, she’s a Guardian. Which means she’s not necessarily supposed to put her survival first so much as the mission/Tsuna’s life.