He can feel it growing inside, tearing and clawing at him like a demon in his chest. Rage. Pain. A deep, black anger, so powerful that he can physically feel it. It overwhelms him, fogging everything else so that the only feeling he can make sense of is a desire to hurt, avenge, punish. It's terrifying, so dark and alien that it barely even feels like himself.
And that rage slowly takes physical form in his hands; an all-consuming fire. It leaps forth—
—and then he wakes.
Tsuna has a better memory than he ever gave himself credit for, apparently, and a crueler subconscious to boot.
Even though the future is finally behind him—or ahead of him, whichever; time travel and all—the memories are still there, and still as vivid as ever. He hadn't planned on carrying this much back home with him—the nightmares were one thing he'd have gladly been willing to give up—but they'd followed, regardless.
They're the same ones, for the most part. Some are ridiculous (showing up for the final battle against Byakuran in his underwear), and some of them make a bit more sense (loved ones dying, the fate of the world resting on his incompetent shoulders and him letting them all down), but at least they're all familiar.
But there are others. They are worse.
He's standing before a long wooden table, set for ten. Eight place settings on each side, and one more at each narrow end. The décor is the very finest, gold and silver all around, intricately made, and all of it exquisitely stained in crimson.
A voice. "Decimo."
A tall, dark figure before him. "Welcome." He indicates the table, and now the seats on either end are filled with eight more shadowy figures, their attention focused exclusively on him.
"I knew you'd join our ranks one day," the tall figure is saying, and there's a hand on his shoulder, supportive, encouraging. "I'm proud of you."
He offers a glass. "Please, drink."
Tsuna takes it, and sees that it is filled with blood.
The room glows red. The tall man raises his glass in a toast, his voice accompanied by the eight others in the room.
"Congratulations on finally embracing your heritage."
He's been back the better part of a week now, and while he was all right for a little while, the dreams have been getting more frequent, to the point where he hasn't been getting much sleep. The very worst ones, they leave him cold inside, in a way that's very difficult to shake off. And even when he can, he can't stop his thoughts from racing afterward, and so he ends up just lying in bed, wide awake.
He has no idea how long it's been, really, but long enough that he's sure this is going to be yet another restless night. Weary, slow, and above all, uncomfortable, with Reborn's dull snores filling his ears and yet failing to drown out the thoughts in his head.
So finally, he decides to head down to the kitchen, where at least it will be quiet enough for him to suffer in peace. He creeps quietly down the hall, trying not to stumble down the steps in the dark, and when he reaches the doorway, he does feel a brief flicker of relief. Few things are as much a symbol of life and chaos and laughter as his kitchen table; even now, in the middle of the night, it's a familiar setting, calm and comforting. It's funny, he thinks, how a piece of furniture can somehow sum up everything he was fighting to protect back in that horrible future. It's funny how just the sight of it now can help reassure him that things really are all right.
Mostly all right.
He slumps down in his usual spot, leaning forward on his elbows, and tries his hardest to think of friends and family and good times and anything, anything but those dreams.
He's lying in a coffin. Oh, he thinks, this is familiar.
So is the arm that reaches down to help pull him out, though it's not quite who he expected. "Sawada Tsunayoshi," Byakuran smiles as Tsuna emerges from the dark. "Welcome to Hell."
Hell looks a lot like the forest he woke up in in the future. Exactly like it, in fact. Only now there's a line of people jutting through the clearing, stretching on endlessly, with no destination in sight.
"Do you mind…?" Byakuran is asking, and Tsuna sees that he is reaching for something in Tsuna's pocket; a card. Without waiting for an answer, he takes it and reads, slowly nodding to himself. "Ah, yes. Fell down the stairs. Surprisingly anticlimactic, if I may say so, but we get all types down here."
Down here. Tsuna takes a step toward the end of the line, feeling that is where he is expected to go, but Byakuran cuts him off with a gesture and a shake of his head.
"Oh, no, none of that for you. We have a special expedited service for our best customers, the ones that bring us extra business." Smiling again, he reaches into his own pocket and pulls out another card. "You see, when I arrived here, I of course listed you as my referral."
Sure enough, Tsuna's name is indicated on the line.
"Naturally, they were quite interested in you, since, if you don't mind my saying, I'm something of a legend down here."
"How many referrals do you have?" Tsuna asks.
Byakuran grins, his voice dropping to a whisper as he leans in conspiratorially.
When his tutor appears, it isn't the suddenness that startles him. It's Reborn, after all; his showing up out of the blue is expected. What isn't expected is the distinct lack of abuse. Tsuna braces himself as soon as he spots the infant, blandly sitting on the table beside him in his pajamas as if he'd always been, but nothing happens; no roundhouse kicks, no submission holds, no casual diving stomps to the face. But before Tsuna can fully register how odd this is, Reborn chooses to stun him in an entirely different way.
"If your dreams are so bad now, they're only going to get worse, you know. This is nothing compared to how things will be when you're a real mafia boss."
It's so mercilessly straight-to-the-point that all Tsuna can do is sit there and stare at the tiny hitman in mild shock. How did he…? The answer comes before he can even fully form the question. He's Reborn.
But he still can't think of a single thing to say in reply, so Reborn picks up the slack for him. "If things continue like this, your school performance will decline from the lack of sleep. Since you're barely staying afloat as it is, as your tutor, I have no choice but to straighten this out now before it gets any worse."
Having long since learned to anticipate unpleasantness from the combination of Reborn and phrases like straighten this out, Tsuna begins to inch his chair back, fighting a growing feeling of doom. Sure enough, Reborn follows up this proclamation with a flurry of sudden movement. Thinking there will surely be bullets involved, Tsuna is just about to leap to his feet and make a run for it when Reborn turns back to him again, and with a rush of exasperation Tsuna realizes he's misjudged his tutor's preferred method of sadism this evening.
It's not bullets.
"Ciaossu, I'm Dr. Rebofuroido, specialist in adolescent psychology. Go ahead and confess all your troubles, and I'll keep them in the strictest confidence."
Why me? Tsuna wonders incredulously. "Do you honestly expect me to treat you like a real psychiatrist just because you changed your clothes?!"
"Don't be nervous. I specialize in hopeless cases, so even the most pathetic patients like you can feel confident I'll cure your psychosis to the best of my abilities."
He's not serious. He can't be serious.
…Of course he isn't serious. Disbelief finally gives way to frustration, and with a sigh, Tsuna slumps back down at the table. As if things weren't already bad enough, now on top of everything else, Reborn is treating this all like a joke.
"Forget it," he says, closing his eyes and hoping against hope that for once in his life, Reborn will take pity on him and just leave him alone. Or at least knock him out instead or something, because he is way, way too tired to deal with this any longer.
There's a long silence before he finally hears Reborn's voice again beside him.
"You know, it's only a matter of time before your Family starts to worry, at this rate."
It's not fair, he thinks, how Reborn knows exactly what to say to make him feel guilty and useless and pathetic. He opens his eyes again, and finds Reborn dressed in his usual hitman outfit now, looking solemn for once. Tsuna scrutinizes him, wondering what this is all really about, what he's really thinking.
Then he sighs.
"I… don't know where to start."
"Describe them," Reborn says.
Them. The dreams. Tsuna swallows, and thinks back to the one he has most often, the one that always leaves him the most disturbed afterward.
"There's… fire. And something… inside of me. I can't control it. It feels like… like I'm going to burst with it."
Tsuna looks away, because no matter how much he's been through together with Reborn, he can't stand to look him in the eyes when he confesses this next part.
A shameful horror fills him as he admits it, recalling the feeling with revulsion. Reborn, however, seems unperturbed. "I see. And then what?"
"I wake up."
"And what happens to the fire?"
Tsuna looks up at Reborn, suddenly fearful, his mind drawing a blank. What does happen to the fire?
"I don't know," he says quickly, only that's not true, is it? He does know, but he doesn't want to know, wants to run and hide because that's what's at the core of all this, somehow. He knows it is. All the dreams… they all come back to that.
And Reborn must know it, too, because he's eyeing him very shrewdly. "Don't you?"
Tsuna stares at him—
(I, of course, listed you as my referral)
—and suddenly he's out of his chair, backing away, all but covering his ears with his hands in a full-blown panic, shaking his head. "I don't want to know," he says in a rush, and he can hear the desperation in his own voice and knows that Reborn will never understand this, won't let him hide, will force him to face it.
And sure enough…
"In that case, the next time you kill someone, I'll have an incineration squad ready to get rid of that corpse too, so that you can continue to pretend it never happened."
It's the worst thing Reborn's ever said to him, horrible enough to bring his breath up short and cause tears to brim up in his eyes.
Horrible enough to fill in the missing pieces.
That rage slowly takes physical form in his hands; an all-consuming fire. It leaps forth—
—and slams into Byakuran, incinerating him.
Him, but not the memory of him. The memory is forever imprinted on Tsuna's conscience. His face, fading away gleefully; his awful laugh, slowly disintegrating in the flames.
And Tsuna, watching, feeling glad of it.
Relieved by it.
His reaction must be awful enough to move even Reborn to guilt, because he looks almost halfway sympathetic, and his voice is almost gentle when he says, "No matter how you try, Tsuna, this is one thing you'll never be able to run away from."
Slowly, as if in a daze, Tsuna sits back down. Looking at Reborn—funny how, now that it's all out in the open, his tutor has suddenly become a lifeline rather than a peril—he finally manages to form the words: "I killed him."
"I know," says Reborn patiently.
Of course he knows; a moment ago he was the one who pointed it out. But for Tsuna, it's as if he's only just now realized it himself.
"He killed Uni," he says quietly.
"He would have killed all of us. Destroyed the entire world."
"He would have," Reborn acknowledges.
Tsuna looks Reborn directly in the eye and, try as he might, can't keep his voice from cracking on the next few words.
"…Why did it have to be me?"
Reborn's gaze is not without sympathy, but his response is absolute.
"Because you're the boss."
All the bitterness and reluctance Tsuna has ever felt at being the next Vongola heir comes swelling up inside him. He swallows past a lump in his throat and turns from Reborn's glance, biting his lip, hating the whole world just for that one moment. Hating Reborn for being right.
"You don't need me to tell you the world isn't always just," says Reborn after a long pause. "But if you had to do it all over again, knowing everything that was at stake… would you?"
He thinks it over. His family, his friends. All those lives that Byakuran, given the chance, would so freely and callously destroy.
"That's why," Reborn answers.
Tsuna looks at him tiredly.
Seemingly satisfied with the conversation, Reborn finally hops back down to the floor. He ducks under the table and a moment later emerges in his pajamas once more. Then he thoughtfully meets Tsuna's eyes one last time.
"Save your regrets for the things that are actually worth it, Tsuna. Not the things that couldn't be helped."
And with that, he disappears back up the stairs.
Tsuna watches him leave, then muses on his teacher's words in silence, thinking about how they weren't in the least bit comforting at all.
And yet, maybe that was the point. Maybe Reborn's just trying to tell him he has bigger things to worry about.
He's back in the forest. The people are gone; in their place is an impossibly long roll of paper, stretching for miles and miles until it fades from sight, lost in infinity.
Byakuran is holding the tail end of the list, inspecting it closely. He gives a small nod of acknowledgment when he realizes Tsuna is there, then indicates the paper in his hand. "My referrals."
"It's a long list," Tsuna says.
"Ah, and yet not half as long as I would have liked." He looks up, then smiles at Tsuna. "But I suppose I have you to thank for that."
One last nod, and then he's gone.
Tsuna stands there alone for a moment. Then he crouches down to read the last few names.
The list ends with Uni.
Okay, he thinks to himself. Okay. This is how it is, for better or worse.
Somehow or other, he's just going to have to live with it.