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yesterday's tomorrow

Chapter Text

(yesterday’s tomorrow is clawing at your heels while you wait.)
chapter one


-

When Tsuna awoke, his eyes were wet with unshed tears. He laid still, eyes fixed on the beige ceiling above. (Maybe, maybe if I don't move today will never start and it'll all be real—) Half of the ceiling was dyed yellow with sunlight from his window—

Sun, he thought, and immediately after, seamlessly, like they were one word: Sasagawa Ryohei.

What the heck? 

He didn't even know if Kyoko-chan had a brother. Probably not. He'd never seen anyone pick her up from school or walk her home besides Kurosawa-san. Maybe he's young, or working? his mind supplied hopefully—but no, the boymanboy he had seen in his dreams had looked like he was still in high school. So, it was all probably just...

Why was he pining so much for a dream?

It had been terrifying, and in some parts, disturbing. Putting the entire oh gosh I'm actually part of the mafia, what the heck is this part aside, there'd been that boy with the red eye, who had been freaky. Really freaky. And the man with the guns that shot fire and the what the heck is that a raccoon tail tied to his hair had been like a cowboy out of that Western that Tsuna was too scared to see. Except a hundred times more intimidating.

But in that dream, he'd had friends, hadn't he? Real friends, who stood up for you when you were being bullied and helped you and held you when you were sobbing because you've burned the faces off a thousand men—

Tsuna startled. Where had that come from?

It had been another part of the dream. He'd killed—so—many("Congratulations, Dame-Tsuna,"—tall man, black hat black eyes black suit, familiar but not quite familiar but not familiar at all—"You're a real mafioso now." The warm, slick blood felt disturbingly right on his fingers, like a spiteful prize for the winner--of course, the one with the blood still in him—a laugh. Idly, he wondered when he had fallen so far.) 

Breathe, Tsuna told himself. Breathe.

The doorknob turned on the other side of his door. Tsuna snapped up, eyes wide, grabbed for the nearest projectile, his alarm clock ("Stupid herbivore," hissed the man as they ran—"Were you asleep? How could you let them sneak up on you?" Tsuna's chest twinged with guilt because Hibari was right but he'd been so tired, hadn't slept in a week or stopped or...) and raised it above his head. The door swung open, and Mom (Mom?) stepped through,

(sobbing; "Tsuna—your father, he's—he's—")

smiling; "Good morning, Tsu-kun! My, aren't we energetic today!" with a trill of a laugh.

Tsuna set his alarm clock back on his nightstand, barely able to stop the trembling in his arms. What had that been?  Had he really been about to throw an alarm clock at his mom? Dame Tsuna picked a useless object, said a baby's voice in his head—You should have picked something bigger.

No, Tsuna snapped back. I shouldn't have picked anything up at all.

On his nightstand, the alarm clock began to ring. Out of habit, Tsuna slammed a hand down on it, noticing belatedly that it hadn't even reached the second ring before he stopped it.

"My, you woke up early today?" exclaimed Mom. "It must be a special day!" 

Tsuna had the most horrible feeling she was right.

-

It was awkward walking to school again. He remembered his dream with frightening accuracy, like they were memories in his past life, except they were from the present. Buildings which he had seen burned down or pockmarked with bullet holes stood upright and new. Tsuna almost forgot which road to take more than a few times because for periods of time he couldn't remember the way, he hadn't been to school in such a long time—but hadn't he gone yesterday?

Exhaling slowly, Tsuna rubbed his pounding head. Stupid dream for giving him so much trouble. It he just hadn't had the dream, he wouldn't be so confused...

The headaches only intensified at school. Tsuna's heart nearly stopped when Hibari Kyouya stalked by, but not because of the furious expression on his face, but because someone else's voice in his head commented in an amused tone, Oh, Kyouya—going to bite herbivores again? Not only had Tsuna never heard anyone dare to call Hibari-san anything other than Hibari-san or Hibari-sama or variations on I'm so sorry, please don't bite me to death I'm really really really sorry—but the person was amused, like he wasn't scared of Hibari-san at all. Again, Tsuna heard the quiet murmur of the same person—like something out of the distant past—Ah, I suppose there's not one in the mafia world who isn’t afraid of Kyouya now.

Shuddering once, Tsuna hurried up to his classroom before he could think about the mafia and Hibari-san and that person again.

Only, his thoughts were turned to something else. As he entered the room, his eyes were drawn to a group of boys standing around a black-haired boy with an easy grin on his face. Rain—Yamamoto Takeshi. Unbidden images of a tall man brandishing a katana like a baseball bat with the ease of a swordsman rose from the back of his mind, and immediately, though he didn't know quite why, Tsuna felt his anxiety release slowly. The shakiness in his arms faded away. ("Isn't it alright? Just join our team." An ever-present smile, whether he's smashing the ball into the outfield or slicing through a man's stomach.)

It took all of Tsuna's effort to pass the boy ("Baseball freak," sneered another voice) without glancing up hopefully at him, or slowing down to see if he'd notice, or just smiling widely because it's Yamamoto, he's there—but no. He didn't know Yamamoto at all, really. Not yet. (Right? Right? It's hard to tell when your whole life has revolved around your friends, your Family, and you can't quite remember the Before life.)

Sliding into his seat, Tsuna struggled to clear his mind and think about nothing, because what was the use of living in a fantasy when it would never come true? There was no way Tsuna, the stupid, useless Tsuna who couldn't do anything was going to become a mafia boss. That was as likely as—as—as a baby teaching him how to become one. Seriously. A baby? 

("Ciaossu," the baby said. "I'm Reborn, the home tutor." )

Tsuna snorted. Home tutor, indeed. From what he'd dreamed, Reborn had been more like a home slave-driver. Home torturer, bite-size. Or better yet, fun-size—Tsuna burst into laughter at the sheer irony of it all before he could catch himself and hastily pretended to cough, sneaking a glance around. Good. It didn't look as if anyone had noticed.

Nothing unusual here, Tsuna thought dryly. Just some kid who had a crazy dream, and is now going crazy himself.

Nezu-sensei stepped into the room and eyed the chattering students with distaste (how had that man ever become a teacher?). His gaze settled on Tsuna with, if possible, an even greater sense of loathing, for a brief moment, before he announced it was time to start class.

It was odd; every day before Tsuna had received the glare with hostility and a renewed sense of hate for the man, but today he brushed it off with ease. "People are going to hate you no matter where you go, no matter what you do. And if they do, what is it to you?"  The quote was there before he even had to think for it—strange, because he couldn't memorize anything for the life of him. Tsuna had read it in a book somewhere—now what was it called? 

Oh, that odd black notebook without a title he had found in his father's office in Italy; the one in which previous mafia heads had written advice for their heirs, the one Xanxus had been looking for but couldn't find—

His mind screeched to a halt and for the rest of class, Tsuna directed all of his attention to his textbooks and Nezu-sensei.

-

For lunch, Tsuna went up to the rooftop; he'd eaten there so many times in his dream that any other place didn't quite seem right anymore. But he ate alone, off on the side, staring at the baseball field and people below. There had been two people sitting next to him at lunch, one on his left, and one on his right. Yamamoto had been one of those people, and the other, a gray-haired boy with a scowl and a cigarette.

"Gokudera Hayato," Tsuna whispered to himself, testing the words on his tongue. They seemed so familiar, despite the fact that he'd never heard of the name before.

Again, seamlessly, like storm was a prefix: "Storm, Gokudera Hayato." He flexed his right hand before clenching it. "My... right-hand man." 

In that moment, Tsuna felt an odd thrill flood him, like something hidden deep within his heart had sparked and for a split second a thought sprang into his head, whether it was his or from one of the dreamsmemoriesdreams he'd had: Maybe become a mafia boss isn't as far-reached as I thought.

But it vanished before he could think any further, abandoning him with a miserable sense of bleak disappointment. Tsuna picked up his chopsticks and shoved food into his mouth, as if it could fill the hole in his chest.

-

To call it a dream would be doing it an injustice. Dreams are short, fantastical things; sometimes whimsical, sometimes horrible, sometimes amazing, sometimes depressing. But never everything in one never-ending drama, as this one had been. It hadn't been one elongated dream, but felt like pieces of an interlocking puzzle, where bits of information were revealed, information he could imagine being real but hadn't known before.

The night had felt like an entire lifetime compressed into eight painful hours; what he could be, he supposed, if so-and-so happened, or this-and-that occurred. He'd tried to keep himself distanced, as he couldn't seem to pull himself out of it.

They seemed more like memories than anything—was that even possible?

-

As a rule, Tsuna couldn't do a sport to save his life. Volleyball? Basketball? Football? It seemed like every time Murphy's Law came into effect. If it was possible for Tsuna's team to lose, which was always, they did. So for the majority of PE Tsuna tended to edge towards some remote place no one would think to throw/kick/hit the ball. Most of the time, it worked. His teammates avoided him, he avoided them, and pretended to be invisible.

So when the basketball sailed in an arc exactly towards Tsuna, most likely because he was the only person open to receive, Tsuna (and every other member on the team) thought Oh. Snap. But before he could move past oh what is a ball doing coming right at me? and our team is going to lose again, Tsuna's hands had snapped up and caught the ball.

For a terrifying second, every pair of eyes was on Tsuna because he had caught the ball and that meant the end of the world was coming.

Before anyone else had regained their senses, Yamamoto (why wasn't Tsuna surprised?) said, "Tsuna! Over here!" with an encouraging grin and outspread arms. With a grunt, Tsuna pushed the ball in Yamamoto's direction.

Somehow, the other team intercepted Tsuna's first pass, ever! and Tsuna's team still lost.

-

"I'm home," Tsuna called, kicking off his shoes ("Arrange your shoes nicely," said Reborn, cocking his gun with a glint in his eye that left no room for arguments) before grudgingly nudging them side-by-side against the wall. "You're a jerk, you know that, Reborn?" he muttered under his breath. What was he, five?

He barely made it up to his room before Mom confronted him.

"Tsunayoshi." Mom's steps grew louder as she ascended the stairs. "I got a call from school." 

"Eh? What was it?" Tsuna asked, almost too quickly. (Concerned: "You came home in the middle of class again. What do you plan to do in the future?")

"You've been coming home early lately."

"Not today," Tsuna muttered.

"What do you plan to do in the future?" she asked. ("I'm not saying you") "—have to go to a good high school or college, you know."

Fingering his school bag, Tsuna shrugged, panic welling up quickly. This wasn't leading where he thought it might be going, right? Right? Oh snap, what if it was real? What if it was all real? What if the entire dream was his future, and there was no way to stop it and he was going to become a mafia boss and Reborn was going to—Reborn was going to— "I don't—don't need help or anything! Really! I know what I'm doing!"  

Smiling widely, she tipped her head. "Oh, really? But you've been missing school lately. What else have you been doing?" 

"Um—planning. Like, my future and... stuff." Tsuna winced. Awkward, anyone?

"Perfect!" she exclaimed, beaming. "Then the home tutor I hired—"

"The what?!" Tsuna choked, a horrible, sick feeling in his chest. (He's coming, he's coming—)

"There was an interesting flyer in the mailbox," Mom explained. "'Will raise your kid to be the next leader of the next generation. Grade and Subject don't matter. Reborn.' Isn't it great? I've never seen a promotion like this before."

Sure, Tsuna thought miserably, flopping down on his bed. Since the only other kid he's taught is in Italy. If Reborn was real, if this all was—real—then there was really nothing he could do. Reborn was coming to teach him. He was going to make him into the man he saw in his dreams. He was going to make him a mafia boss.

He didn't want that. Why couldn't he become some insignificant office worker and marry Kyoko-chan? 

"Tsuna?" Mom sounded worried. "Are you feeling okay?" 

"Just a bit sick," he muttered. ("Sorry, I'm just feeling a bit sick," Fuuta had murmured with a shy smile, before returning to his room and choking up a mixture of poison and blood into the sink until he fainted. He'd been in a coma for nearly two days before he woke up to Tsuna and five of his guardians surrounding his bedside.)

"Ciaossu." 

Dread filled his stomach like lead, but Tsuna looked up anyway. There he was, just as he appeared in his dreams: a small baby in a black suit and hat, pacifier slung around his neck, with that insufferable, unreadable grin on his face. 

Unbidden, another memory crept up. ("He's dead," sobbed Haru into Tsuna's shirt; "I tried to wake him but he just wouldn't wake up, and he was so cold, Tsuna," and all Tsuna could hear was the words echoing in his ears, He's dead, he's dead, he's dead, before blinking back tears and cursing Byakuran for neither the first nor the last time and swearing, swearing he'd get him back, if it was the last thing he did.)

But he was alive. Tsuna was staring right at him.

"I arrived 3 hours early," the baby continued, "but as a service, I'll evaluate you now." 

"Hey, whose kid are you?" Mom inquired, using that tone women use with small children—definitely not a tone to use with an accomplished hitman, and especially not with Reborn.

"Hm? I'm Reborn, the home tutor," Reborn replied, nonchalantly dropping the bomb as if he'd expected this question all along, and was just waiting to see their reactions. Jerk.

"Oh?" Mom's eyes widened.

For a few seconds, Tsuna stared at Reborn (emotions raging wildly; anger—why do I have to be the one to deal with this baby?—relief—because he's not dead, he's never been, never will be if I can help it—hope—because if Reborn's here, then that means I become friends with Yamamoto-kun and Gokudera-kun too, right?), before realizing that he should be responding, too. "Oh, sorry," he apologized, though he didn't know what for. "I've, uh, never seen a kid like you before. So, um—" quick, think of something! "—articulate for your age."

A sliver of an eyebrow rose. "Yes. Well. Let's get started, shall we?" 

Tsuna nodded once. "To show you've got it, yeah?" the man in his dream called Colonello had said. "No need to look like a darn bobblehead."

Reborn lunged suddenly at Tsuna. Entirely unprepared, Tsuna barely had enough time to tilt to the side to dodge the foot that came his way. Still, the cracks left in the wall where Reborn's foot had landed certainly didn't give him any reassurance about dodging the next one. "What the heck?" he snapped. "I'm not a mafioso, Reborn! Stop attacking me like one!" 

Pushing away from the wall and landing back on the floor, Reborn gave Tsuna a dark, unreadable look. "Mafioso?" 

Oh. He'd slipped. Oh gosh, what do I tell him? What can I tell him? "Just—an expression," Tsuna said as casually as he could, though he knew Reborn saw through it in an instant. He started to avert his eyes before thinking, Averting eyes is a sign of lying, so he stared back. Don't ask me, please, he begged silently. I can't tell you. I don't want to. (Again: the empty, deflated white protective suit lying flat on the bed; nothing inside, just nothing at all.)

Reborn kept his gaze on Tsuna for a few more tense seconds, before saying, "My true line of work is assassination. And my real job—” he flipped open his suitcase and in three deft movements constructed a gun with the skill of an experienced hitman— "and my real job is to make you a mafia boss." 

"A mafia boss," Tsuna echoed faintly.

It's all true, he thought. It's all true. I'm going to be a mafia boss and I will never live a happy life and I will never marry Kyoko-chan and have a family. I will never live a peaceful life. My life will be full of blood and poison and fighting and Dying Will flames.

I am going to die. ("A bullet in the head; a simple, clean way to die for such a simple, dirty man. Goodbye, Sawada Tsunayoshi, tenth boss of the Vongola Family.")

"A mafia boss," Tsuna repeated, stronger this time. "Seriously! You've got to be kidding me. I'm really supposed to fall for that?" 

The kick to his stomach in response, Tsuna supposed, was all-too-familiar, and almost comforting.

Chapter Text

(don't think once that you can hide from the facts.)
chapter two

-

"You're kidding—you're following me to school now?" Tsuna said incredulously. Yes, he realized he was such an important person now that the other candidates for mafia boss were now either dead or incapacitated, but it wasn't like he had assassins after him now, right? Right? ("You're a wanted man now, Tsu-kun," informed the Ninth wearily; all Tsuna could think was, Haven't I been that for a while, now?)

But not yet, Tsuna thought. Not yet.

"Surveillance," Reborn quipped, dispelling all of his worries. "One must scout out the target before making any assumptions, of course."

"You haven't researched me already?"

"Of course I did," replied Reborn, with the odd, suspicious glint in his eyes again. 

"Then why..." Tsuna trailed off, then shook his head. It didn't seem like he'd be getting any answers out of Reborn soon. Anyway, the hitman was probably investigating yesterday's slip-up. I have to be more careful, Tsuna thought morosely. Reborn will notice any blunder, no matter how small it is.

"I don't think you're a real assassin anyway," Tsuna declared boldly and prepared himself for the impact.

But none came. Reborn’s eyes rested on a girl ahead, and Tsuna followed his gaze—and felt himself blush. (Wavy, light brown hair; a beautiful smile and eyes that lit up like stars.) Apparently, nothing had changed in the future, since his heart still tried to beat its way out of his chest every time he saw her.

“Ah—hello!” Kyoko-chan called.

“K-Kyoko-chan! Um, hi,” said Tsuna lamely. “So, um, what’re you…”

“Kyah!” Kyoko-chan exclaimed and squatted down in front of Reborn, promptly ignoring Tsuna. “How cute!”

“Ciaossu.”

“Why are you wearing a suit?”

(“Because I’m in the mafia,” said Reborn, as if that explained everything. “And red doesn’t show up on black too badly,” added Dino helpfully. “Makes laundry easier, you know?”) ButTsuna promptly shook that thought out of his head.

“I’m in the mafia,” Reborn replied smartly.

“Wah, so cool!” gushed Kyoko-chan. “Tsuna-kun, your younger brother is so cute!”

“Ah—what?” Tsuna was momentarily blindsided by the sheer horror of the idea. Reborn? Brother? “No! He’s not my brother. Definitely, definitely not.” 

“Oh. Sorry.” Kyoko-chan looked disappointed.

“He’s my—er, cousin,” Tsuna found himself saying. “From overseas. Um, Italy.”

“Oh! How interesting. Well, see you at school,” Kyoko-chan said, smiling, and waved goodbye before continuing on her way. Tsuna watched her depart, her dreamy smile still imprinted in his mind—she smiled at me! Kyoko-chan really smiled at me! I must be dreaming—until a small foot slammed into his side.

Cousin, am I?” Reborn growled with a hard gleam in his eyes.

From his position on the floor, Tsuna groaned.

 -

"So you have a crush on her," observed Reborn with a hint of a triumphant smirk after he was finished beating Tsuna up, as if he'd arrived at the world's greatest conclusion.

"Huh? Kyoko-chan? Um, yeah," said Tsuna warily. Where was this going?

"Why don't you ask her out?"

Tsuna snorted. "Yeah, right. I mean, she's the school's idol! And I'm just—" ("Anyway, Tsuna-kun," Kyoko murmured, placing a hand on his. "You've always been a unique guy. I like that about you.") And another one—(Reborn pointed the gun at Tsuna's forehead. "Die, Tsuna." Pain exploded and Tsuna saw stars but all he could think was, I wish I had told her.)

"I mean," said Tsuna hastily, "it's, um, not the right time."

When Reborn continued to stare at him, Tsuna elaborated. "I'm waiting for when there's more time, like... after school. So I can, um... invite her out later." Or something.

Reborn smirked. "Not a good enough answer," he replied, and snapped his gun up and shot a bullet in one fluid motion.

Waitwait I'm not ready to die whytheheckareyoushootingmeforawronganswer and not the DYINGWILLBULLET please, I don't think I could stand it again—

("Remember the Dying Will Bullet, Tsuna?" Tsuna had to laugh. "Of all the things you could bring up now, it's that? I haven't been shot in such a long time!—Not that there's any need to," he said hastily, gently pushing away the barrel of Reborn's gun. "The gloves work just fine now.")

I don't want to die, Tsuna thought desperately. I reallyreally don't want to die, and I don't want to be hit by the Dying Will Bullet, not again, not after such a long time—

In a split second, Tsuna—Tsuna? It wasn't poor, No-Good Tsuna who was doing that, was it? It was just the ghost in the dreams that he used to be, the Decimo, who could burn a city with one hand and freeze a hundred men with the other—had jerked his head to the side with a strength he didn't know he possessed, and the bullet shot into the tree behind him.

Reborn's stare, if anything, grew darker. He lowered the gun, saying, "Well. It looks like you aren't completely useless." Which would have been gold from Reborn if he had said it in the dream, because Reborn never gave compliments—but this time his tone told Tsuna very clearly, You and I are going to have a Talk later. Which Tsuna was dreading.

His ear throbbed slightly; Tsuna lifted a hand up and brought it back down, blood staining his finger's tips. The bullet had grazed his ear. Funny. He hadn't noticed. But on his hand, the blood seemed to spread, dripping down to his palm over his fingers to the ground; just blood, blood, blood soaking his gloves like dye. ("What a massacre," Dino fcommented in an odd tone, and Tsuna couldn't tell if he was very impressed, or actually horrified.)

What a nightmare, Tsuna thought. His hands were shaking now, just a little bit, but enough to be noticed. He wiped the blood on his pants—they were dark, anyway, and—("Red doesn't show up on black too badly. Makes laundry easier, you know?")

Well. Reborn was still staring at him, waiting for him to say something. He was suspicious, undoubtedly too suspicious, and if Tsuna kept pushing him there would probably be dangerous consequences. Best case scenario: Reborn assumed he had picked everything (the quirks, the reactions, the exhausted look on his face) from some passing mafioso. Chances of happening: zero.

Worst case scenario: Reborn assumed he was actually some enemy spy, and murdered him violently. Which was very likely.

Besides, Reborn being Reborn, he was going to figure something out sooner or later. And maybe something deep inside Tsuna remembered the insanely strong, unreasonably difficult but absolutely trustworthy mentor that the Decimo could always depend on. And maybe—well, just a teensy part of him wanted Reborn to know. (“Tired of keeping secrets, Tsunayoshi? Kukuku. Why don’t you hand your body over to me so you won’t have to worry about that anymore?” Mukuro gave him a Cheshire grin, but after years of knowing the man, Tsuna could see in the mismatched eyes a strange melancholy, like he was notsaying Well. That makes two of us.)

“I’ll talk to you after school, Reborn,” Tsuna said quietly, then brushed past the baby before he could see Reborn’s reaction. For some reason, he didn’t want to see Reborn’s guarded, distrustful expression. Like so many other things in this world, it didn’t seem to fit.

-

School passed in a blur. He didn’t even know what Nezu-sensei had talked about in class, or where Kyoko-chan went or whatever else. For the most part, his mind remained firmly on the fact that he was going to tell Reborn that he had a crazy dream that told him his future and you were in it and really crazy things happened, so that’s why I’m acting weird and don’t kill me please?

Um, yeah. Sounded like a plan.

Anyway. Who was he kidding? Maybe it really was just a dream. Fervently, Tsuna hoped so; with the arrival of Reborn, his life was already flipped upside down. He didn’t need these—these—

But they hadn’t been dreams. They really hadn’t been dreams. Tsuna knew dreams, that that—thing—hadn’t been one. It had been too real, too gritty, too exact. He knew things he shouldn’t know at all, like about Reborn and about his Family and Millefiore and Byakuran and the Varia—he shouldn’t know that. He shouldn’t know that but he did, because of—the thing.

He’d seen the horror that had happened at the very end: a fierce, brutal, bloody (ohgosh the blood—Tsuna supposed he had never really known what the phrase “rivers of blood” meant; well, now he did.) war. War, war, war—they’d been barely twenty and in a war. And if that was really the future

(“Silly Tsunayoshi,” mocked Mukuro. “Hasn’t anyone told you the future is not set in stone?” It’d been a quick comment, in reply to a firm For the last time, I won’t hand my body over, but it had been the Mist guardian who first planted the possibility of alternate futures in Tsuna’s mind; as Byakuran’s forces closed in, Tsuna found himself considering it more and more...)

If—if it really was the future—Tsuna gulped. He had to tell someone. Someone who could do something about it...

(“Dame Tsuna,” said the man genially with an amused gleam in his eyes. “Setting fire to your paperwork will only cause more trouble. Talk to me.”)

Reborn had been one of his closest advisors and confidants. In the rare occasion Tsuna’d told the man some stuff he hadn’t even told Gokudera-kun; Reborn was his mentor, had always been his mentor, and when he didn’t know what to do and his Family didn’t know what to do, he went to Reborn. Always. (Except that time he died, right? sneered a voice, not one from his dreams but the cruel, cold, harsh part of him that said It’s all your fault, it’s all your fault.)

Tsuna was not unaware that telling Reborn could possibly lead to the loss of Reborn as a mentor, and as a (dare he voice it?) friend.

But there really wasn’t a way around it. Reborn would never truly become his mentor, let alone his friend, if he didn’t trust him. And the way he’d been acting, the blunder he’d made yesterday and the one today—there was no way he could get out of this, but shoot! Was there really no other way?

The worst thing was, he honestly didn’t know how Reborn would react. Reborn had always known Tsuna like the back of his hand, even before they had met, and Tsuna knew Reborn better than most people could claim to (though at odd moments, he still couldn’t tell what exactly the hitman was going to do). But that had been the other Reborn, the one that had taught him and made him into the Decimo. But this Reborn hadn’t done any of that yet, and was none of that yet. Tsuna did not know this Reborn, but he knew he would have to give some sort of explanation for his behavior, and sadly, he couldn’t think of a single believable lie that would substitute for the real thing.

Well, he wouldn’t have to give the entire explanation, right? The information that filled his brain was only fragments of a life he’d lived before (would live later?), but even that was enough to fill a book. No wonder Tsuna’s head had been pounding the entire day yesterday. He could just… gloss over some of the details. Yeah.

Tsuna wondered whether that was enough to keep Reborn from killing him.

“Sawada Tsunayoshi! Sleeping again my class, are you?” Nezu-sensei strutted down the classroom to Tsuna’s desk, then held himself very high and looked down at Tsuna over his rimmed glasses.

(“The smallest dogs bark loudest,” read Tsuna aloud, and from the couch Xanxus gave a short bark of laughter. “That’s you, trash!”)

“Sawada. Let’s say, hypothetically, that there’s a student in the class not paying attention. To a teacher who graduated from an elite college like Tokyo University—”

Tsuna waved a hand at him. “Whatever you say,” he muttered. For some reason, he was ticking people off today.

Turning blue from frustration, Nezu-sensei pointed to the board, where he’d written a problem from the textbook. “Sawada, your disrespect is appalling. Answer the question on the board, now.”

Tsuna pulled himself up from his desk slowly. What class was he in again? Math? They were studying Geometry, weren’t they? What chapter, what chapter...  He glanced at the board. It was fairly straightforward—funny, since he thought his textbook was always trying to confuse him. A right triangle... something about an angle. And tan—tan? (Tangent, perhaps?) What was that again?

Honestly, he didn’t remember picking up the chalk.

And he certainly didn’t remember solving the problem with a few calculations.

But he did remember turning around and seeing Nezu-sensei looking like a fish—wide eyes, gaping mouth. By now, the man was nearly purple. And then, he realized that the rest of the classroom was staring at him, because what the heck, had Dame Tsuna really solved a math problem in front of the class for the first time in his life?

Did he really?

Tsuna whirled back to the board, and there, in suspiciously clear handwriting that didn’t look like his own messy handwriting at all was the answer to the question. He stared at the problem again, and the answer jumped out at him like never before. Suddenly, things made sense; the numbers and lines actually meant something and you could put them together and somehow everything made sense.

“Wow,” he managed.

“G-Get back to your seat, Sawada!” spluttered Nezu-sensei. “You got it right this one time, but your last test...”

But Tsuna had stopped listening to him, mind spinning with possibilities. He knew math? He didn’t even know he knew how to do that. Wow.

If this was because of that dream-memory-thing, then there was at least there was one good thing that came out of it.

-

Tsuna had barely entered his room before he heard the cock of a gun.

“Sit down,” said Reborn from his bed in a deadly quiet, hard voice, without that amused smile he always wore because he knew how to interrogate suspicious persons when he needed to, because (“He’s the greatest hitman in the world and what would he be if he didn’t know how to interrogate someone properly? Second greatest, that’s what.”)

Tsuna slowly, carefully lowered himself to the carpeted floor and sat legs out, palms against the ground. All limbs in view? Check. Eyes calm, but not threatening? Check. Looking into interrogator’s eyes? Check. Good thing Dino had taught him how to act so he didn’t look like he was dangerous, or hiding something. It had probably saved his life a couple of times already, counting now, of course.

“You said you would talk later,” Reborn reminded him. “So talk. I don’t like not knowing, especially when it concerns my student.” The last word came out as a menacing whisper, as if Reborn didn’t really think he was his students—actually, he probably didn’t.

“Right.” Tsuna gulped—why had he thought this was a good idea again? Oh yeah. No other choice. “I—um…well…”

Reborn rolled his eyes. “From the beginning. Who are you?”

“Sawada Tsunayoshi,” said Tsuna without missing a beat. (Privately, he was impressed with himself for not stuttering under the threat of death.)

“Are you?” The baby’s eyes narrowed. “Sawada Tsunayoshi is shy, stupid, and useless. He has no motivation whatsoever. He has a crush on Sasagawa Kyoko and dreams of being married to her and raising a family. But he is not you.”

Tsuna almost winced through Reborn’s description of him—stupid? Useless? Well, he supposed before he was, but not now—and how the heck did Reborn know about his dream?!

“So. Let me ask again. Who are you?”

He was going to regret this, but… Tsuna took a deep breath, trying to slow his furiously pounding heart. “I-I told you before, Reborn. I am Sawada Tsunayoshi. B-But!” Tsuna added hastily, when he saw the gun’s barrel inch upwards, towards his head. “Not the one you just described.”

“Explain.”

“L-look, can we—put away the guns? Just for a little bit?” Tsuna pleaded. “It’s—um, really hard to explain when…” he glanced at the gun nervously.

“You can explain with the gun,” Reborn said flatly, “or not at all. Your choice.”

“Um! Um. Okay. Well—a few days ago, I was just as you described. Stupid and... yeah. Everything you said. B-But, yesterday—or was it the day before that? I—um. Had this dream.”

“A dream,” Reborn repeated, and Tsuna could almost see the skepticism, but he continued anyway, because that’s what Reborn asked him to do, and you just don’t not do the things Reborn asks you to do.

“I-It wasn’t really one—a dream, I mean. It was like—” Tsuna found himself fumbling for words, because there were how many in the Japanese language and he couldn’t think of a single one. “Maybe—maybe I could just tell you the dream?” he asked hopefully.

Reborn was silent for one tense moment. “Go ahead,” he said finally.

Breathing out a sigh of relief, Tsuna started (“Just tell it like it was,” said the Dino-voice encouragingly). “Okay. It started just like yesterday. You came to my house because you wanted to tutor me, or make me into the tenth Vongola boss—that’s why you came, isn’t it?”

Eyes minutely wider, the baby hitman nodded once.

“Right. Well, you did. Make me into a mafia boss, I mean. I saw it. Fragments of it, anyway.” Tsuna’s eyes glazed over, rememberingnotremembering, living the memories—(“You are the guy who will become the tenth generation boss.”)—“You arrived, suddenly spinning my world out of its orbit. You kind of tortured me, you know?” Tsuna chuckled. “I didn’t want to be a mafia boss at all. But you made me. You and Dad put together a Family for me, and they became my best friends. But—then, stuff happened. Bad stuff.”

Reborn watched silently.

“I only saw bits and pieces of it all, and it didn’t really make that much sense, but there was a lot of—” Tsuna stumbled—(bloodandgutsandgore, just all of it everywhere and on everything and how could this have been a man once?)—“A lot of—”(“Man! What a load of garbage. What was this, an eye? And this—sheesh. A leg here, and arm there—just can’t tell when one man’s parts end and another’s begin.”) Tsuna bent over, hands over his stomach, he felt so ill seeing those images again, seeing the charred, black fleshskullsflesh of his last victims.

Who said war was glorious? Who said it? They knew nothing. Nothing, nothing at all. He was going to rewrite it. Because it’s not glorious, not on the field when you’re stabbingshootingburningburningBURNING them and not when you’re on the throne murdering thousands of men with the snap of a finger and not in the night when you can’t sleep, all of their faces tormenting you. It’s not—at—ALL—

Tsuna felt something wet on his cheeks. Tears, he realized, and hurriedly brushed them away, willing himself to look back up at Reborn and not cry again (look up, look at; don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry). “Sorry,” he mumbled. What was he doing again? Oh, his dream (notdream).

Opening his mouth to tell Reborn the rest of the story, Tsuna found himself choking out something much different. “I really, really missed you, Reborn.”

For once, Reborn looked startled and a little unsettled. “Why?”

“You were dead, Reborn. I mean, I had grown up with you and you were my mentor and teacher and you were dead. Byakuran spread something in the air and all of you arcobalenos died, because it was specially designed to poison just you; and I was there I had to watch it and I couldn’t do anything about it, except hunt Byakuran down and try to kill him, but I couldn’t. What do you do against someone has knowledge of hundreds of alternate realities? When every move you make is destined to fail, when your only option is—”

Tsuna cut himself off. Ridiculous, he thought bitterly, wiping the edges of his eyes with a sleeve. Get a hold of yourself, Tsuna. This isn’t the Reborn you knew. This isn’t...

“A-Anyway,” he continued shakily, “I dreamt a-about... my entire future, one where I became the Decimo, which is your job, I guess.” Somehow his voice was turning sullen, which he didn’t mean, but it just turned out that way—“So, I mean… doesn’t really matter, does it? Just train me like you would anyway, I’ll become the Decimo, and everyone’ll be happy, I guess.”

An anxiety set into the pit of his stomach. What was Reborn going to do? The fear was constricting his chest, grabbing at his heart. He didn’t, couldn’t breathe; just what was he going to do?

For a length of time, Reborn was silent; the brim of his hat shaded his eyes, and like the perfect hitman not a single muscle moved, betraying nothing, giving Tsuna no hint, no sign, nothing to work with.

Then Reborn spoke, and Tsuna almost missed it because it was a whisper

“So that’s why.”

What?

For the first time—and again, it was a day of firsts!—Reborn looked disturbed, relieved, and wary all at once, and somehow, incredibly human, unlike the incredible, impossible hitman he usually was. “I won’t claim to have had such... dreams as you have. But on the same night you dreamed...”

What? Is he saying what I think he is?—just—no way. No way. “You too?” It just seemed too incredible.

“I did not have dreams, or see memories, or anything like that,” Reborn clarified. “But... I’ve have a feeling since then. To trust you. I don’t trust intuition; it’s too risky and doesn’t work well out on the field. But that night while reviewing your profile I suddenly felt that without a doubt, you would become the Decimo, and I could trust you absolutely.”

Staring in disbelief and utter amazement, Tsuna could hardly trust himself to say anything. Of all circumstances—(“Sometimes miracles happen,” murmured Kyoko-chan as he slipped a gold ring onto her finger; as Gokudera stumbled, beaten and bloody, out of the wreckage but so very alive; as he turned, and saw Reborn there, living and breathing and not gasping from the poison—)

“Still,” continued Reborn, as the hard glint in his eyes reappeared. “I don’t trust feelings. Until I see it with my very eyes, I will doubt. For the moment, Sawada Tsunayoshi, I will trust you. But if I see once that you step away from that path, I will not hesitate to shoot you. Am I clear?”

Tsuna nodded once. 

“Good.” And with that, Reborn turned and exited his room via the window, hopping onto the tree outside and out of sight.

He’d seemed tense and wary the entire time, but Tsuna could not help feeling triumphant; he hadn’t been shot, for one, and two, Reborn was giving him a chance. 

Chapter Text

(friends are supposed to hold you up, not blow you apart…)

chapter three

--

By the morning, Reborn had returned to his usual cheeky self, which was either good or bad—and maybe both.

“Reborn! What the heck!” Tsuna screamed, stumbling into the kitchen and coughing furiously. Behind him, white smoke tumbled down the stairs. “You had to detonate a stupid grenade in my room to wake me up?!” (He’d almost murdered his lampstand, which had really looked like an enemy before he realized what an utter jerk Reborn was.)

The baby calmly ignored him and continued to sip his coffee in a distinctly Reborn way—he was a master at pretending not to laugh and making it very clear that he was. “A boss should always be prepared for anything,” he intoned smugly.

Tsuna scowled. “Not while I’m sleeping. I’ll have guards and my guardians for that.” ("Stupid herbivore," hissed the man as they ran—"Were you asleep? How could you let them sneak up on you?" Tsuna's chest twinged with guilt because Hibari was right—) But he ignored that.

“You don’t have any guardians yet,” reminded Reborn, and gave him a look that said silently: would you care to enlighten me? Which was an order in Reborn-ese.

Still resentful from the morning wake-up explosion, Tsuna collapsed into a seat next to the hitman (not that it mattered where he sat, because with barely any limbs to get in the way Reborn had a 360 degrees range). “You’ve called Gokudera Hayato already, haven’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Good. He’ll be my storm guardian.” Reaching for the cereal, he grabbed the box and poured himself a bowl. Ew. It was the healthy cereal that Mom always bought, the one that had bran and tasted like sawdust. (“Tastes like home,” commented another soldier, filling himself on the food they’d managed to dig out from the remains of a grocery store. As Tsuna stared down at the familiar label on the box, he agreed; then proceeded to nearly choke on the dry bran.)

“And the rest?”

“Do you really have to know that?” The exasperated words flew out of his mouth, and in a second Reborn swiftly kicked him sharply in the shoulder. “Ouch! Fine. Besides Gokudera-kun, Yamamoto Takeshi, Bovino Lambo, Hibari Kyouya, Sasagawa Ryohei, Dokuro Chrome, and Rokudo Mukuro.”

Reborn frowned. “That’s seven guardians.”

“Right,” Tsuna said after shoving another spoonful of cereal into his mouth. “Rokudo Mukuro and Dokuro Chrome both occupy the Mist guardian spot. After a series of events, Mukuro-san ended up in prison but can kind of… possess Chrome-san when he wants. Like a dual existence. I don’t really know how he does it, but anyway, it works.”

“I see,” replied Reborn slowly. He was probably going to investigate Mukuro-san and Chrome-san—no, scratch that. He’d probably investigate every one of his guardians.

A sudden thought sprang into Tsuna’s mind. “Reborn! Don’t scare off my guardians, okay?”

Reborn smirked. “Dame Tsuna. Now why would I do that?”

“Hey, I mean it! They were good guardians,” said Tsuna quietly. (He stood in front of a clearing, but instead of seven peoplefriendsFAMILY standing around him, there were seven clean, new gravestones.) Reborn must have noticed the past tense, as his smirk tightened minutely.

“You don’t have to worry about that,” the hitman replied before hopping down from the chair and walking away. “Dame-Tsuna, Smokin’ Bomb Hayato is arriving at your school today. I’ve already promised him something interesting…”

But Reborn’s voice seemed to be coming from the bottom of a deep well, as it trailed off into nothing. The kitchen buzzed and faded out like a hologram; the ceiling rolled back to sky, brilliant blue sky; green overtook the beige walls and he was standing, just standing in the middle of the clearing.

(His famiglia’s names in front of him, surrounding him, facing him; Tsuna turned around and around, stumbling around as if he were blind, seeing trees just trees and gravestones and coffins and their bloodied faces, oh gosh—looking, their names were just looking at him, saying See what you did? See what you did? This is all—your—fault!

“No,” he’d choked hoarsely. Yes, they told him. It’s your fault.

Was it really his fault? All of it, all of it—choosing that day to attack, and even thinking of fighting Vendice, of all the harebrained ideas he’d had before—“Boss has to make the decision,” Chrome had told him plainly, utterly serious when he’d asked her what to do; “But whatever he chooses, it’s the guardians’ responsibility to follow him to the death.” It’d been true, hadn’t it?

He collapsed onto the grass, sobbing)—Tsuna hadn’t even realized when his hands started to shake, or the world turning sideways as he slipped from the table chair onto the floor, or when Reborn suddenly appeared before him and called his name, again and again—(If only, if only! They are all dead, just dead and gone and what can I do? What do I do? There is nothing left, nothing at all, no Vongola to lead and no family to help me—a leader of nothing is no one at all

Tsuna ripped off his gloves, the trusty, well-worn gloves that had served him as a weapon well for years-that-had-seemed-like-an-entire-lifetime, and threw them across the clearing. “If I hadn’t become the Decimo,” he screamed at the air, because no one was around to hear him—“If I hadn’t been anything at all—if I hadn’t tried so hard—if I hadn’t won against Xanxus, if I’d just let him take the stupid ring!” He yanked the ring off his fingers (just get it off); this, too he flung away.

“If I had been stronger,” he whispered shakily—“or weaker or anything else, would this have happened? Would you all be dead if I hadn’t accepted the inheritance? Where would you be? Where would I be?” He thought back—Byakuran and his alternate universes. He’d been smart. If he made a mistake, he could simply jump to another world.

But there was no chance of that now. Lambo’s Bazooka was gone; it had already been destroyed in the fighting, along with every other working Bovino invention. It had just been too dangerous after I-pin and Lambo had nearly died as a result of some greedy Bovino selling an invention to an enemy mafioso.

Tsuna bent over, shivering and choking and sick all at once; if only he could tell his younger self what stupid mistakes he’d made, so he could avoid them and all of this death—if only he could send his—

Wait.

He snapped up, mind working furiously. Hadn’t Shouichi and Spanner been experimenting with alternate universes? Hadn’t they built that machine

For once in such a long time, hope beat its wings in his heart.)

“… Tsuna. Tsuna!”

“W… What?” Tsuna mumbled groggily, disoriented and dizzy. There were small black feet in front of him, and he was lying on some hard surface—wait, that was—“Reborn?”

“Dame-Tsuna.” Was Tsuna still confused, or was that actually relief he was hearing in Reborn’s voice?

Then he realized where he was and what he was doing because he’d just collapsed in front of Reborn, and if that wasn’t suspicious, what was? “Sorry,” he muttered hastily, finding some strength in his arms (they weren’t still shaking, were they? No; just numb) and pushing himself up.

“That wasn’t a dream,” noted Reborn pointedly, sharply, suspiciously; any semblance of relief was gone from his voice.

“I know,” Tsuna said, rubbing his eyes in frustration. “Sometimes it just happens. Like, sometimes I’m doing something, and a memory will flash in my head. Or someone’s words. Or whatever.”

“Has it ever been this… extreme before?”

Just the word extreme made him want to snort, then wince at once; he couldn’t think of anything extreme now and not think of Nii-san’s enthusiastic face. Anyway— “It’s never been like that before. But—Reborn! I think I know why I’m had that dream!” Tsuna exclaimed, gesturing excitedly. “I was in a clearing, where—w-well… there were seven graves there,” (green grass; blue sky, but no clouds no sun no rain no storm no mist--) Tsuna shook himself out of it. Now was not the time to daze off. “A-Anyway, I—I mean, the future me—was wishing I could have stopped all of this, and then remembered something Spanner-san and Shouichi-kun had been experimenting with, something like what Byakuran did, with alternate universes and all that…”

Reborn stared back at him blankly.

“Um, two friends. Spanner-san and Souichi-kun, I mean. They were inventors,” Tsuna explained sheepishly. “And the machine they built—well, it worked, right? The future Tsuna sent his memories back to me.”

Reborn muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like an Italian curse. “So the future was really that bad.”

Faltering just for a moment, struggling to keep the memories behind doors, Tsuna nodded. “It was just war,” he said, the words echoing in his head (just war, only war, war and nothing else).

“So then we have to avoid doing what you did in your memories.” Reborn scowled. “But you still have to become the Decimo.”

“No way!” exclaimed Tsuna. “Reborn, you know me. You know I’m not a boss!”

Reborn stilled, and when he spoke, his words were hard and cold, like the cool black metal of his gun. “Don’t make the mistake, Tsunayoshi,” he snapped, “that I am in any way the same Reborn that you remember from your memories. I’m not. I do not know you, and I do not know what you will become. So don’t speak to me as if I am him.

(This is the killer Reborn. This is the man the Ninth sent to eliminate the entire De Caente family. You can’t trust him, not yet…)

Tsuna swallowed. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I didn’t—it’s so easy—” You’re the Tenth. You’re the Tenth. And he’s the best hitman in the world. Even he could tell his little blunder had, in some way, triggered a landmine.

So—pulling himself upright, he looked Reborn in the eye, and dropped his head, because he was the Tenth, he was the Tenth, and a proper mafia boss knows how to apologize, that’s all. “Reborn. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to address you in that way, and I won’t make such a mistake again.”

After a moment, Reborn nodded once (“That’s how you show you’ve accepted the apology, see?” explained Colonello. “That’s the mafia way of saying, ‘It’s okay.’ Though—it doesn’t happen often, ‘cause we’re mafia.” A laugh.). “See that it doesn’t.”

“All I meant,” continued Tsuna carefully, “is that—” how to word this, how to word this! “There are better options for the Vongola boss. Like Xanxus. He even wants the job. I’m not really… mafia material. I’m not strong, I’m not cold-hearted—”

“Were you?” asked Reborn pointedly, and at Tsuna’s hesitation he turned away. “I need to check into some stuff. In the meantime, you should be leaving for school.”

Tsuna glanced at the clock oh snap when had it gotten that late!? “Shoot! See you, Reborn!” he called, grabbing his bag by the door and hastily pulling his shoes. Of all the days to be late!

--

When Tsuna burst into the classroom, yanking the door open hastily, every pair of eyes (including a distrustful, achingly familiar pair of grey eyes) snapped to him. “Sawada!” snapped Nezu-sensei. “You’re late!”

“So sorry, sensei,” Tsuna apologized quickly, giving the man a short nod, and he really was sorry, just not to Nezu-sensei. As he moved to his desk, he felt Gokudera-kun’s hard stare on his back the entire time (dark, disapproving, nearly hateful which nearly tipped the world on its head), and wanted to sink into the floor; out of the furthest reaches of his mind, Tsuna barely remembered a time when Gokudera Hayato did not like him. (“Che,” he muttered, kicking Tsuna’s desk suddenly.) Tsuna had been confused, but now—since even Gokudera-kun didn’t think he was up to mafia standards—he felt even more like a failure (“Dame Tsuna.”) and tried to sink back in his chair a little bit more.

“Gokudera-kun? Your seat is over… Gokudera-kun?” tried Nezu-sensei.

Instead, Gokudera-kun stalked down to Tsuna’s seat and kicked it suddenly; it was like in a movie, where everything was moving slowly and you knew exactly what was going to happen, exactly, because you’d seen it before, but you can’t move anyway. Déjà vu, thought Tsuna dryly, perhaps the only one in the classroom unsurprised.

“You know him, Tsuna?” a classmate dared to ask.

Do I know him? Asking him if he knew Gokudera-kun was like asking if the Taipei 101 was tall. Of course he did. (“Tenth!” exclaimed his right-hand man. “You’re back!” The grin that greeted him felt just like home.)

But he didn’t, not yet. Back to the present, Tsuna told himself, trying to hold a wave of grief inside. This is the present, and I do not know Gokudera-kun. I don’t know who he is or what he likes or what he wants to be. I don’t know anything.

He’d talk to him afterwards. Or, if things went like before, Gokudera-kun would catch him.

-

Sheesh, he’d almost forgotten about the three bullies standing in front of him. It’d been so long since he’d been bullied at all, since Gokudera-kun and Yamamoto-kun had always been there to defend him. And then, after that Tsuna had been able to take care of himself.

Now that he stood in front of them, Tsuna almost remembered a time he would have run, screaming apologies (“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m reaaaally sorry!”), but now… after guys who could shoot fire out of guns? Could tangle you in an illusion and kill you before you realized it? Could borrow the knowledge from other worlds and use it against you?

Yeah. These guys just weren’t intimidating anymore (and honestly, he didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing).

But apparently, they hadn’t caught on yet how unintimidating they were. “Ouch,” said one sempai, grinning. “I might have broken a bone.” As if breaking his bone was the worst injury he could get.

(Have you ever been burned? Slit and gutted? Bitten and strangled by snakes? Not a chance.)

Tsuna paused, mulling in his mind how to best respond to that statement, and shrugged. “If that’s what it takes to break your bone, you need more calcium.”

When in doubt, throw in a non sequitur.

“Eh—what?” the other growled, after he finally realized he was being insulted. He and his two friends advanced slowly—like three swaggering geese trying to intimidate a—well. Tsuna didn’t know what he was anymore. Certainly not a frightened little herbivore anymore.

(“Herbivore,” Hibari-san hissed from behind him; Tsuna whirled around, every nerve in his body on alert, but for once Hibari-san didn’t look like he was up to fighting. The sweat, the blood, the entirely shaken look on his face that didn’t look right, would never look right, because Hibari-san was invincible and unbreakable and terrifying and Hibari-san like that. Maybe it was the years and years and years of murder finally catching up to him. Maybe it was the fact that he’d only returned from a three week torture session before Tsuna had sent him on a new missionmassacremission.

He tried to keep the regret, grief, apology behind his eyes. Hibari-san didn’t want, never wanted pity, and would attack him in an instant, which would be nearly suicidal in his condition because Hibari-san was already injured. Badly.

So instead, he said, “Good work,” and hated himself all the more for it.)

Tsuna shook himself out of it. Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’tthinkaboutit—

The three bullies were still standing in front of him, as if no time had passed at all, and Tsuna hadn’t really flashed back to that moment, and he hadn’t really remembered anything. “Sorry,” he lied between his teeth—was that the Mukuro in him? Lying had never been this easy before—“I’ve got to go.”

“What makes you think—” the sempai started, but Tsuna had already slipped away before they could stop him.

Outside—(he’d been stuck so long in that underground base that he had almost forgotten what sunlight felt like, bold, warm sunlight untainted by smoke and dust and the smell of blood)—Gokudera-kun was waiting for him.

Gokudera Hayato and his crazy dynamite—how was he going to deal with this again?

He knew the look on his face. Gokudera-kun was eyeing him suspiciously, gaging him mentally, analyzing him. He knew that look because Reborn had given it to him when Tsuna had revealed his dreammemorydream, and it hurt just as it had then. Felt like a pike digging into his chest. It almost hurt to breathe…

Tsuna almost forgot to breathe. Haven’t seen his face in a while, said a distant, snide voice that was not entirely his own in his head. So young. So childish. He looks almost innocent without the blackened edges of death marking his face.

“You’re pathetic,” scowled Gokudera finally, a hint of triumph in his voice.

Pathetic. When was the last time he’d been called pathetic? (“Pathetic,” sneered his captor, slamming a metal-toed boot down on his fingers. There was a harsh crack as bones snapped under the weight; the man laughed as Tsuna cried out. “Can’t even bear a little pain. Guess the Decimo’s not so strong after all.”)

He hadn’t even noticed when he began rubbing his fingers together, as if they might shatter at any moment. Gokudera-kun was looking at him strangely. Do you often remember memories that aren’t yours? He might have inquired politely in some other world.

Only if those memories are right in front of me, Tsuna might have responded.

Eventually, Gokudera-kun snorted. “Che—figures. You can’t even pay attention if an enemy’s right in front of you. If a pinprick like you becomes the Tenth, the Vongola Family is finished.”

Tsuna started to say something to the effect of What, you think I wanted to become the Tenth? A job where every day is an occupational hazard? But then Gokudera-kun immediately turned around and snarled, “I refuse to accept it. I’m the one who’s fit to be the tenth!”

Wait—what?

He had only seen bits and pieces of the life he’d apparently lived in some other universe. He knew that. And he knew he’d probably missed seeing some really important memories, too. But Tsuna’d known Gokudera-kun, really known him, because he was his right hand man, and that was not the type of thing Gokudera-kun would say. So, yeah. What the heck?

Tsuna blurted out, “You want to be the Tenth Vongola boss?” because he meant, why would anyone want to be a mafia boss? but it must have sounded like why would you, a weakling, want to be the Tenth? because after staring stupidly at him for a moment, Gokudera-kun snarled furiously.

“What—you’re mocking me? You’ll die right here!” –and he pulled out two sticks of dynamite and lobbed them at Tsuna.

Whattheheckisthat why is he throwing his DYNAMITE AT ME?! Panicking, Tsuna leapt back a few feet and started running (because if there was one thing he could do for sure, it was running away from danger) as the sticks dropped—one second, and their fires were nearly touching the cylindrical case of gunpowder—two seconds—

Out of the corner of his eye, Tsuna saw a flash of black and orange in the tree behind them and the barest reflection of a black Beretta, and heard the familiar blast that accompanied a shot. Reborn, he thought immediately—and wondered when on earth had he been so accustomed to gunshots that he could now tell who pulled the trigger?

He blinked, and the fires on the dynamite were out. The dynamite sticks clacked against the ground and rolled, now harmless.

“Ciaossu,” Reborn greeted with a hint of smugness because he’d just shot the fires out on two falling sticks of dynamite because he was the world’s greatest hitman like that.

Tsuna almost rolled his eyes. Almost. You didn’t know Reborn for as long as he did and escape (mostly) unscathed and not know that rolling your eyes at Reborn is suicidal.

“Reborn,” muttered Gokudera-kun resentfully. Apparently he had really been looking forward to blowing Tsuna up for the sake of testing him, protection of the Vongola Family, etc., etc.

“You came earlier than I expected, Gokudera Hayato.” Which was so not true because Reborn had told him that morning that Gokudera-kun was going to come. How tricky. (“Just what I love in a man,” a woman’s voice sighed dreamily.)—Tsuna’s mind halted. There was actually a woman in the world that could love Reborn? That was disturbing thought. She had to be as crazy as him, and if the future Tsuna had met her once… he was not looking forward to that.

Bianchi, a tiny voice whispered. Scorpion.

“Tsuna. This is a member of the family I called over from Italy.” There was an edge to Reborn’s words. Tsuna glanced up, and took in Gokudera-kun’s strange stare again, and the barest warning in Reborn’s eyes.

What… Oh. Had he really blanked out again? “Sorry,” he mumbled, flushing. This was happening way too many times. “Didn’t… um, sleep well last night. So you said you’re from Italy?” (“Try to change the subject without the target noticing.” “Wait, what target?” “Dame Tsuna. You fail.”)

It didn’t look like Gokudera-kun fell for it, either. Instead, the bomber turned to Reborn. “You're not kidding about me becoming a candidate as the successor if I kill Sawada, right?”

“Sure,” replied Reborn cheerfully.

Tsuna stared at both of them in disbelief. “Wait, what?” Had Reborn really just—promised Gokudera the Decimo seat if he killed him?! There was absolutely no way Tsuna would have forgotten something like that. And—there was no way Reborn would—would—

(“Dame Tsuna,” mocked Reborn lightly; “I knew you’d react just like that if I told you.”)—(“Your tutor was smart. I would have been able to take over you, if he’d told you. How lucky.” Mukuro-san managed a grim smile, but even Tsuna could see the illusionist’s hands shaking even as they pressed against the hole in his side)—(He hated, hated, hated not being told anything, like he was something to protect—he was the Decimo, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he?) And of course. This morning.

(“Don’t make the mistake that I am in any way the same Reborn that you remember from your memories. I’m not.”)

A sudden loathing surged through him.

Reborn,” Tsuna snapped in a low, sharp voice quivering with rage—was that really his voice? Just like a boss’s, just like the Ninth’s when he was stern or infuriated or both, and just a second away from lighting the Dying Will Flame and burning you to ashes—“You are going to tell me, now, what the heck is happening. Because you will regret it if this is what it looks like.”

The temperature dropped several degrees. Gokudera-kun was looking terrified now, the expression on his face torn between who is this and oh shoot did I actually just say I’d kill him and who is this and why is he THREATENING REBORN which NO sane mafioso would do on any day of the year—

But Reborn didn’t seem mad at all. After fixing a carefully neutral, uncomprehending stare on Tsuna, Reborn suddenly smirked—as if he’d just figured out some riddle meant to stump him—and hopped down from the windowsill.

Tsuna’s glare never left him.

“Dame Tsuna,” the baby drawled. “What you’re thinking is wrong. I want you to fight.”

Tsuna’s anger faltered. He wanted me to fight Gokudera-kun—“What?” he exclaimed, before horror set in. “Reborn! You set up this entire thing because you wanted me to fight him?” (“Reborn has a unique way of doing things, doesn’t he?” Dino said, and they shared a nervous laugh after warily glancing around to make sure said baby wasn’t around.)

Then came wait what the heck did I actually THREATEN REBORN—

Quickly, Tsuna dropped to his knees and started apologizing—(and it came out something like) “OhgoshReborn I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize what I was doing, all I was thinking was about something that happened in the future—”

“Dame Tsuna,” Reborn interrupted amusedly before he could spill anything more. “Apologize by fighting instead.”

Tsuna looked up as Gokudera realized what he’d actually been called over for. “Wait,” the grey-haired bomber growled. “Then I was just a test—”

“If you’re mad then fight him,” suggested Reborn, motioning to Tsuna before jumping out of Gokudera’s path.

“You’re dead,” Gokudera snarled, pulling out two handfuls of dynamite sticks and lighting them with his cigarette.

I’m dead, Tsuna thought.

No gloves. No Nuts. No Dying Will Flames. How was he going to defeat Gokudera-kun and make him his subordinate without being shot by the Dying Will Bullet? (Because there was no way Tsuna was going through that again.)

He glanced around quickly—stupid staff, or whoever cleaned up the school and threw away anything that he could use as a weapon—and started running. Yeah. Defensive for now.

Gokudera tossed the dynamite at him.

But he’d underestimated Tsuna’s ability to run very, very fast in dangerous situations. Tsuna ducked, terrified, and kept running, determined to get as far away as possible, because he couldn’t die here, not yet, he had so much to do

From the windowsill, Reborn’s grin widened as he very clearly cocked his gun. Dying Will Bullet time.

Not if Tsuna could help it.

What can I do, what can I do—(“Come on, Tsuna, use your brain,” grumbled Dino, and Tsuna couldn’t blame him after two hours of unfruitful studying)—Long range. Gokudera-kun’s long range. He uses his dynamite before opponents can get close. But if I can get close

“Ah!” Tsuna yelped as dynamite landed near his foot. He raised his arm in front of his face instinctively as it exploded in front of his face. The sheer force of the blast sent Tsuna stumbling a few paces back—At least these bombs don’t release gas when they’re set off—and came face-to-face with the side of a school building. More walls on both sides—how’d he been so stupid to run into a dead end?

He whirled around, but it was too late—Gokudera-kun was already approaching, menacingly. Tsuna had to do something, but what could he do against a trained mafioso?

“It’s over,” sneered Gokudera-kun, before pulling out more sticks and lighting them.

This is it, this is it chanted in Tsuna’s head, matching the beating of his heart—It was all over, it was all over…

The barrel of Reborn’s gun lowered, and he knew that the bullet that came out of that gun would be right to his forehead—

If I can get close, reminded a voice. If I can get close.

Tsuna wasn’t the suicidal one in his Family. That was his Guardians’ job—landing themselves in risky positions and generally making Tsuna worried, even though they could probably take care of themselves. Except for that one time with Byakuran, Tsuna kept out of danger’s way if he could (which wasn’t often, but…).

But he had his moments.

As the dynamite descended, slowly, Tsuna took a breath and pushed off the wall—and ran.

It was absolutely terrifying, running in between the falling sticks of dynamite—Tsuna could almost see the fuses on the dynamite shortening as the fires eagerly ate away the fibers. One of the sticks touched his neck as he ran, another brushed against his arm and barely scorched the skin, and he nearly tripped over a stick that’d already fallen to the ground.

Gokudera-kun was frozen as he approached—hopefully, by the time he regained his senses Tsuna would be too close for him to blow up, and Gokudera-kun would just give up. Or he’d probably resort to physical blows, but at least the dynamite would be out of the way—

Wait, what is Gokudera-kun doing taking out MORE DYNAMITE—

He wasn’t going to stop. He was going to blow them both up, if that’s what it took.

The Gokudera-kun I knew would never be so risky—but that was the problem, wasn’t it?

Without thinking (isn’t that how he usually got into these situations?), Tsuna threw himself at Gokudera-kun, knocking the other boy to the ground. Behind him, dynamite started exploding, but Tsuna ignored the sound. The dynamite sticks, already lit, were still between Gokudera’s knuckles—and Tsuna (again, without thinking!) began pinching the fires out with his fingers.

He tried not to cry out as his skin burned—Ouch, that really hurt. (“Stop making that face,” ordered Haru-chan crossly. “Haven’t you been through worse before?”) But Gokudera-kun was okay. He was okay.

One more pinch—and the last fuse was out.

Sighing in relief, Tsuna climbed off Gokudera-kun and dropped onto the ground a few feet away. His whole body was still trembling from the adrenaline and shock, like he’d just fought someone he almost didn’t win against, or get away from. But he had only run—not for the first time, Tsuna wished he’d been more active before he met Reborn.

“You—why did you do that?”

Gokudera, no longer brimming with rage, had a bewildered and slightly lost gaze in his eyes. He regarded Tsuna warily, but at least he hadn’t pulled out more dynamite.

“You mean, why did I put out those fuses?”

A nod.

“Look,” Tsuna said, staring straight into Gokudera-kun’s eyes. “I’m not mafia, so—all of that mafia honor and stuff, I wouldn’t know. But—” (Gokudera-kun, dragging himself out of the smoke, because the fireworks, he wanted to see them again) “you can’t just throw your life away like that! Not so carelessly. Yeah, I do think there are times when you need to take that risk—”

“Like what you just did.”

“Oh—um, yeah, I guess,” Tsuna relented sheepishly. “That was pretty risky, wasn’t it?”

A wry grin spread on Gokudera-kun’s face, before he suddenly slammed his forehead into the ground—Oh, wait. He was kneeling?

“I was wrong!” he exclaimed. “You are fit to be the Tenth!”

“Gah!” Tsuna replied eloquently, still trying to accept the fact that even though he didn’t really want to be a mafia boss, he was still gaining Guardians, anyway. “Really! It’s not a big deal,” he tried to say.

Well, he tried.

Gokudera-kun looked up, eyes filled with nothing but admiration and awe. And an unhealthy amount of hero-worship. “Tenth! I’ll follow you!” he declared loudly, right next to the school so that every person in class could hear him—“Command me to do anything!”

“What the heck—”

“Actually, I didn’t really want to become the Tenth,” Gokudera-kun confessed. “It’s just… I heard the Tenth was a Japanese kid the same age as me, and I felt I had to test his strength. But you’re much more than I expected! For putting yourself on the line to save me, I’ll place my life in your hands!”

“No, it’s really okay—” because he didn’t really want a subordinate, he just wanted a friend—

“Good job, Tsuna,” Reborn complimented, hopping down from the windowsill. “You’ve gained a subordinate.”

Tsuna covered his face with his hands and sighed. “Why is it always me?” he wondered aloud.

-

Ninth.

I’d like to tell you that all is well, but that’s not the case. Don’t worry. Tsuna’s fine. But he’s been acting strangely

(He lifted the pen; reread; frowned in dissatisfaction; crumpled it up, and into the trash it goes.)

Ninth.

Two days ago Tsuna had a dream

(He paused; snorted; scribbled it out; crumpled it up, and into the trash it goes.)

(Another pause; finally—)

Ninth.

Tsuna’s fine.

Reborn

Chapter Text

(stand tall and stand firm; and perhaps no one will see that you’re trembling.)

chapter four


--

The mafia boss… A leader who rules a criminal organization. Able to move a number of trusted members with one hand, willing to risk even his life for the Family, surrounded by the respect and admiration of all, seen as a hero by the children of the slums…

Frowning, Tsuna glanced at Reborn was sitting on his bedroom floor and calmly polishing another one of his firearms. "You know this isn't true?"

"Which part?" Reborn replied without looking up.

"All of it." Tsuna flipped the book around to face Reborn and pointed. "Look. It says the mafia boss's beloved by all of the people and he's the hero of the slums, but what about Alessandro II of the Abbiati Family? He wasn't anyone's hero. All he did was sit around and drink wine. And Cirillo of the Palladino Family? No one liked him. No one. Even his guardians hated him, I mean, they even tried to kill him—"

"I don't remember that," Reborn interrupted, an underlying stop talking about things that haven't happened yet very clear in his voice.

"Sorry," Tsuna apologized. He'd made a mistake, again. (—“That's how most bad things happen, right?" Dino murmured, so much more jaded than Tsuna had ever seen him, then downed a glass of amber gold liquid in one go. "Either they come to you, or you try to avoid them and they still happen.")

Tsuna shook himself. It'd already been three days since he'd had the nightmares, and in that time these sudden flashbacks hadn't lessened at all.

"Tsuna." Reborn was staring at him now. "What are you thinking?"

Blinking and realizing that it wasn't a rhetorical question in response to something stupid he'd done, Tsuna sighed. "Just wondering when these flashbacks are going to end."

"Ah."

Reborn returned to polishing—what could anyone respond to that? and it wasn't like Reborn could stop them or anything, anyway—and Tsuna returned to reading the book Reborn had given him. Its title was in Italian (suspiciously The Mafia's Handbook for—something scratched out, his mind supplied helpfully); Tsuna thought privately after reading the broken, grammar-hacked Japanese that it would have been much better to keep it in its original Italian. At least he would be able to read it better.

Snapping his suitcase shut with a click, Reborn adjusted his fedora and gave Tsuna another level, flat look. He seemed to be doing those more often than Tsuna remembered. Because whenever both of you try to return to some sort of normalcy, you just have to mess up, don’t you?—but that was not true. It wasn’t true, and—and he had to stop thinking about these things.

“Are you having another flashback?”

Tsuna blinked. “No, I’m just—”

“Thinking.” Reborn's smile widened minutely, humorlessly. “In dangerous situations you will have no time to think or have a flashback. You'll die before long.”

“I know, Reborn—”

“No, you don't. In the last hour I could have killed you where you sat from more than fifteen angles, using thirty-seven different methods. You, as the next Vongola boss, cannot afford to daze off. You know what could happen.”

Something inside Tsuna bristled at Reborn's words. “If you think I'm going to start acting like some of those Oberti, Reborn, you're wrong. I'm know better than that! I'm not incompetent—” (because he's the Vongola Tenth, and he's not fifteen anymore)—but he still was, wasn't he.

“That's not the point.” Hopping over to the window ledge, Reborn gave him a warning glance. “If you don't get these flashbacks under control, you'll be off-guard when enemies attack.”

Reborn was right. He always was. “I know,” Tsuna sighed. “Why can’t I just forget about all of this? I don’t even have flashbacks of my own life.”

“Would you really want to?”

Tsuna paused—what about yesterday’s math stunt?—but then nodded. “It’s completely ruining my life. I can barely get through my day anymore. But what can I do?”

“How should I know?” The baby smirked smugly, before hopping out the window.

Which Tsuna translated to normal language as try to figure it out yourself first. It'd be easier if there was a bullet that just stopped him from lapsing into flashbacks whenever someone said something. Maybe Reborn was going to check that out now, or contact Verde or something.

In the meantime, he'd just have to stop thinking so much.

-

Which was much harder in practice than in theory. If it was quiet or he just wasn't doing anything, those flashbacks would arise. If he was focusing on something, like a conversation or a book, they seemed to fade a bit. But it wasn't like he had a list of people he could talk trivial things with for periods at a time...

“Tsuna-kun?”

Tsuna turned around. “Um! Morning, Kyoko-chan,” he answered with a shy smile, fighting to keep the blood from rushing into his cheeks—Kyoko-chan was actually talking to him! She talked to him first, too! This was the best day ever

“I suppose you're walking to school, too?” She asked cheerfully.

Tsuna was glad for her company. Of course he was. But... after years of being on constant guard (because it's saved his life more times than he can count, and some habits just don't die) and taking instant note of one: where people's hands were and two: where people looked—he couldn't help see that she'd glanced at the area around his feet a few times.

Oh. His good mood deflated. She was just looking for Reborn.

Couldn't be helped, could it? Girls liked kids. It wasn’t like Reborn was actually a kid, but he looked like one, and anyway, she didn’t know Tsuna so… it’d have been weird if she came and talked to him, just because she wanted to. 

“Yeah,” he replied. “You, too?”—and then he cringed, mentally. Wasn't that such a stupid question? Like she walked this route for any other reason on a weekday morning.

“Yup.” She paused. Awkward silence, anyone? Quick, think of something to say!—but she said something first. “Are you excited for today's baseball game?”

What baseball game? Tsuna thought.

“I mean, you guys are having a baseball game in PE, right?” Kyoko-chan stumbled as embarrassment flashed across her face. “Are you? Maybe I heard wrong. Sorry—”

“No, you're right.” I think. Flashing a small smile, Tsuna continued. “Sorry, I paused because I forgot about it, actually.”

“Oh! Good.” Kyoko-chan seemed relieved. “I was worried I'd gotten it wrong. So, are you?”

“Um, kind of.” Didn't the kids always pick teams? He was going to be last, again. Games where his classmates picked teams were never really fun, but since it was Kyoko-chan asking... “I mean… um, yeah, it’ll be fun.”

“Well, good luck!” Giving him one last smile, Kyoko-chan ran ahead to catch up with another girl far ahead. Maybe she just didn’t want to hang around him that much? (He really shouldn’t be thinking so badly of her, or of anyone, anymore… but sometimes it was hard not to believe in the worst of people.)

Tsuna sighed and stuck his hands inside his pockets, but his right hand hit something solid.  Puzzled, he pulled it out—it was a sleek, silver bullet that he’d seen thousands of times before. The Dying Will Bullet.

In case of an emergency, read a note tied around it.

He snorted. What did Reborn take him for? It wasn’t like he had a gun to shoot himself with—actually, now that he thought about it, it didn’t seem like Reborn to give him a bullet and not a gun.

Snap. He dropped his bag on the ground and lifted the flap. There, sitting neatly on his textbooks and binders, was a sleek, silver-barrel semi-automatic Beretta 92, looking almost innocent amid the schoolbooks. That was just like Reborn, wasn’t it?

And—anyway, how the heck did he get the gun in my bag without me noticing? He wasn’t that bad at being careful with his possessions (because his last carelessness had cost him three men, three good men, named Benito and Rossendo and—he was not thinking about that right now)—but, maybe Reborn was still just that much better than him.

It was slightly comforting and mostly disheartening that, even after twenty years of living in the mafia world through sweat, blood, and guts, Reborn could still beat him in anything. (He was—how old? Twenty-seven or twenty-eight or thirty-two but he’d lost track of the years—old, older than he used to be and not fifteen anymore, wasn’t he?

Because when age equals experience you need a miracle to convince twenty men that yes you’re sixteen-and-a-half and you can lead the most prominent mafia Family because… because… and no it wasn’t a fluke, all the while doubting every word you say because you are just a teenager and you weren’t even aware of the mafia world until just a few years ago and, and, AND—)

“Shut up,” Tsuna mumbled, shaking himself out of it. He picked up his bag and slid the Beretta to the bottom of the bag—he’d have to tell Reborn that he’d never really been a gun man personally (“Kukuku, too messy for the man who likes to watch people burn?”)—and kept walking.

--

School passed in a blur. Nezu-sensei hadn’t even picked on Tsuna that much, besides glaring at him furiously and muttering something that sounded like “Infuriating little punk” under his breath. That made Tsuna laugh. After being called much worse by much scarier people, these insults were almost funny. He wasn’t really infuriating (actually, people told him he had a “calming presence”), and he was much worse than a punk. He was mafia. (He wasn’t going to debate the little part, although he’d grow to six feet before his twenty-first birthday.)

Unsurprisingly, as soon as he trudged into the room Gokudera-kun approached him with a huge smile at an exuberant “Tenth!”—to his chagrin, Tsuna couldn’t help smiling just a little bit, regardless of his other classmates’ shocked stares. It was just like before, when Gokudera-kun would always greet him with—

His smile froze. You’re not in the future, you’re not from the future, you’re not, you’re not—he had to stop thinking like he was really from the future. He was just Dame-Tsuna, and he wasn’t “Tenth” yet so—

After he remembered, Tsuna stood up and tried to act embarrassed (because that’s would any kid would act like if some Italian kid started calling him a mafia name). “That’s okay, Gokudera-kun,” he reassured hastily. “You can just call me Tsuna.”

“Tenth is the tenth,” replied Gokudera-kun firmly, with that resolute look in his eyes that said absolutely not.

Tsuna knew that look, and there was no getting past it. “Fine,” he sighed, sitting back down.

Math, for once, made sense in his life; actually, Tsuna was nearly fascinated with all of the angles, variables, and etcetera. It was like he’d known the words and could read them but couldn’t put them together into a sentence, and now it just clicked and these words made books. It was amazing

English—well, he’d always been better at Italian (came to him like Japanese because Italian was in his blood, see?), but he’d always been nearly fluent with only a trace of an accent, simply because of all the business transactions he’d had to make in the language. Certainly he was better than any of his peers (even better than Gokudera-kun, who would swear in fifteen different languages including Swahili but couldn’t get the hang of the innumerable English nuances and idioms). It was like coasting, and Tsuna tried not to laugh at some of the simpler sentences his classmates were repeating.

“Have something to say?” asked the English teacher, a dark-haired, stern substitute standing in for the regular teacher (who’d busted his knee, or something). It was only halfway through class and she’d already gotten most of her pronunciations wrong. Who hired these teachers, anyway?

“Sawada-kun, I’m asking you.”

Oh. Had he let a laugh escape? “Um, sorry, sensei,” Tsuna said. “I wasn’t laughing at anyone in particular, I was just thinking of something funny…” (Actually, about the first time Fuuta had gotten drunk; the poor boy had been thirteen and he’d spouted rankings, valuable and ridiculous and everything in between, all the way home—but he wasn’t thinking of that) He trailed off as every one of his classmates turned to stare at him with disbelief.

The substitute visibly regained her composure. “I heard you were a poor student,” she said, with some difficulty, in English; “but I did not know you were fluent in English.”

“I’m not,” Tsuna said automatically, in English. His mind halted, then began working again. “Oh.”

“Yes,” the sub said with a hint of amusement. “Well, Sawada-kun, since you’re already… well, fluent, feel free to work on your other subjects, but don’t be a distraction to anyone else, alright?” Then without waiting for his answer, she resumed her teaching, though it took more than a few minutes for everyone to stop sneaking incredulous glances at Tsuna.

Before, everyone ignored him, the no-good student. Now, they were alienating him because he was suddenly too good.

(You are not in the future. You do not know English, or Italian, or Chinese, or any language besides Japanese. You are not the Tenth. You are not marred by war, sober from death, frigid and emotionless. You—are—not—)

If he couldn’t keep these things from just arising, he was going to go mad from trying.

Glumly, Tsuna rested his head in his arms, though he still snorted at the proud mutter from behind him: “As expected of the Tenth!”

--

Gokudera-kun skipped out on PE to refill his cigarette pack and dynamite, leaving Tsuna to consider telling him that if he didn’t stop smoking now, he’d do serious damage to his body by the time he was twenty-five; then remembered there was no way he could get that information, even by Hyper Intuition. Not to mention that Gokudera-kun was smart. He’d figure out something before long.

He already had enough stress from trying to keep everything a secret without someone investigating him, thank you very much. (Privately Tsuna loathed the moment Haru would appear. Now she was observant.)

They picked teams, as he’d expected. They always did. And again, Tsuna was picked last. It wasn’t like everyone had witnessed the superhuman strength that came from the Dying Will Bullets, like what happened last time. Besides, there was no way he was going to shoot himself with the Bullet (he’d left both it and the gun in his locker, stuffed behind a stack of books and a pile of trash that no one in their right minds would sift through).

Speaking of which, where was Reborn? He wasn’t in the surrounding trees or areas—could be further out, watching with a telescope, but it wasn’t like anyone (except Tsuna) would be able to spot him if he was closer. He was probably investigating the Guardians’ names which Tsuna had dropped yesterday.

“Are we done picking teams?” some kid asked, deliberately facing away from Tsuna.

“Not yet,” another replied with badly concealed regret. “There’s one left.”

“Anyway, you can have No-good Tsuna on your team.”

“No way! We don’t want to lose! He’s bad at baseball.”

Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. Personally, Tsuna hadn’t played baseball for years, and the last time that happened all he could remember that it had been at Yamamoto-kun’s insistence, a match between Tsuna and his Guardians and the Varia, and it had been absolutely chaotic. Not only was Squalo furious at being coerced into playing a “kid’s game” by Yamamoto, people from both teams hadn’t even deigned to show up, like Xanxus and Hibari-san. Still, it had been inappropriately fun—one of the few good memories of the last years of his life.

“Isn’t it alright?” Yamamoto intervened with a smile, slinging an arm over another boy’s shoulder. “Just let him join our team.”

“Are you serious?” the boy complained. “You don’t have to let that loser in!”

“Don’t be so mean. All I have to do is keep them from hitting, right?”

“Well, if Yamamoto is saying so… I guess it’s fine.”

--

It was like a curse. Every sports team that he was on inevitably lost, no matter how Tsuna or anyone else tried. Yamamoto had even hit a few homeruns! But the rest of their game was spectacularly horrible.

“It’s your fault, No-Good Tsuna!” a freshman snapped, nearly red in the face (was he crying?). “If only we hadn’t let you onto the team! Here,” he said, tossing his broom to Tsuna. “You can sweep the field by yourself.”

It was at times like these Tsuna felt oddly disconnected from the rest of his peers. What was he so distraught about? It was honestly just a game. There were more important things in life. Actually, the real reason he had hated PE was not because he made people lose, but because they took out their anger on him. But… it wasn’t like that anymore. He wasn’t weak like he used to be, because he’d had to grow up, had to deal with worse things suddenly—

But he was not thinking about the future.

Steps behind him—he whirled, ready to dodge or hit but it was just Yamamoto, just Yamamoto—well. If he could only move that fast in sports. “Ah, hi, Yamamoto-kun. What’s up?”

Yamamoto held up a broom of his own and grinned blindingly. “Help has arrived!” he announced cheerfully, then began sweeping with Tsuna.

The only reason either of them was out there was because their team had lost, and that was Tsuna’s fault. “Sorry,” Tsuna said. “It was because you let me onto your team…”

“No way! Don’t worry about it, Tsuna. It’s only PE.” Yamamoto paused, then a shadow flitted over his face before he continued. “Anyway, you can be like… target stock. Haven’t you really been amazing lately?”

“What?”

“I mean how you’re suddenly doing so well in school and all. Did you get a tutor?”

“Well…” Tsuna cringed. Yes, but define ‘tutor’…

Yamamoto’s smile twisted slightly. “Tsuna… lately, no matter how much I practice, my average is dropping and my fielding is screwing me up.” He sighed, looking past Tsuna, looking at his beloved baseball field. “At this rate, it'll be the first time I don't start since I began playing baseball. Tsuna—”

(—what should I do?” Yamamoto’s smile finally dropped.)

With a panicked gasp Tsuna shut his eyes tightly, willing the visions to disappear. It hurt—he visualized forcibly tearing them away and tossing them out—but he was not going to let these flashbacks distract him, especially in this conversation with Yamamoto. To think, of all the times!

“Tsuna? Are you okay?”

Tsuna heard Yamamoto’s worried voice dimly, as if the boy was ten feet away and not in front of him; but he screwed up his strength and opened his eyes. “I’m... I’m fine,” he managed with a (hopefully reassuring) smile.

Yamamoto did not look reassured. “Are you sure you’re okay? You look bad. Here, I’ll take you to the nurse’s office.” He stepped forward, letting his broom fall to the ground, but Tsuna took a step back.

“Really! Yamamoto-kun, I’m fine. I just…” what this time? “Forgot to eat lunch.”

“Really?” He still looked dubious.

“A-anyway, I’ll go afterwards to the nurse’s office,”—not. He wouldn’t see Shamal for even a bug bite. “Um, what were you saying?”

“Oh, just…” Yamamoto almost looked ashamed. “I haven’t been playing well lately. What should I do?”

“Why are you asking me?”

“Well—you’ve just seemed so reliable lately, haven’t you?” He laughed. “Can’t you give me your secret for sudden success?”

Now that made Tsuna feel guilty. Here Yamamoto was working so hard to become better at baseball and Tsuna had barely even tried for his success at school! Life is unfair, Tsuna thought morosely. The motto of my life.

“I guess… more effort,” Tsuna ventured slowly. “I mean, I’m sure you could do anything if you put your mind to it, Yamamoto-kun.”

The smile that lit up Yamamoto-kun’s face washed away any worry he felt. “You know, I was thinking of the same thing! I guess you’re right, Tsuna. Thanks a lot! Alright. I’ll stay here and practice like hell!”

Tsuna waved him goodbye as Yamamoto ran off, reenergized and fired up. The tiniest pang of something pounded once in his chest, but he quickly squished down the feeling of uneasiness.

--

“You look happy.”

“I helped Yamamoto-kun today,” Tsuna replied.

“I saw.”

“You saw? I thought you weren’t there today.”

“Dame Tsuna,” Reborn replied, smirking. “You forgot to check the windows.”

Tsuna groaned as it hit him. “You were hiding under the glare, weren’t you?” Of course he had. Reborn always chose the best observation spots. Though, Tsuna had to admit this one was pretty good, hiding behind a window that turned into a type of one-way mirror as sunlight bounced off it.

Leaning back into his hammock, Reborn turned towards the wall, away from Tsuna, but the smugness in his words was evident: “By the way, Tsuna. You speak Italian passingly well.”

It wasn’t until after Reborn had fallen asleep (evident by the bubble from his nose) and Tsuna had almost fallen asleep himself that Tsuna realized that Reborn had said this last sentence as lei parla italiano abbastanza bene, and they had been conversing in Italian the entire time.

--

The next day had been going smoothly for Tsuna; but his life lived according to Murphy’s Law, and things that went smoothly were nearly always some sort of calm before a storm. So Tsuna supposed he shouldn’t have been as surprised as he was when a student barged into the classroom, exclaiming, “Hey everyone! Yamamoto’s going to jump off the roof!”

His heart lurched unexpectedly, and Tsuna swallowed. You’re kidding, right? he thought. Yamamoto was fine. He’d just seen him yesterday. Yamamoto’s family was fine, he was fine—

(“When he stayed after school practicing yesterday—”) “—He went too far and broke his arm!”

No. No. No. This was not happening. This couldn’t be happening—it was all, all his fault? (“It’s all your fault; if you hadn’t led us into this bloody massacre!” screamed the woman before Yamamoto-kun and Gokudera-kun dragged her away; but her words plunged into him like a knife, all the same.)

He jumped out of his seat and sprinted—faster, faster, faster!—so hard his legs were shaking by the time he climb the last set of stairs leading to the rooftop.

There Yamamoto-kun was, alone and solemn and horribly serious on the other side of the fence.

 “No,” Tsuna breathed. “Yamamoto-kun! What are you doing?

He looked back, with just the slightest hint of surprise. “Oh. Tsuna. You came.” The statement was so unlike Yamamoto-kun that Tsuna wanted to shake him furiously and snap, where have you gone, Yamamoto?

“Of course I came,” Tsuna replied a little too harshly, but forged on without regret. “What are you doing?”

“The god of baseball threw me away. I don’t have anything left, you know.” Yamamoto-kun tried to laugh it off, as he always did, but he was shaking.

“Yamamoto-kun—” Tsuna croaked—this couldn’t happen, just couldn’t

“Don’t try to stop me, Tsuna.” Yamamoto’s voice was firm, even though his body was trembling. “I’ve made up my mind about it.”

By now, the other students were arriving. They crowded further away, though, leaving a wide ring of space around Tsuna and Yamamoto. Some of them were staring in disbelief; other classmates were shouting at Yamamoto to stop fooling around and climb back over the fence.

“It’s too late,” Yamamoto told them resolutely without an ounce of uncertainty in his eyes. “The god of baseball has thrown me away.”

“That’s not true!” Tsuna exclaimed—hearing Yamamoto so carelessly say something like that (because if Yamamoto, the born assassin, the Rain, was worthless, then everyone else in the entire world is worthless too; so you see, it’s just not like that at all!) made anger rise in his chest. “That’s not true, Yamamoto!”

“It is true. I broke my arm yesterday, Tsuna. I can’t play anymore. You of all people should be able to understand my feelings. You’ve been amazing lately, but I bet even you can understand the feeling of preferring to die than failing at everything, right?”

“Not at all,” replied Tsuna fiercely, which seemed to take Yamamoto aback and ignite an anger of his own.

“Then we’re nothing alike at all!” Yamamoto declared. “How arrogant of the recently awesome Tsuna-sama. So, compared to me you’re a fine student now.”

“That’s not at all what I was saying!” Why wasn’t Yamamoto getting it? Why wasn’t he holding onto the fence or something? Why is he looking at me with such a resentful expression? “I’m saying that because—because—” (well?) Tsuna took a breath. “I am a coward, Yamamoto,” he snapped.

Yamamoto blinked. “What?”

I am a coward, Yamamoto,” Tsuna repeated. “Because I—” Ah. When did all of that anger melt into sorrow? He was speaking haltingly now. “—I’ve never worked as hard as you in my life. When I told you ‘more effort’ yesterday, it wasn’t because I could say I’ve done the same thing. I’ve never worked for something like you have. You, Yamamoto—you’re not worthless! How could you think that?”

(Yamamoto has always been, is, and will always be his loyal, constant Guardian. He is determined, he is strong, and Tsuna would place his life into his hands without hesitance if need be. This is not Yamamoto. This boy, trembling and resigned and silent, is not Yamamoto. But he can, will be.)

“Tsuna…” There was an unreadable expression on Yamamoto’s face, so Tsuna continued. He didn’t think he could stop now, anyway.

“Yamamoto, you’re… you’ve amazing. I could never have the determination that you have now. I could never kill myself rather than fail. I’m a coward; I can’t face death unflinchingly like you. So if you’re worthless… then what am I?”

“But you’ve been doing so well lately, and I…”

“Someone helped me, Yamamoto. I’d never be able to do it on my own.” Tsuna lowered his gaze to Yamamoto’s cast. “It’s the same with you. Your arm is going to heal, Yamamoto. I don’t care if the baseball god threw you away. If he did, then he’s wrong. And you’re wrong.”

He took a step back, then stared Yamamoto straight in the eyes, hard and cold (his ‘Tenth’ face, as Mom liked to tease him). “If you’re going to die, then die. But I swear, if you take one step over that ledge, then you are not a fraction of the man I thought you were. The Yamamoto I know is strong and brave and he doesn’t care if his arm’s broken, or he’s sick; he’ll stand back up again.” (It’s the Rain battle, and he stands up: “Because the Shigure Souen Style is completely flawless, the strongest, and unrivaled.”) Tsuna stopped, not because he had nothing to say but because the lump in his throat was choking the rest of his words out. Then he kept going, almost like begging, quieter this time so only Yamamoto could hear. “You’re not like this, Yamamoto. I know you’re not like this.”

There. He’d said all of it. Tsuna shut his eyes firmly, a sickening ache in his chest, and tried to keep the what ifs down. What Yamamoto would do now was up to Yamamoto himself.

This silence was choking him. Cautiously, he cracked his eyes open. Yamamoto, one hand on the fence, was grinning—just a little bit—at him.

“Thanks, Tsuna,” Yamamoto took a breath. “Guess I needed to hear that,” he said ruefully, a tinge of pink on his cheeks.

Tsuna sank to his knees, heart thumping wildly, utterly relieved. “Well,” he mumbled, but no further; his throat was closing up, and he found he couldn’t say a single word.

“Hah, I was going to do something really stupid, wasn’t I?” Trust Yamamoto to laugh off his near-suicidal attempt seconds afterwards. “Um. Mind helping me back over this fence?”

Some of their other classmates approached from behind Tsuna. “We’ll help, Yamamoto,” one said, oddly not glancing at Tsuna even once. “You really got yourself into a fix! How’d you get over with only one hand, anyway?”

It seemed like all of the strength had been drained out of Tsuna. He stayed on the ground for a long time while the others helped Yamamoto back over the fence—(“Aiyah, it broke! Yamamoto, you really got lucky! You could’ve slipped and the fence would’ve broken.”)—and something from the distant past gave him the odd feeling that things could have gone very, very different. (Something about a Dying Will Bullet, since Reborn had used them in those day almost compulsively, and falling, falling, falling. But of anything else there was nothing.)

It wasn’t until most of his classmates had returned inside the building, Yamamoto included, that Kyoko tapped his arm with a smile and helped him up. She whispered something in his ear, something about him being brave that made him blush furiously, but it was all a blur until they reached the nurse’s office, where Tsuna collapsed into a bed and promptly passed out.

--

Shamal woke him up hours later when school was already over, and Gokudera-kun (at his bedside, to be expected, as he always was when Tsuna was sick) insisted on taking him home. The full impact of the day’s events didn’t fully slam into Tsuna until he was lying on his bed, staring at his ceiling. Reborn was sitting in his hammock, reading a book, but Tsuna didn’t miss the occasional glances at him. Hah. Maybe Reborn was worried he’d cracked.

“Reborn,” Tsuna started, then cleared his throat. “I… You remember—yesterday morning, we were talking about my flashbacks, and how I’d have to stop them?”

“That was only you,” reminded Reborn.

“I tried it. Yesterday and today I tried to stop my flashbacks. And—it worked, kind of. It was hard but it worked. And…” Tsuna trailed off.

“What, Tsuna?”

“I could have stopped it. Yamamoto breaking his arm and trying to kill himself, I mean. When I was talking with him yesterday, I had a flashback about him, about what we were doing. But I stopped it. And I could have stopped him.”

Reborn was silent for a moment. “Stop blaming yourself, Dame Tsuna. You probably would have made it worse if you had tried to stop him.”

“But that’s what I did! I tried to stop him, and ended up doing the same thing I did in the past!”

Tsuna paused for Reborn to reply, but the hitman made none.

“So,” Tsuna continued hesitantly, “I was thinking—well, these flashbacks—they can be pretty useful. Like, in what happened with Yamamoto, they’d be useful. So I was thinking—if I just kept them in check instead of suppressing them completely—”

“Dame Tsuna,” Reborn interrupted with a tiny grin. “If you can control these flashbacks, then you can, to some extent, control your future. And it will be an advantage against the foes you’ve faced before.”

“So you approve?” exclaimed Tsuna, hardly daring to believe it himself—was Reborn actually supporting him, even though he’d been so against the flashbacks the previous morning?

“But you’ll have to control them completely. I’d rather you suppress them than be shot while going through one.”

“Um, okay?” Tsuna decided he did not like the glint in Reborn’s eyes.

“Starting tomorrow I’ll be carefully monitoring you and keeping you on your guard so you’ll be able to respond even in flashbacks.”

“Wait—what?” If he knew Reborn-ese correctly, then keeping you on your guard meant attacking you randomly—“Reborn! You’re kidding!”

Reborn began to snore.

“Reborn! Reborn!”

Chapter Text

(Before the mafia, a little comic relief never hurt anyone.)

chapter five

--

Tsuna peeked out from behind his bedroom door. Reborn hadn’t been in his hammock when Tsuna had woken up, which meant that he was outside, which meant that maybe he was going to follow through with his threat of “keeping Tsuna on guard” the day before. Hopefully not. Probably so. Either way, Tsuna was going to be on guard, and with luck, he would make it to school in one piece.

He was crossing his fingers, even though it seemed like whenever he was involved, Murphy’s Law took a step up. So far, everything appeared normal, but he wasn’t holding his breath for it.

Creeping down the stairs this carefully made him feel like a robber in his own house. That was depressing and certainly not alright, but when had Reborn’s arrival ever made things alright? No wonder he’d been so paranoid when he was older (and now look where he was! Scanning the premises in his own house for traps!). It’d been bred in the teenage Tsuna for years until it was second nature. Paranoia to a certain extent was good. He agreed with that. But beyond that, constantly? That would make him gray-haired by the time he was twenty-two. In fact, it did. And would.

Thankfully his hair was fairly light already.

Reborn was in fact not hiding in any of the rooms he passed on the way to the kitchen—although Tsuna found a suspiciously large amount of weaponry behind boxes, inside cases, and other obscure places. What was worse, Tsuna recognized all of the firearms, and even though there was enough firepower to blow up the entire town and he realized he’d actually memorized the names of dangerous objects. No… nothing could ever shock him anymore. When Tsuna entered the kitchen, he found Reborn there, calmly sipping his coffee.

“Good morning,” Reborn said without the slightest hint of a smirk.

The jerk. Like he hadn’t noticed Tsuna’s paranoia already.

“Morning.” Tsuna pulled out a chair and sat down. Mom had given him cereal again, that grainy stuff, just as she had for the last few days. The more he stared, the less appealing it looked. Actually, he wasn’t feeling hungry at all. “Reborn, can I have some of your coffee?”

“No,” Reborn replied instantly, hand inching dangerously toward his gun.

“Okay, fine.” And it was. Tsuna could recognize Reborn’s absolutely no mood rearing its poisonous little head. That was definitely something not to deal with in the mornings (or at any time of the day). “I’ll make myself some.”

Before now, the only person in his family who drank was his father, Iemitsu, who was barely home anyway, so the coffee machine was usually tucked away in some corner, collecting dust. Only recently, it’d been taken out for Reborn and now Tsuna (before he’d reach the age of twenty the drink would inevitably become a lifeline, because how could he resist? It drove away sleep, and nightmares).

Humming a nonsensical tune he’d learned somewhere, Tsuna mechanically pulled a filter out of a bag. The filters were old and cheap and would probably clog, but it couldn’t be helped. At least the coffee was of a bit better brand. Nothing like Lavazza or any other Italian coffee, of course, but it was passable.

“That tune,” said Reborn from the table. “Where did you learn it?”

“In Italy, I think,” Tsuna replied, placing the coffee pot back on the warming plate. It’d be ready soon enough. “Can’t remember exactly where.” After all, he’d been to so many places in Italy it was hard to keep track of what he’d done where.

He turned around to face Reborn, who was staring back thoughtfully. “What is it, Reborn?” he said, just a little unnerved.

“That’s a folk tune from Liguria. Were you visiting the COMSUBIN?”

Tsuna paused. “The COMSUBIN? Maybe. I don’t remember. I might have; we’ve had some dealings with them in the past, aside from Colonello.”

“Like what?”

“Well, there was a time we camped out in one of their former hideouts.” That had been fun. S’mores around a campfire with his two closest friends. “At least, we thought it wasn’t being used anymore, but actually—”

“Dame Tsuna,” Reborn interrupted. “Any events I should know about?”

Oh. He meant those horrible events that could potentially be prevented. Of course Reborn wasn’t interested in the trivial events, even if Tsuna would rather remember a happy events rather than a gruesome one. “Well…”

COMSUBIN—what had they done with the COMSUBIN again? The fact that were an Italian special force had limited their encounters to brief, tense affairs in which neither side completely trusted the other. (“Sorry, kid,” Colonello says, shrugging. “Can’t help you there. I’ve got ties to both of you.” “But that’s exactly why we need you!” “Don’t make me choose, kid.” And with that, Colonello walks out.)

“Sorry, Reborn. I think that was about it.”

“Hm.”

Still, there was something that nagged at Tsuna—there was something important that happened, but he couldn’t remember it...

Reborn looked at him suspiciously with one raised eyebrow. Oh, had it been showing on his face?

“If I remember it later, I’ll tell you,” Tsuna said.

“Make sure you do,” Reborn said, tipping his mug back and finishing his coffee. “Remember—even the smallest detail can be crucial. So—”

“Be prepared,” Tsuna finished with a half-smile. “You’ve told me before.”

“Have I?” But Reborn was smiling, too. “I see,” he said, before nonchalantly tossing a mini bomb at Tsuna.

WHAT—“Reborn! You—” Tsuna started, but he started to choke on the smoke. The brat—this wasn’t his home, was it? It was Tsuna’s! Reborn just couldn’t start throwing bombs whenever he wanted—by the time the smoke had somewhat cleared, Tsuna could see Reborn’s small profile at the door.

“That was for interrupting me,” the baby said cheekily, then slammed the door behind him as he left.

Any good will towards Reborn disappeared. Tsuna sighed—he’d had more than ten years of torture from Reborn. Wasn’t there ever going to be a break? It was like Reborn liked blowing up Tsuna’s house or equipment or friends, just for the heck of it!

If he didn’t value his life, he’d have retaliated against Reborn long ago. But… it was Reborn. He would barely have time to laugh before Reborn would get his revenge. (Because Reborn was a vicious little mafioso. That one time Lambo had ruined the coffee machine by detonating a grenade inside of it was etched in Tsuna’s memory permanently. He still hadn’t found all of the bullets Reborn had fired yet. If there was one thing Reborn had to have in the morning, it was his coffee—)

Coffee. Tsuna paused.

He walked over to the machine, which was quiet now, and pulled out the pot. Pouring himself a cup, Tsuna took a sip and immediately grimaced.

Darn it, it was bitter. He’d left it for too long.

--

“Hey, Tsuna!”

Oh, he knew that voice like that back of his hand. Grinning, Tsuna turned around. “Good morning, Yamamoto-kun.”

“Morning,” Yamamoto repeated, slinging his good arm over Tsuna’s shoulder. “So! How’s the Tenth today?”

Tsuna jerked forward, startled, and stared at his friend. “What? Um, why are you calling me that?” he asked warily.

The grin dropped from Yamamoto’s face. “Oh. Sorry, I just heard Gokudera calling you that. Should I not call you that?”

“No, it’s just…” It wasn’t wrong, but it was just so unlike Yamamoto to give him such a formal title. (That familiarity is what makes Yamamoto Yamamoto, after all.) “Actually, I’d prefer it if you just called me Tsuna.”

“Sure, Tsuna!” Yamamoto’s grin was back.

“Tenth!”

Tsuna turned—Gokudera was running towards them wearing a furious expression. “You baseball freak!” he snapped, shoving Yamamoto’s arm off Tsuna’s shoulder. “Don’t act so casual to the Tenth!”

Thankfully, Yamamoto seemed to think it was all a joke. “Haha, you’re funny. Can’t friends be casual to each other?”

Friends?

Tsuna looked from Gokudera to Yamamoto. That’s right—he had real friends now… Last week he hadn’t had any, but that had changed. He had changed. (Out of the distance, someone—him?—murmurs through blood and choked breaths, “The time I’ve spent here with everyone is a treasure to me…”)

“Tenth?”

He glanced up. Gokudera and Yamamoto were giving him concerned looks.

“It’s fine,” he reassured them. “I just didn’t sleep well last night.” Which was partially true, since he’d spent all last night thinking about the future and anticipating Reborn’s surprise attacks.

“Baseball idiot!” exclaimed Gokudera. “Your stunt yesterday must have caused the tenth to lose sleep!”

Yamamoto simply laughed. 

--

That afternoon, Reborn suddenly decided to actually step up to his job and tutor Tsuna. Tsuna guessed it was more of an assessment test, since every other question Reborn tested him on was leagues harder than the work he was currently doing in school. Granted, he could probably do his homework with his eyes closed now.

In particular, Reborn was testing him thoroughly on his knowledge of Italy.

 “Capital of Puglia?”

(“Ah—Gokudera-kun, what’s up?” “Tenth! Those Abbiati split up—Baseball idiot’s already got half of them at our base in Gravina, I’m chasing the rest to—”) 

“Bari,” Tsuna replied absently, yawning. They’d been at this for an hour and a half.

“How many airports?”

“140.”

Reborn frowned. “How many airports right now?”

“Oh.” Tsuna thought back. “130?”

“Not quite. 132.” Reborn grinned and moved towards the detonator—

“Come on, Reborn!” Tsuna exclaimed. He’d already been through more explosions this afternoon than most people experienced in their lives. “I was two off. When are they going to count?”

“You can never be too prepared.”

“Reborn, I seriously doubt two measly airports, out of 132, are going to make a difference. They probably don’t even have paved runways.”

“Dame Tsuna. You’re the Decimo. What if you know the man you’re chasing is flying out of the country in one hour? You won’t be able to catch him if you forget the name of the airport he’s headed towards.”

“But in a few years those airports will be built, and I’ll be right!”

“That’s sloppy,” Reborn reprimanded.

Tsuna sighed. “You’re right,” he muttered. “It’s hard to remember what happened ten years ago.”

“Then you’ll have to learn again.”

That did not sound appealing. He’d slowly accumulated knowledge for ten years before arriving at this level. If he started again at that rate, Byakuran would probably be ruling this world before he learned anything useful.

“Reborn, I think—” but Tsuna stopped. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and every muscle suddenly felt on edge; Reborn was also still—he’d realized it as well.

There was someone right outside his window.

(“Idiot,” Lal Mirch snapped, thwacking her clipboard against the back of his head. “So you’ve realized someone’s there. You freeze, you give it all away, idiot. They’ll know you know, and now you’ve lost a huge advantage.”)

“Reborn, I think we should go over the important ports again,” Tsuna said in his calmest voice.

“Dame Tsuna,” Reborn smirked. “It’s the Bovino.”

For a moment Tsuna stared at Reborn in confusion, and then it hit him: it’s the Bovino. Lambo.

Lambo.

“Oh,” he said, nudging his knife back under his mattress and wishing he could sink into the floor. Anything to get away from Reborn’s smirk.

“You’re getting sloppy,” Reborn pointed out with something akin to glee.

“I am not.”

“Sloppy. Dull. You thought that cow was a threat.” The hitman wasn’t laughing, but it was clearly there.

Tsuna scowled. “I am not getting dull, or sloppy. I was trained by Lal Mirch, I can’t be getting sloppy.”

“Lal Mirch trained you?” Reborn’s voice suddenly sharpened. “She trained you?”

“She was a good trainer,” Tsuna said, ignoring the whisper that said well, until she died, that is. “She trained Colonello, anyway.”

The baby snorted. “I wouldn’t call Colonello good.”

“We can’t all be world-class hitmen like you,” Tsuna reminded.

“No, but he is one of the Arcobaleno.”

“So is Skull.”

“Skull is an embarrassment,” said Reborn firmly. “And the Arcobaleno are not the level of power that people believe they are. Therefore proving my point: Lal Mirch is not a good trainer.”

“Why not?”

Reborn grinned widely. “She’s not hard enough.”

Tsuna opened his mouth to reply—weren’t there enough hard teachers already?—but a familiar shrill voice interrupted their conversation.

“Die, Reborn!”

There was Lambo, in all of his cow-like glory, pointing a gun at Reborn… Tsuna stared at him. He almost wanted to laugh—had Lambo really been so childish before? Lambo was threatening to kill Reborn, but coming from this kid, it was really cute—

Lambo’s eyes widened in horror as he pulled the trigger and nothing happened. The tree branch he was standing on began to crack. “Huh?”

Lunging forward, Tsuna grabbed Lambo before the kid could fall with the tree branch and pulled him close.

Wow, déjà vu. How long had it been since he could carry Lambo in his arms?

“Guh—you’re not Reborn!” Lambo accused Tsuna.

“No,” Tsuna replied, amused. “Guess I’m not.” And I wouldn’t want to be.

Spotting Reborn, who was pointedly ignoring him, Lambo wrenched himself out of Tsuna’s arms and landed on the floor. “Long time no see, Reborn!”

“You’ve met him before?” Tsuna gaped. He didn’t think Reborn was the type of person who would—

“I don’t associate with those of a lower rank,” Reborn told him bluntly.

 “Ah.”

Lambo had pulled out a hand grenade from somewhere—his pockets? Afro?—and ran towards Reborn, prepared to throw it. “Don’t ignore me! I’ll kill you!”

Tsuna thought sounded like a kid making empty threats—“Don’t make me eat my vegetables, I’ll run away” and so on—only that Lambo had the weapons to follow through on his threats. Not that they would damage Reborn or kill him, though. It was cute.

With a movement too fast to follow, Reborn sent Lambo flying into the wall, then said calmly, “Euro or Lira?” 

“Euro, since 2002,” Tsuna said, picking up the teary Lambo from the floor. “Come on, Lambo-kun. Let’s leave mean old Reborn to his weapons, and get some sweets downstairs. You like candy, don’t you?” Lambo nodded, sniffing.

Reborn only snorted and murmured something like “Getting soft, too?” as Tsuna and Lambo exited.

--

“So, Lambo-kun,” Tsuna began after Lambo had been placated with a bowl of leftover candy from some fair a while ago. “Are you from Italy, too?”

“I am Lambo-san, not Lambo-kun, of the Bovino Famiglia in Italy! Favorite foods are grapes and candy!” Lambo recited almost defiantly.

Alright. Well, two could play that game. “Tell me, Lambo-kun. Where did you meet Reborn?” Honestly, he was really curious.

Lambo sniffed. “I went to the bar for my first time with my boss, and he was sitting next to me at the counter. Lambo-san was eating his favorite grapes, and Reborn was blowing bubble gum from his nose…”

Oh, now Tsuna remembered. It had been something crazy like that, hadn’t it? Reborn probably wouldn’t have even known Lambo if Tsuna had not mentioned the kid as one of his guardians. (Once upon a time, Reborn tries to get the Decimo to replace Lambo, who is just a kid and a crybaby and can’t even handle his own power. “I know he’s not as powerful as the others,” the Decimo says quietly, “but he will be. You have to give him a chance, Reborn.” Then, softer: “You gave me a chance.” Finally, Reborn relents, and doesn’t regret it.) “You’ve been through a lot,” he said when Lambo stared at him expectantly, waiting for a reply.

“Hmph. Lambo-san can handle it,” Lambo boasted, but Tsuna could tell he was privately pleased.

Nana entered the kitchen at that moment. Upon seeing another baby in her house, she smiled widely and exclaimed, “Tsu-kun! Is that one of Reborn-kun’s friends?”

“Of a sort?” Tsuna glanced at Lambo to see how he would take that, but Lambo—that sneaky little kid—just smiled and nodded.

“Lambo is Reborn’s friend!” he agreed.

“Oh, you are too cute!” Nana gushed. “Would you like to stay for dinner?”

Lambo nodded enthusiastically.

Reborn, who was undoubtedly coming down to check on them, hopped down the stairs and upon hearing Lambo’s impromptu dinner invitation, raised an eyebrow at Tsuna, like he was saying What, the annoying Bovino is staying for dinner now?

Before Lambo could utter another die, Reborn! Tsuna picked the kid up and was out the door. “Let’s go for a walk, Lambo-kun,” Tsuna suggested, though from the tone of his voice, it was really a command.

--

 When they were safely out of harm’s way—or rather, Reborn’s way—Tsuna sighed. With both of these babies living in his house, he would have a tumultuous next few days. “Why do you want to kill Reborn anyway, Lambo-kun?”

“My boss told me to defeat the super first-class hitman, Reborn,” Lambo replied guilelessly.

Poor kid. He’d learn the truth soon enough, Tsuna supposed. (“What? You? Kill Reborn? Don’t be ridiculous. We never believed you would actually do it.” It took more than a week to convince Lambo to leave his room after that, and another week to stop sulking.) Anyway, Tsuna wasn’t going to be the one to shatter his delusions.

“Lambo’s dream is to be the boss of the Bovino Famiglia and make all of humanity bow down to me.”

“A great ambition,” Tsuna agreed. It wasn’t necessarily a realistic ambition, but it was a great one—he could think of a number of stronger men who would settle for less.

Lambo looked at him curiously. “What is your dream?”

Tsuna paused. (Dream? When did he stop having a dream? Those days of living happily are over now, far over now, and there are no happy endings for murderers. All you can do is hope for the least worst ending.) “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I don’t have one right now.”

“Sawada.”

Tsuna whirled around, Lambo still in his arms—there was a massive man dressed in Armani, a fedora pulled low over his eyes and a scarf around his neck, standing in front of him, blocking the light like a huge black shadow—“Who are you?” Tsuna asked, but the blood was pulsing in his veins and against his chest—he’s big, I can’t outwrestle him. Bulge in his coat, he’s got a handgun, I can’t go far. Suit covers his muscles but I’ll bet anything he’s strong.

From that stance, he was definitely an enemy.

No gloves, no Nuts, no ring. He was screwed. All he could do was buy them some time, and hopefully Lambo would pull out a grenade from his hair. Pull out anything from his hair.

The man spoke slowly in a thick accent. “Sawada. You’re coming with us.”

“Sawada? Sorry, you’ve got the wrong person.” (Be innocent—confused and unaware. Arms out, don’t fidget, don’t fiddle with anything. Look him straight in the eyes. You are not afraid of him, because you don’t know that he wants to kill you.)

“Sawada.” The man pulled his coat back, revealing the glossy black of the handle of a gun tucked in his belt. “Now.”

“That’s a gun,” Tsuna whispered, not entirely faking his fear. “You’re—holding a gun. I don’t know who or what you’re talking about, but you’re seriously mistaken—”

“What’s happening?” said Lambo, completely confused. How long would it take to pull a grenade out of Lambo’s hair?

The man pulled the gun out slowly as he grinned madly. “The closest police are at least four blocks away. We’d be out of here before they realized something happened. Now, will you come or not? You can bring the brat, too.”

“I—I’m not—”

“Sawada Tsunayoshi,” the man spat. “The spawn of that devil Sawada Iemitsu.”

A heartbeat. Tsuna could barely trust his own ears—someone was chasing after him because he was his father’s son? Not because he was the Decimo? (Not yet, not yet, a voice whispers.) Still, this situation was dangerous.

He had to get out of this position.

Tsuna analyzed the surroundings in a split second. There was an alley right behind him; if he could back up without that man noticing—

“You scared, brat? Your father murdered my son and his family,” the man snarled furiously. “And now I’m going to do the same to him.” He took a step forward, and another.

Tsuna was absolutely terrified—how had he dealt with these situations before? For one, people didn’t actively seek the Decimo since he’d gained a reputation for his tendency to burn people alive

Lambo tugged on his shirt. “Tsuna, what are we doing?”

(“What are you doing, trash? You think the d*** enemy’s going to wait for you?”)

Taking another step back, Tsuna pushed off his left foot and dashed into the alley behind him, Lambo pressed against his chest, not stopping to hear the man’s “Hey!” The alley was open at the other end—good, he’d been gambling on that. And it was short, he could get out before the other man could get a clear shot—

“Hey Tsuna!” cried Lambo indignantly. “Why aren’t we fighting?” He reached into his afro and pulled out a grenade. Perfect, Tsuna thought, snatching it from Lambo’s hands, pulling the pin out with his mouth, and tossing it behind him.

It detonated, and Tsuna could hear the sound of smoke spewing out. Perfect. Lambo had pulled out a smoke grenade. We might actually make it out of this alley, he thought.

Then his mind replayed something the man had said. You’re coming with us.

Us. More than one.

Tsuna pulled out of the alley just in time to see a humongous baseball bat obscure his vision, and hear a sickening crack, feel blinding pain and hear a cry from—

--

“I think he’s awake now. I saw him move an eyelid.”

“Is he? Sawada, wake up. We know you’re awake.”

There was a dull throbbing in his forehead, like the worst migraine he’d ever had. Tsuna opened his eyes, minimally—it was mostly dark, and he wondered how long he’d been out. There was a window above him, sending a cold light to the floor. He was tied to a chair, hands wrenched behind him and tied with rope.

There was something red on his pants, and something slick running down the side of his head.

—blood? Blood. He was bleeding. That was his blood. He was…

(A rough laugh. “Let me have a turn. I want a turn at his little head.” Pulls his fist back like winding up a toy, then releases, and Tsuna doesn’t see stars. He sees red. He can’t remember if his shirt was always this crimson, or…)

 He was forgetting something. Someone. Wait, Lambo—

“Where,” he croaked hoarsely, throat aching. “Where—”

“The cow? He’s crying for you in one of the other rooms. What an annoying kid. We were going to kill him first, but we’ve reconsidered. If you value your companion’s life at all, you’ll answer our questions.”

Tsuna felt a flash of rage—how dare they use a child. For a moment, he forgot the pain, forgot the blood, forgot his position. “You are despicable,” he hissed.

His reward was a cuff on the head, which made his brain spin and lurch. (Feels almost like a bullet in his head, and he should know.)

“You don’t get to judge us,” snarled the man’s partner. “Now you’re going to answer our questions.”

Maybe this blood he was losing was also leaking brain cells, but Tsuna retorted without thinking. “Before you kill us, you mean. I don’t see why I need to answer.”

“Because I might let your companion go if you consent to answer questions. If you don’t, you’ll both die.”

“You won’t do that,” Tsuna muttered. “Even if he is just five, Lambo has already seen your faces by now. He can identify you two. You won’t let him go. You have no intention of letting either of us go. It’s too risky.” (“You’re much more calculating than you look,” observes the mafioso. “What a deceiving little—”)

Both men were silent, then one growled, “You are your father’s son, aren’t you.”

“I am not my father’s son,” Tsuna snapped. He wasn’t. Even his own father had said so. The only thing he had inherited from Iemitsu was his uncanny knack for getting into horrible situations, and barely making out of them again. Character-wise, he was definitely more like his mother. (“Well,” someone mutters from the side, “the way he slaughtered those men… Reminds you of the senior, doesn’t it?” Tsuna doesn’t turn around. He doesn’t want to see the other man nod.)

“Where is your father?”

“Don’t know.” His voice shook—from blood loss, not from fear… “Don’t care.”

“That’s pretty harsh of you,” laughed the man. “But then again, it’s that man.”

He was wrong. Tsuna loved his father, but the fact was, it didn’t matter where his father was. Iemitsu would always make it home. “W-where’s Lambo? I want to see him.”

“The Bovino?” the man paused. “Alright, I can let you see him. But no talking. The moment you talk, I shoot your foot. Got it?”

Tsuna barely nodded before the man left. He felt sick and numb now. His head was eerily light, like it had no weight at all, and any movement sent every inch of his brain throbbing. The light was too bright; it was making his eyes hurt. He thought about Lambo. If the kid was already dead, Tsuna would never forgive himself.

(Remember? He died before, too—white leather, black spots tainted with red; two horns, shattered into pieces; broken bones, burnt flesh, the putrid, suffocating smell of death everywhere in the air—

He’d been the first of his guardians.)

“Eh, Tsuna, what’s going on?”

Tsuna looked up—this was reality, Lambo wasn’t dead, and he would stay alive even if Tsuna had to lose both of his arms—“Lambo,” he whispered, relieved. “Are you hurt?” (It’s are you hurt, not are you okay, because he’s learned to expect the worst by now.)

“No talking,” ordered one of the men. Tsuna could barely tell them apart anymore.

“Lambo is fine,” Lambo said, and immediately a black glove whacked him on the head.

“I said no talking.”

Tears leaked out of Lambo’s eyes at the pain, and the kid sobbed, “I’ll kill you!”—which, admittedly, wasn’t very intimidating as he was both tied up and crying—

But before anyone could react, Lambo wriggled his small arms out of his bonds and reached into his afro, and pulled out a very familiar gun.

It was the Ten-Year Bazooka.

“What are you—” the man lunged for the gun, but Lambo had pulled the trigger before he could reach him. The man jerked back, barely escaping the explosion. Smoke billowed out of the gun’s open end, obscuring anything around where Lambo had been. Warily, the men drew their guns and watched the smoke for anyone.

“Ah,” said the fifteen-year-old Lambo, emerging from the smoke. “Hello.”

“Who are you?” barked one of the men.

Lambo surveyed the scene calmly, taking in both of the men and their pointed guns. Then his gaze arrived at Tsuna—tied up, bleeding, and barely conscious—and his eyes widened. “You two… did you two do this?”

“Who are you?” the man repeated.

The teenager’s expression cooled and his eyes narrowed at the men. “You hurt Tsuna.” He wore a furious look and took a step forward as yellow-white sparks began dancing on his horns. “I’ll kill you for that.”

Though his vision was blurring and reality seemed to slip further away with every passing moment, Tsuna felt a chill up his back. Lambo was supposed to be a lazy and stupid kid, not this deadly teenager. For a moment, he was back, back watching his guardians mercilessly kill his enemies and wondering what have I done to my friends?

Lambo was only fifteen, and he had already killed. Tsuna knew that. But Lambo was also five, and he had never killed.

Tsuna knew he’d do anything to keep it that way.

“Stop,” he managed to wheeze. “Lambo, don’t…” But he couldn’t speak after that. His head was pounding too hard for him to choke any words out. It seemed like everything was spinning around him, even though he knew he was tied to a chair.

“These men hurt you, didn’t they? Let me get back at them,” Lambo said, bending down and preparing to charge. The electricity on his horns began to crackle furiously until it seemed Lambo’s head was entirely covered in lightning. “My horns hold one million volts.”

The men drew back with alarm, but did not put away their guns. One of them even dared to point at Tsuna. “You charge, I’ll shoot,” he threatened, though his voice was shaking.

“You pull that trigger, you’ll bring the wrath of the—”

“Lambo,” said a new voice.

Tsuna glanced up—there, in the only open window in the room, was the silhouette of another baby. A very familiar fedora-wearing, gun-wielding baby.

“Reborn!” Tsuna and Lambo gasped, while the men balked. Obviously they’d heard his name before, most likely linked to some horrific event and a warning. Tsuna had never felt happier to see someone.

Reborn hopped down from the window, gun pointed at the two men. “You didn’t come back for dinner.”

It took a moment for Tsuna to realize that Reborn was talking to him. “Oh.”

Irritated, Lambo pointed to Tsuna’s captors. “Reborn, these two men hurt Tsuna!”

“I see that.”

Tsuna couldn’t see Reborn’s face under his fedora, but the tone of his words—short and snappish, promising pain to those two men—told him that the baby was silently furious at a level that Tsuna had only seen a few times before. (The other times his fury had been directed at the Vendice and some poor, unsuspecting lackey who had caught a coffee-deprived Reborn on a bad day.)

That confused Tsuna. Reborn had never gotten this angry when he had been injured before, but maybe it was because he had to miss his mother’s delicious dinner?

With an odd lack of sympathy, Tsuna watched his captors be thoroughly pummeled by Reborn, who showed no sympathy whatsoever. Reborn seemed to miss intentionally, grazing their arms or legs or some other body parts, smirking the entire time—Tsuna would have laughed, but laughter would probably make his headache worse. While Reborn was having fun, Lambo came over and untied him quickly.

“Sorry, young Tenth,” he apologized once he had torn off part of his shirt for a makeshift bandage.

“Thanks,” Tsuna said, gratefully accepting the cloth and pressing it against his forehead. Then he paused, confused. “Why?”

“My idiot younger self probably got you into this mess.”

“No, actually it was me,” Tsuna corrected with a weak smile. “I was…” he glanced at Reborn, then finished, “…sloppy.”

Lambo gave him an odd look. “Whatever you say,” he said, then leaned back and burst into smoke.

The five-year-old Lambo hopped out. “What happened?” he demanded suspiciously, glancing around for the two men.

“We were kidnapped.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t worry,” Tsuna replied wryly. “It’s what happens when you’re part of the mafia.”

--

After eating dinner and passing his head injury off as the result of a fall (even though it was a full concussion), Tsuna retired to his room with Reborn following. Lambo, thankfully, was entertained by Nana—or maybe it was the other way around—but would be out of the way until after he’d talked to Reborn.

They seemed to be having a lot of talks lately.

“So,” Reborn began triumphantly. “You’re sloppy.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Tsuna mumbled, flopping onto his bed. “I’m sloppy.” As much as he hated to admit it. “But you know, it’s mostly because I don’t have the gloves or Nuts…” he glanced at Leon hopefully.

Reborn raised an eyebrow. “Dame Tsuna. Leon won’t give you anything until you’re ready, which you’re not.” Then, he added curiously, “You used gloves?”

“Like the First.” Tsuna grinned. “Better than the First.”

Smirking, Reborn hopped to the other side of Tsuna’s bed. “But you never beat me.”

“How did you… well, no, I didn’t. Not before you…” Tsuna paused, his good mood fading. “Died.”

Reborn breezed past his pause. “We’ll start training in the morning promptly at half past five.”

“Six.”

“I am not negotiating. Half past five or face my personal alarm clocks.”

“Meaning, you’re going to detonate a bomb or electrocute me or something equally dangerous,” Tsuna translated. When Reborn put it that way, he didn’t really have a choice… In fact, when Reborn was determined, had he ever had a choice? 

Reborn just looked at him smugly.

“Fine, fine!” exclaimed Tsuna, rolling his eyes. It probably wouldn’t be too hard. After all, he had survived Lal Mirch, and her training program was tough already.

As if he could read minds, Reborn said, “Don’t compare me to Lal. I’ll work you much harder.”

Tsuna groaned in response.

Then their joking mood suddenly seemed to sink away. It had been a full day—Lambo had arrived with a bang and they’d gotten kidnapped. Huh. From what Tsuna remembered, he hadn’t really been regularly kidnapped until he had already succeeded the Ninth as the Vongola boss. It was a new experience to be kidnapped for being the son of Sawada Iemitsu.

“What did you do to those men?” After Lambo had untied him, time had seemed to blur. Tsuna didn’t exactly remember what had happened after the kid had returned to his normal age.

Reborn’s response was way too smug. “I called someone to pick them up.”

“Who?”

“Someone I know.”

Tsuna winced. He almost felt sorry for them. Whoever it was, Reborn would make sure they did a thorough job. “They weren’t after me because I’m the future Tenth, you know.”

“They told me.” Reborn pulled out his Beretta and began polishing it with the corner of Tsuna’s blanket, wiping away the suspicious red blotches on its black barrel. “And it didn’t happen before?”

“As far as I can remember, no. I don’t know why it happened her and not… back then. I’ve never seen these guys before, so I can’t think of a reason they’d kidnap me here. I haven’t had enough time to affect the world that much.”

“Unless…” Reborn stopped polishing his gun and looked up at Tsuna, eyes unreadable. “This world is different from the one you were in?”

The world—different?

Tsuna abruptly sat up, staring at Reborn in disbelief and dread. Was it possible? He almost felt sick at the thought. If so, then what good would his memories be? The longer time went on, the more differences there would be. By the time Byakuran would arrive, the world would be too different for Tsuna to use his memories to his advantage. And then—

(Would be like watching the world fall apart again. Wouldn’t it?)

Sensing his growing anxiety, Reborn packed his gun away and hopped up to his tiny hammock. “Dame Tsuna,” he told Tsuna. “Don’t make any assumptions.” And, in his silence, what he was notsaying: don’t make any moves that you’ll regret later.

With a heavy feeling in his chest, Tsuna flipped off the light and rolled onto his side, wishing for a quick and dreamless sleep.

--

Ninth.

Tsuna is fine. He has a lot to work on.

How are our dealings with the COMSUBIN?

Reborn

--

 

FROM: [SENDER]

TO: [RECIPIENT]

THE MEN ARE NOT FROM A FAMILY. PERSONAL GRUDGE AGAINST EXTERNAL ADVISOR. WILL KEEP INTERROGATING.

YOU OWE ME.

Chapter Text

(when the going gets tough… well. You’d best not think about that.)

chapter six 

-- 

If there was any semblance of hope for Tsuna’s sanity a week earlier, there was absolutely none now. Five in the morning, and he was walking outside. The sun hadn’t even risen yet, and Tsuna was willing to bet that no one else in Nanimori (or Japan, for that matter) would willingly tear themselves from a warm, comfy bed in order to be beaten up by a baby. On top of dealing with all the crazy things that had happened to him this last week.

Of course, Tsuna could always think It could be worse—Lal Mirch’s training had started at five and went till nine at night on all the days they were at the base, and she’d only intensified when the war worsened. (“Don’t think the enemy will let up because you’re hurt or you look like a naïve 15-year-old girl,” snapped Lal after one of the poorer training sessions. “I won’t.”)

He could almost feel the snap of her kick again, and winced as his ribs ached in memory.

Brisk, bitter wind swept the streets in malicious bursts, chilling him to the bone. His jacket wasn’t helping much, but it wasn’t possible to turn back now. Reborn was not a person you’d risk delaying. When Tsuna had woken up, Reborn was already gone and hadn’t even told him where to go.

Tsuna had a good idea, though. (How could anyone forget that place? He’d trained there for the better part of weeks in preparation for the Varia battle, and countless more…)

Five thirty. Five freaking thirty.

(My, he’s bent out of shape, isn’t he? Used to wake up at this time every day until he had to run. Then it was more Train when you can, sleep when it’s safe, and try not to think of the dead—but that was then.) Tsuna glanced at his watch—5:07—and quickened his pace.  He still had a cliff to climb.

Not that it was a really tall cliff. Of course he had thought it was humongous and treacherous when he’d first started out training; after all, way back then everything was incredibly difficult and tough compared to what he’d been used to (sleeping in till six-fifty every day, playing video games, doing as he liked). It was only in hindsight that Tsuna had realized how easy he had had it back then.

He paused, then amended himself. He’d had it way too easy back now.

It was still a strange concept to comprehend, even a week after everything had started. Mostly, whenever Tsuna became too confused with the mixup of past and future and present, he tried to think about something else. Like—his friends, or horror of horrors, his math homework. It made him think: did Reborn also had difficulty dealing with this? Even for a world class hitman, students with future memories didn’t pop up every day. But then again, Reborn didn’t have to deal with the pesky memories that kept flashing into Tsuna’s mind.

(The base, swallowed in a fiery, scorching, brilliant, terrible orange that encompassed his vision like a burning omen—

—His bare feet pounded the rocksgravelpain, his breaths threatening to choke him with every step, tattered shirt barely hanging on, those bloodstained gloves of his those weaponstools of murder those wretched monsters he just can’t take off—

—“Run,” his father gasped hoarsely, clutching the blossoming patch of crimson on his shirt. “Run. Run.”)

Tsuna was shaking, palms and forehead in his knees in the middle of the street, clutching, hoping, shaking. A sick dullness rested in his stomach. He felt like vomiting.

He stayed kneeling for who knows how long—as long as it took to lose that choking feeling. As long as it took to stop shaking. As long as it took for his swallows of air to ease into even, normal breaths.

It was vaguely disturbing that he was beginning to learn how to rate his flashbacks. That had been a bad one. Usually (he said usually, but it’d only been a week) there wasn’t such a strong reaction. Usually, it was just a shudder and a blink, and that was it. But this one had lasted strong and short, like a punch in the stomach (or a bullet to the brain).

Tsuna shook his head. He should probably stop thinking such disturbing thoughts. Often enough, he didn’t know what to make of the flashbacks. They were most of the time too short to give much information at all, or at least no useful information. Most of the time, they just—hurt, inspired, made him think twice about doing something, ache, wish for a better life from a horrible life that hadn’t started yet.

It was frustrating. Reborn had told Tsuna that he could have the advantage against opponents that he had fought before, but so far there really hadn’t been any clear hints about anyone. The useful memories came and left as they willed, and mostly they were just bad memories.

Truthfully, he was just hoping some memory would help him with the training that Reborn was about to put him through.

Unless—nah. It wasn’t like his future-self had been that useless, right?

-

“You’re late,” Reborn’s voice said the moment Tsuna pulled himself over the cliff’s edge.

“No... I’m not...” Tsuna took deep breaths between words, wishing that he hadn’t skipped all of those PE classes before. “You... liar.” He pulled out his cell phone and thrust it into the baby’s face. “Five... thirty. On time.”

Smirking, Reborn hopped back. “I’ll let you off this one time.”

It took an effort to not roll his eyes. Reborn didn’t mean that one bit, and he had a funny way of admitting he was wrong. Tsuna straightened, surveying the grounds. They were exactly the same as he’d seen in his dreams. Memories. Same boring old grounds.

“You took twenty-one minutes to climb the cliff,” Reborn announced. “A fair beginning, but considering your experience, far too slow.”

“What,” Tsuna said. “You wanted me... to hitchhike?” He broke off into a cough. He’d breathed in that frigid air too quickly.

“There were other ways,” Reborn replied mildly.

“Last time, you wanted me to climb.”

“Because you needed the practice,” Reborn said.

“You don’t know that.”

“I can guess.” Pulling a small clipboard out of nowhere, Reborn tapped the front sheet with a pen. “You need to work on endurance and stamina. You’re wiped out even after a mere five hundred foot cliff.”

“I started out strong,” protested Tsuna, rubbing the tips of his bruised and chafed fingers.

“This was no problem for you before.” Reborn looked at him. “You want to improve, don’t you, Dame Tsuna?”

“Of course I do,” Tsuna snapped, feeling heat flush into his cold, raw cheeks. “You’re the one who wanted me up here, aren’t you? And—you don’t know what happened back then. You don’t know, okay? Stop saying—”

“But it wasn’t a problem for you, was it?” Reborn’s gaze cooled at him. Absently, Tsuna thought that it had always been weird but had never seemed strange that Reborn, who looked like a baby, could stare anyone in the eye and come out top. (“That’s Reborn for you,” Dino commented, pulling a chip out of Tsuna’s bag. “You think he’s just a bully when he’s teaching you, but he’s a monster to the Vongola’s enemies. You know,” Dino said slowly, reaching out to ruffle Tsuna’s hair. “You’re lucky to have him on your side.”)

You’re lucky to have him on your side, Dino had said.

Tsuna huffed in disgust, but Dino was right. He usually was when it came to Reborn. Breathing in and out evenly—one, two, one, two—Tsuna shook his head. “You know I hate when you do that.”

Reborn smirked. “I know.”

“Okay,” Tsuna said. “So. Endurance and stamina. What’s up?”

“Actually, today’s a bit of a test period,” Reborn said, with a strange gleam in his eyes that sent every nerve of Tsuna’s skittering up his spine.

Oh. No. He knew that gleam. It meant that Reborn had something planned, and one that was most likely detrimental to Tsuna’s health.

“What test period?” Tsuna dared to ask.

Reborn just smiled.

At that moment—as if everything was cued and on time to a massive conspiracy that Reborn was orchestrating—someone said, “Tenth!”

Tenth?

Wait. Tenth meant Jyuudaime meant Gokudera meant—

Tsuna stared at Reborn disbelievingly. “You didn’t,” he said.

“I did.” Reborn looked proud, too.

“Tenth!” Gokudera, out of nowhere—no, out of the woods, came rushing to him, looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as ever. Maybe it was because he’d been promised cigarettes or dynamite or time with Tenth. Actually, Tsuna didn’t want to think about what Reborn had promised him.

Never failing to follow closely behind, Yamamoto trailed out as well. “Tsuna! There you are. You missed our morning walk.”

Before Tsuna could ask, Reborn said, “Yamamoto and Gokudera woke up even earlier than you did for a preliminary walk.” See how lazy you are? said Reborn’s gloating eyes.

I did!” Gokudera exclaimed. “I didn’t do it with the baseball freak, I swear he just followed me out—”

“It seemed like there was something fun going on,” Yamamoto explained. He looked far too cheerful for someone at this time of morning.

“You think training’s fun? You idiot, you’re not even part of the Family—”

“Actually, that’s exactly what I’d like to do,” Reborn interrupted. Both Gokudera and Yamamoto stared at him, baffled, while Tsuna groaned. He could see so many ways this was going to go wrong.

“Say,” Yamamoto said. “Who’s the baby, Tsuna?”

“My name is Reborn,” Reborn said, in that nonplussed way of his. “I’m part of the mafia.” 

“Oh, cool!” laughed Yamamoto.

“You idiot,” Gokudera snarled. “You think Reborn’s joking? You think you can get away with insulting the best hitman in the world?”

“So he’s a hitman?”

“He thinks it’s a game,” Tsuna said, dazed. “He thinks it’s all a game. Of course he thinks it’s a game, he’s Yamamoto...”

“I’m a hitman from Italy,” Reborn continued. “I am part of the Vongola Famiglia. Would you like to join the Family, Yamamoto?”

“No way!” exclaimed Gokudera at the same time Yamamoto said, “Sure!”

“It’ll be fun, right?” Yamamoto laughed, giving Tsuna a ‘kids will do what they want, right, Tsuna? look that he thought Reborn wouldn’t be able to understand. “What a cute kid.”

By this point, Yamamoto had crossed so many lines unwittingly that Tsuna would have been fearing for his friend’s life, if he hadn’t known before that Reborn wouldn’t hurt one of his future Guardians. “Sure,” Tsuna agreed glumly. If you forget the fact that he’s actually a gun-toting thirty-something man that was turned into an Arcobaleno, and that he’s murdered entire Families before...

Still, if anyone could get past the gritty details, Yamamoto could.

“We’re going to do some endurance training,” Reborn announced. “Gokudera, you’ll attack; Yamamoto and Tsuna, you’ll run. See who lasts longest.” With those short instructions, he leapt into a nearby tree to watch.

For a moment, all three of them stood there, each unsure if he’d heard correctly.

“You want me to attack?” Gokudera asked.

“You want us to run?” Yamamoto smiled.

Tsuna was sure that Gokudera wouldn’t attack; after all, wasn’t he the beloved “Tenth”? Gokudera wouldn’t honestly hurt him, would he?

“Tenth,” Gokudera said, pulling out three sticks of dynamite with each hand, an eager, excited expression on his face. “Please dodge!”

The ground at Tsuna’s feet exploded, and a dust cloud burst directly into Tsuna’s face before he felt a strong tug on the back of his shirt, pulling him back. Yamamoto grinned—“You okay?”—before pulling him out of another dynamite stick’s way.

“Thanks,” Tsuna gasped to Yamamoto, before looking up and gazing hopefully at Leon, who stood on the wide brim of Reborn’s fedora.

“No gloves until you’re ready,” smirked Reborn.

“You jerk,” Tsuna groaned, until another dynamite stick blew up in his face.

-

Reborn was a monster. There hadn’t even been any time to rest after training, with Reborn’s off-handed “Oh, school starts in ten minutes” in the middle of the attack/defend/run like heck routine. Then they’d tried to get to school before class started, which of course never happened because Reborn had informed them of the time so late, and to top it off, Hibari-san was there—

Tsuna was beginning to greatly resent his life.

It was afternoon now. Tsuna’d been able to get a bit of sleep in school, which thankfully the teachers let him do because he was so ahead already. He hadn’t even eaten lunch because of his exhaustion, and now his stomach was beginning to grumble.

(You used to starve for days, remember?)

Tsuna sighed. That was right, wasn’t it? But his body now wasn’t anything like his body had been when he was twenty. This body was weak. He hated training, but there was no other way he’d be able to boost his strength and endurance, so he’d just have to bear with it.

There was a faint ringing of bells and tires behind him. Bike bells because they were nearly chimes, metal-against-metal, and thin tires because of the smooth sound of weight crushing dirt. Tsuna backed up to the side of the road and turned around, listening for the sound of wheels turning toward him. (If they turn, they’ll come straight at you and attack.)

But—it was a woman? And she was slowing down. Girlish Moederfiet bike (medium speed, deceivingly civilian-looking but stable enough to ride with one hand for a long time, which means that other hand can do something else), helmet and goggles obstructing the face.

He’d seen this picture before. He was certain of it. Now where had he seen it…?

The biker slowed to a roll and pulled off her helmet and goggles, revealing a beautiful Italian face. (“Just the type of girl who’d stab you in the back,” Dino said admiringly. As much as he admired the man, Tsuna sometimes questioned his preference of women.) “Here,” she said, pulling a can of soda from her pocket and tossing it at Tsuna. “Have a drink, if you’d like.”

Tsuna sidestepped the can quickly (he swore that he’d never, never trust gifts from stranger again). “Who are you?”

“Just a friendly passerby,” she responded airily, before speeding up and pedaling away.

Watching her until she’d turned out of sight, Tsuna counted five seconds (to safety) and inspected the can. It looked normal enough, at a casual glance. The outside was of a soda common around Nanimori, and a can you could easily find in any store. But there were some odd marks on the aluminum. The small scratches meant long nails like the ones he’d seen on the biker’s hands; small dents on the top meant it’d been replaced professionally; thin top so that the can would open at the first impact. There was something inside the soda can that had replaced its normal contents.

Gingerly, Tsuna picked it up. It was chilled—Tsuna’s mouth watered at the thought of cool soda, but thought again and set it down. The circumstances were strange enough that he could guess that the contents were poison. (Poison, he thought mildly—was he suave or crazy to think about it so indifferently?)

Now, what to do with it? To leave it might mean someone else could pick it up and drink it, unaware. To bring it home—well, what would he do with it at home? Reborn might get ahold of it, and that could end worse than if he’d swallowed it himself.

Where was the nearest dumpster? He tried to remember—wasn’t there one by the next corner?

Tsuna jogged over quickly, still holding the can as carefully as he could. The dumpster stank already—it was the day before the truck came, after all—so Tsuna lifted the top just enough to shove the can in, and jogged away with haste.

He thought that was the end of it.

Twenty feet down the road, he heard an ominous hiss. Whirling around, Tsuna stared in wide-eyed bewilderment as the dumpster began steaming with a yellow smoke and an unfortunate passing bird dropped dead onto the ground.

In the back of his mind, for some odd reason, Tsuna thought Scorpion.

-

“I was almost assassinated today,” Tsuna announced as soon as he opened the door.

“Good,” Reborn said, not even turning around to look at him from his place on the kitchen counter. “You need practice.”

“Being assassinated?”

“Almost being assassinated. There’s a difference.” With that, the miniature hitman leapt down from the counter and turned around—although his face was crawling with what must have been at least twenty crawling, wriggling, very alive horned beetles.

Tsuna let out a very undignified shriek of surprise (Reborn! Beetles! Oh gosh they’re alive and on his FACE), and then slapped a hand to his face. “I don’t even know why I’m surprised anymore,” he moaned. “Do I want to know why you have those on your face and what they are?”

To Reborn’s great credit, his face displayed no hint of panic even though several beetles were dangerously close to stepping in his eyes. “They’re Allomyrina dichotoma. You should keep that name in mind. They make perfect spies.”

“I don't want spies. And if I did, I wouldn’t pick beetles.” For the obvious reason, Tsuna thought privately, shuddering at the thought of having to pick one up. “Besides, they’re too easy to step on.”

“So be careful.”

“And I can’t speak bug language,” Tsuna said, crossing his arms, eyeing one of the beetles warily. It wasn’t looking at him, was it?

Reborn just smiled, which looked twice as creepy under those beetles. “I discovered from collecting information from these bugs that one of my acquaintances, Bianchi, is in town. Do you know of her?”

The Poison Scorpion, something whispered. (“Unless the 10th dies in an accident or something,” she says slyly, “Reborn won’t be free again.”—and—Poison cooking, deadly fumes; a strange relationship with one of the most deadly women in the world.) Tsuna’s eyes widened. “So that was who she was!”

“You met her already?”

“She was the one who tried to assassinate me,” Tsuna replied. “She gave me a soda can that had poison in it.”

“I suspected she might do something of the sort.”

Someone knocked on the front door—“Pizza delivery!” said a woman’s voice from outside.

Tsuna sighed. “That’s her, isn’t it?”

Reborn just smiled.

Though his instincts urged him to ignore her and hopefully save his own stomach in the process, Tsuna went to open the door. Bianchi was fashionably dressed, even while acting as a pizza delivery girl: same shirt but a miniskirt instead of pants, and a white visor as well.

“Thanks for waiting,” Bianchi said. “A delivery of clam pizza.”

She began to take out a gas mask and open the pizza box quickly (she moved fast, as all hitwomen do—) but Tsuna stopped her with a hand.

(A maxim he remembers: There will be times when you possess no weapons and nothing to threaten the enemy with. At these moments it is imperative you do not lose your calm demeanor. If anything, you must pretend that you possess every power of disposing them at your pleasure. As a shrewd man once said: Ninety percent of this game is half-mental.)

“Thanks, but not today,” he said, giving her a wide smile. Unexpected wide smiles in always baffled people. “I’m not interested in your poison cooking, Poison Scorpion Bianchi.” (In the future, she becomes a sort-of surrogate older sister to Tsuna, in the most twisted sense possible; one that poisons and injures you and will never say this, though she means it: I am on your side.)

If Bianchi was startled, she didn’t show it. “Reborn told you, then?” she asked smoothly.

“He told me enough.”

“Then I’m sure you know what happens when I do this!” Bianchi tore off the top of the pizza box and pushed it at Tsuna.

It felt like slow motion—the box fell open, and the greasy, oozing, green mass that couldn’t be called food began to smell—ugh. The putrid fumes choked Tsuna’s throat and burned his nose from the first inhale.

Behind him, Reborn’s gun went click and the baby hitman fired two shots at the box to blast it out of the house. The air eased up suddenly, and Tsuna could breathe again.

Bianchi looked disappointed. But who was she to be miserable? Tsuna wasn’t used to being on the receiving end of her poison cooking. (An untruth—he’s been subject to much, but as irony would have it, the members of the Sawada household began to develop resistances to poison because of it. Maybe it was part of Reborn’s big plan, but in any case the funny thing is this: as many times as Bianchi’s tried to poison Tsuna, she’s also inadvertently saved his life from some other lesser poison.)

“Ciaossu, Bianchi,” Reborn piped up from the floor. Thankfully, all of his six-legged friends had disappeared.

“Reborn,” Bianchi whispered, blushing. “I’ve come to take you back. Let’s do another big job together. This peaceful place doesn’t suit you. The place you should be is the dark, dangerous, thrilling world you know.”

“I told you, Bianchi,” replied Reborn evenly. “I can’t. My job now is to raise Tsuna.”

Bianchi looked down-hearted. “Poor Reborn,” she mused, then turned to look at Tsuna. “Unless the 10th dies in an accident or something,” she said slyly, “Reborn won’t be free again.”

“Don’t count on it,” Tsuna retorted, frowning. He did not need Bianchi on his case again. “I’ll be looking out for the smell of bitter almonds.”

Bianchi blinked.

“Bitter almonds?” Tsuna continued. “You know. The smell of potassium cyanide. It was all over your pizza.” (He cannot breathe. There is clogging in his throat and choking and convulsions and then—nothing—all around, he will not, he cannot. Cyanide does not The smell of death is floating freely in the air, wrapping his throat like rope.)

Bianchi’s expression cooled. “Then I’ll be sure to use something else next time.” She turned to Reborn. “I’ll go home for now. When the Tenth is murdered… that is, when the Tenth dies, I’ll return to take you back to Italy with me.” With a snap of her heels, Bianchi turned around and walked out the door, shutting it behind her.

That… hadn’t gone very well. Maybe he should have left out the bitter almonds part. Tsuna sighed; sometimes Bianchi was so hard to deal with, and it was mainly due to the fact that even after all of these years, he still didn’t completely understand her. Funny thing, though—Kyoko, Chrome, and Haru all seemed to understand her perfectly.

Reborn raised an eyebrow. “Bitter almonds?” he inquired. “Most wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between sweet and bitter almonds.”

“I can tell well enough,” Tsuna replied, shrugging. “It wasn’t a large concentration, thankfully, or we’d be dead right now. Anyway, our house has been so exposed to poisons that even Lambo could tell the difference between a regular candy and one with poison in it.”

“Then Bianchi returns?”

“Um, yeah.” Tsuna thought back to all of the memories of Bianchi in his house. Most of them were bad. “She’ll start living in this house a few days from now, and won’t move out until our house is destroyed. Good thing she likes Mom’s cooking…”

Reborn smirked. “Whose idea was it?”

“Yours. You wanted her to tutor me partly or something like that, but I think you just really wanted another hitman in the house.”

Though the baby said nothing, the constant triumphant gleam in his eyes for the rest of the day was unsettling.

-

Still, the rest of the day continued on somewhat normally, or as normal as he would ever live again. Lambo caused an amount of trouble by blowing up the flowerpots in the garden, so Nana took both Tsuna and Lambo to a nearby garden nursery to pick out some new ones.

It was odd, now that he thought about it, that his mother never questioned anything that happened. Tsuna suspected she knew something—with all of the explosions and strange things happening, there was no way Nana wouldn’t have noticed something by now—but the question was, how much?

On the other hand… Tsuna glanced at his mother, who was cuddling Lambo in her arms and giggling and talking about different types of flowers. His mother wasn’t exactly stupid, but she did tend to gloss over very obvious facts. Like that time when Tsuna was trying to dig out the bullets Reborn had fired into the wall, and she’d just asked him if he was trying to redecorate. Even in the future, he’d never figured out as he’d spent more time away from home traveling to Italy, the US, hiding from enemies, etc.

If she didn’t know anything, certainly Tsuna wasn’t going to be the one to tell her.

“Look at this pretty rhododendron, Lambo-kun!” his mother exclaimed.

Lambo paused. “Rodeo dendrums?”

“So close!” Nana praised.

They returned home shortly after that, and of course, as Nana was holding Lambo, Tsuna had to carry two plants in his arms. It was kind of like strength training, he tried to tell himself. Like lifting weights, except the weights had leaves and sticks and rocks that tried to poke you.

-

The next morning, they trained again, only this time Tsuna was the one attacking and Gokudera and Yamamoto were the ones running. Needless to say, it didn’t quite go as smoothly as the day before, since Tsuna didn’t even have anything to attack with. Leon, that crazy shift-shaping lizard of Reborn’s, still looked as normal and green as ever. When Reborn spied Tsuna staring at Leon, he only smirked.

And then Gokudera-kun began to only attack back and the game only became much more complicated. There were no words for Tsuna’s relief when Reborn announced it was time for school, and they’d better get going or they’d be late. Yamamoto had forgotten to bring his school bag, so he left in the direction of his father’s sushi restaurant while Gokudera-kun tagged along with Tsuna and Reborn to school.

“Great training today, Tenth!” Gokudera said, giving Tsuna a grin and a thumbs up. “Let’s do more later today!”

Before Tsuna could respond with an Um, how about this: let’s not!, Reborn replied, “Good idea, Gokudera. Let’s hold another training session later.”

“How about let’s not?” suggested Tsuna, feeling his aching joints. Would Gokudera notice if he rubbed his joints in a weary way, and take pity on him?—probably not. Hah. What great friends and all that. (It is true that Gokudera says let’s not stop rather than let’s keep going these days. No one wants to think of the consequences of resting, especially Tsuna, and wisely, Gokudera says it exactly because of this.)  

But Gokudera and Reborn had stopped. Tsuna halted a split second after them, still a bit disoriented, and turned around. He expected to see an assassin or a mafioso; after all, those two were the only types of people that had been appearing into his life. But instead of either of those two, he saw a very familiar brown-haired girl balancing on top of the street bordering wall behind Reborn.

“What the heck,” Gokudera said, as bewildered as Tsuna and quite a bit more annoyed. “Why are you following Reborn like that?”

Tsuna stared at her. “… Haru? What are you doing on the wall?”

Looking up, Haru frowned mid-step. “Do I know you?”

Whoops. “Oh, sorry—I know someone who knows you,” Tsuna lied quickly. “She also goes to your school.” Don’t ask, don’t ask, don’t ask he thought. He couldn’t even remember the name of her school.

“Oh. Who?” Haru said.

Shoot. Tsuna glanced at Reborn for help. Wasn’t the hitman supposed to read minds or something? Thankfully, Reborn caught on quickly. “Ciao-ssu,” he greeted slowly at Tsuna’s frantic look.

Immediately, Haru’s attention was diverted, and the situation was saved. “You’re so cute!” she squealed. “Hello, my name is Miura Haru.”

“I know about you,” Reborn said. “You live in that house, correct?”

Haru blushed in delight. “You know me!” (But only Reborn and Tsuna knew that it was only because Reborn had checked out all fifty-three houses in the neighborhood and their inhabitants before he’d even left Italy. In some ways, he was cautious bordering on paranoid.) “Would you be my friend?” she said.

“Sure,” Reborn said. If Tsuna didn’t know Reborn as well as he did, he wouldn’t have been able to pick up on that condescending hint in his tone.

That wasn’t entirely fair, Tsuna thought glumly. Haru had been a good friend of his in the future, not for what she was in the beginning but rather because of what she’d become. She wasn’t a fighter in the Vongola Family, but the Family already had enough of those. What she’d become was a good manager and negotiator, using skills she’d picked up by just being around the best.

Haru swooned, falling off the wall and landing on her feet with a victorious cheer. Gokudera watched, mouth wide open in disbelief, and shook Tsuna’s shoulders, saying, “Tenth! Let’s just ignore this weird girl and get to school.”

“I’m not weird!” Haru protested, and then added, “Tenth? Is that your name?” She was looking at Tsuna curiously.

“Oh, no way,” said Tsuna. “Definitely not. No. My name’s Sawada Tsuna.”

“Is Reborn your little brother?”

Why did people keep asking him that? Did they really look that related? “No, he’s certainly not my brother.” Then Tsuna remembered what had happened with Kyoko-chan, and how Reborn had kicked him after he’d named him as a cousin from Italy. Glancing at Reborn, Tsuna shrugged. “Why don’t you just ask him yourself?”

Haru turned to Reborn.

“I’m a hitman,” Reborn announced cheekily.

Of course, Tsuna thought, frowning—until Haru’s hand collided with his cheek. “Oof!”

“You jerk!” snapped the girl angrily. “What are you teaching him?”

“Tenth!” Gokudera exclaimed, reaching into his pockets to pull out his dynamite which meant bombs and general strangeness.

“Don’t,” ordered Tsuna calmly, holding out one hand in front of his right-hand man. It wasn’t a big offence. His cheek was throbbing, that was all. (He can think of instances where small injuries and even bigger retaliation on both sides has led to massacres. It’s a bloody thought, and Haru is not his enemy.)

It was strange. He should have been angry at Haru. She’d just slapped him for something that he wasn’t responsible for, after all. But the strangest thing was that instead of anger, he felt any emotions receding to a level where he could think clearly. Was that a habit of his now?

“Why’d you do that?” he asked evenly (tersely; no hint of emotion, no betrayal of feelings, because it’s proper procedure in an interrogation to not let anything show), addressing the girl. She looked angry, a bit regretful and—what? A little fearful? Why would she be fearful of him? “I’m not angry, I just want to know why. You immediately assumed that I was the one who had taught him that he was a hitman when I wasn’t.”

Haru stared at him, then glanced at Reborn for help. “B-babies have pure white hearts,” she mumbled, shifting her eyes. “They’re—”

“Tsuna, stop this,” Reborn interrupted, his words cutting through Haru’s weak reply easily. Stop acting as if you are a twenty-year-old mafia boss. You’re scaring her, see?

Haru was not his enemy. Haru was not his enemy.

Tsuna took a breath. “Sorry,” he apologized, giving her a smile. “I guess I was kind of annoyed. Reborn’s not my little brother; he’s a cousin from Italy.”

“Oh,” Haru said slowly. “Okay.”

There was an awkward silence when no one really knew what to say, before Gokudera pulled Tsuna along by the arm. “Tenth,” he said, unnaturally subdued, “we’re going to be late for school.” There was a pensive, unsure, almost calculating look in his eyes.

“Gokudera’s right,” Reborn said. “Haru, you should go as well. You wouldn’t want to be late for school, either.”

“Oh—er, sure.” With one last wary glance at Tsuna, Haru jogged off quickly.

Feeling like he’d done something terribly wrong, Tsuna tried to catch Reborn’s eye to tell him Can I talk to you privately? But Reborn ignored Tsuna’s attempts, and with Gokudera right next to him there was no way he could speak up. The rest of the walk to school was uncharacteristically silent and awkward, and even more awkward for Tsuna as he tried to figure out what he’d done wrong.

-

Tsuna didn’t see Reborn until he returned from school. Unsurprisingly, he was sitting on Tsuna’s bed when Tsuna opened the door to his room. For a moment, they stared at each other; then Tsuna bowed his head and shut the door behind him.

“Okay,” Tsuna sighed. “So I screwed up.”

“Of course you did,” Reborn replied.

“At least tell me what I did wrong.”

“You couldn’t figure out yourself?” Reborn scrutinized him with a skeptical look before turning away. “You knew Haru’s name. Who was she?”

In the past, he meant. “A good friend,” Tsuna replied honestly. “She had her bad moments, but on the whole she was a reliable member who gave solid advice and could convince a mafioso to give up his weapon for a shoelace. She’s Kyoko’s friend.”

Reborn mulled over his words. “You have to talk with her soon, then, if you want her to stay your friend.”

“What? Why?”

“Your actions today set her off,” Reborn said. “I assume you didn’t act like you did today back then.”

“No, I don’t think.”

“Then you’ve changed events.” Rolling over so he stared at Tsuna out of the corner of his eye, Reborn frowned. “When Haru slapped you, you didn’t get angry. You became calm. That’s not a normal reaction; that’s a mafia boss’s reaction.”

“But isn’t that what you’re training me to become?”

“Haru saw a mafia boss today,” Reborn said, and let the words sink in.

Finally, the facts dawned on Tsuna, and he felt his horror growing. “Oh. Oh. Shoot. Shoot, shoot, shoot—why the heck did I—”

“You’re too used to acting under control,” Reborn stated mildly. “It’s a good thing, but not in certain circumstances.”

“What does she think of me?” Tsuna moaned. “Do you think—oh gosh, if she doesn’t become part of the Family… I messed everything up, didn’t I!”

“Perhaps a little,” Reborn allowed. “That’s why you’re going to go talk to her later.”

“I am?” Tsuna felt a bit dismayed. Talking to her after such a display—he couldn’t even think about it. He felt like he could reason with her, because she was Haru, wasn’t she?—But not the one he knew. He didn’t know this Haru at all, couldn’t remember what she was like. Still, he knew he couldn’t let Haru go; she was too valuable a member, too good a friend…

Tsuna sighed. “Fine, I’ll go.”

“Good,” Reborn approved, then paused. “Now for a change of subject—there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you about.”

Something Reborn wanted to ask about? This was strange; usually he just asked whatever was on his mind. “Sure,” Tsuna said, puzzled. “What’s up?”

Reborn was silent for a moment. “In the future… did you ever break the curse of the Arcobaleno?”

Tsuna stared at Reborn, immediately recognizing the personal edge to the question. This was sudden, but not at all surprising. He should have guessed that the hitman would ask something like this. Still, it was sooner than he’d expected. They’d only truly known each other for a week. But… thinking about it, if there was one subject that could hit Reborn like nothing else, it was the subject of the curse of the Arcobaleno.

“No,” Tsuna replied, regretting his bad news when Reborn turned away. “We never figured out a way. I think we were… too busy fighting the war, and Byakuran, and…” He trailed off. The hitman’s face was wiped clean of emotion and entirely blank, but Tsuna thought there could be nothing worse than Reborn’s expression at the moment. Reborn was his tutor, his mentor, his dear friend—and to give him such bad news…

“But—Reborn, don’t worry, we’ll definitely find something, I swear!” Tsuna hastily continued. “We’ll find something. We’ll check the Family Archives, we’ll find that weird guy and make him tell us something—there has to be some way!”

Reborn snorted, but gave Tsuna a miniscule smile. He opened his mouth, about to say something, before someone rapped on the bedroom door and opened it.

It was Bianchi, dressed in a bikini and crossing her arms. “Someone came looking for you, Reborn,” she said, ignoring Tsuna. She’d been ignoring his entire existence ever since they’d met. Currently, she was in the middle of moving in—she’d come over for lunch and had been doing who knows what (sunbathing, it looked like it) the entire afternoon.

“Who is it?” Reborn asked, jumping down from Tsuna’s bed.

“Some kid,” Bianchi shrugged. “He doesn’t look like a threat. Says his name’s Irie Shouichi—”

Tsuna jumped to his feet, startling the other two. “Irie Shouichi? Irie Shouichi?” Shouichi-kun, Irie Shouichi, it was him, he was here—

Pushing past Bianchi and ignoring her indignant look, Tsuna ran out of his room, skipping stairs as he jumped down, feeling his heart pounding against his chest. He was here. He’d missed him last time, but Shouichi had told him what had happened. If there was an occasion to change history, this was it.

-

Irie was standing—no, shaking—at the edge of his lawn, torn between entering and fleeing for his life. From the look of his singed clothes and hair and sooty glasses and the telltale sign of candy around, it appeared that Lambo had detonated another grenade. Tsuna ran to him, and carefully lifted Lambo’s huge box from Shouichi’s trembling hands.

“Thanks for returning this,” Tsuna said gently, though he heart was still racing.

“S-sure,” Shouichi stuttered, looking Tsuna up and down, probably making sure he wasn’t also carrying some dangerous weapon. (In truth, he always carried a sheathed trench knife in his back pocket—just in case, you know?—but Shouichi didn’t need to know that, did he?)

“I’m Sawada Tsuna,” Tsuna introduced himself, giving Shouichi a disarming grin. Smile? Check. “Sorry, I have some really strange people staying over at my house. I know it’s probably really scary for you.” Comforting sympathy? Check. At Shouichi’s sigh of relief, he knew he had Shouichi’s confidence.

“I’m so glad I finally met a normal person,” Shouichi exclaimed. “I’m Irie Shouichi. I just came to return the box. It’s yours, isn’t it? Wait—it’s addressed to a person named ‘Reborn’—”

“Oh, I can give it to him. He’s upstairs.”

“Oh, good,” Shouichi said. “I guess I’ll go now.” And he turned to leave.

There was something wrong with this.

There was something horribly wrong. There was dark feeling in his gut (everything that screamed stop, stop, stop) and Tsuna had learned to never, ever dismiss his intuition.

“Wait,” Tsuna said.

Shouichi turned around, looking at him warily. “Do you need something?”

He couldn’t do this. Tsuna couldn’t do this. Two conflicting ideas in his mind screamed at him to do two entirely different things. His hands were shaking, and the box was still in his stiff arms. The box was still in his arms.

“Are you okay?” Shouichi looked worried.

Shouichi couldn’t take the box. Byakuran (blood, bullet, war, war, war) was going to learn of alternate worlds if he did, and that would lead to the entire fiasco that they had had. Tsuna and his family had been announced the next leaders of the Vongola two months before the situation with the Giglio Nero had exploded. They’d started fighting at sixteen, and hadn’t stopped even after Byakuran had been defeated (burned to death). That was something he couldn’t, just couldn’t, relive.

But—there was a horrible feeling in his stomach, the closer he clutched Lambo’s box. Something that told him Let go, let go, let go.

Let go of the box.

All of a sudden, Tsuna felt himself step outside of his body, and someone else step in.

It was a blurry feeling. Tsuna was one step behind his body and watching the entire scene from outside. If he didn’t know better, he would have said it felt like someone was possessing his body (Mukuro? But Mukuro did not feel like this). But there was no one around him now and there was only a blankness in the front of his mind.

“Sorry,” the not-Tsuna said, smiling (why was he smiling he didn’t know why what was he doing, couldn’t control his arms, couldn’t control his words at all, like someone else was in his body moving him like a puppet). He pushed the box into Shouichi’s arms. “Could you keep this with you for now? I don’t really want to risk it being misused by Lambo again.”

“But—”

“You don’t even have to use it,” Tsuna said. Still, these were not his words; this was not him talking at all—“Although you could take a look if you wanted to. You can have it.”

“But I don’t want it!” Shouichi protested.

“Take it,” the not-Tsuna demanded. “It’s a gift.”

Tsuna heard the smile in his (own?) words, and shuddered. There was poison hidden in the words.

“Um—well—”

“Please. I insist.”

With one last suspicious, fearful, wary glance, Shouichi backed up with the box in his hands and turned down the street.

Five seconds of Tsuna just standing there, doing nothing, Tsuna felt a sudden push on his back, and whoa. He was back in his body again.

There was no one around him, not even the strange presence he’d felt earlier that had pushed him out of his own body. Vaguely he supposed he should be feeling more panicked about this, but all he felt was a calmness, like that feeling when you’ve lost more blood than you can tell.

There had been someone in his body. Had there been someone in his body? But—that wasn’t possible. No one could possess someone else without proximity, and Tsuna could tell there was no one around him. Then what had he felt? A ghost? The closest he could guess was that it’d been his intuition. But his intuition usually never took over him like that.

He had given Shouichi the box. He’d given him the box oh gosh, he’d let him take the box home—Byakuran was going to control the alternate universes again, wasn’t he? Tsuna’s worst fears began to creep towards the surface, whispering what if it happens just like last time?

But he hadn’t felt wrong when he’d given Shouichi the box. He’d felt confident. Wasn’t that intuition there? And he never… he never doubted his intuition, right? It had never led him astray before. At least, not when he’d been full, completely rested, entirely in control of his senses—

In control?

Tsuna didn’t know. He didn’t know what to do anymore.

His hands were still shaking a bit, and his legs were trembling, too. Reborn was back in the house. He was still upstairs. For some reason, he didn’t want to go back to Reborn. He’d already given Reborn bad news, and he was pretty sure Reborn didn’t want to hear any more, right? Especially about a future where Byakuran kills all of the Arcobaleno by using poison gas.

He was still shaking. Needed to walk this off; he always tried to take walks after a hard time (massacre, death, dying). He didn’t know what he was doing anymore.

Tsuna walked out the front yard and down the street. He wondered if Haru was at home.

-

Haru was at home, in fact, and when he knocked, she was the one to open the door. “Ah! Er.” She paused, scrutinizing him carefully. She hadn’t yet opened the door entirely, which meant that she still didn’t trust him. “Tsuna-san, right?”

“Uh—yeah,” Tsuna said. “Right.”

There was an awkward pause.

“Do you… want something?”

“Oh! Um…” How to say it, how to say it? He was going to feel terribly awkward any way he said it. “I wanted to—er, I thought it might be good to—you know, say… sorry?”

“Sorry?” Haru stared at him. “For what?”

“I didn’t realize I was—um. I didn’t mean to treat you so badly on the street today.” Oh gosh, he couldn’t look at her face. This was so embarrassing. He could feel the heat rushing to his cheeks. “Look—I know you really care for Reborn and everything, I mean, you even climbed on a wall to say hello, I mean that kind of takes a lot of courage…” Why was this so hard to say?

“Anyway,” Tsuna continued hastily. “I wanted to—er. Say sorry. That’s it.” He sheepishly glanced at Haru.

For a moment, Haru surveyed him with a distant coolness, then… what? She grinned. “I guess you’re kind of cute, too.”

“What?”

“Thanks,” Haru said, still smiling. “It’s nice of you to apologize. Haru’s sorry, too, for slapping you.”

“It’s okay,” Tsuna reassured quickly. “It barely hurt.”

“Are you saying that Haru has no strength?”

“No! But…”

Haru laughed. “I’ll see you around, Tenth.” And she shut the door.

“Okay,” Tsuna said dumbly.

-

“What was that all about?” Reborn said once Tsuna had returned back to his bedroom. “You knew Irie Shouichi and ran out, took Lambo’s box from him and gave it back to him, then stood there for seven minutes before leaving.”

“Sorry,” Tsuna said, sitting down on his bed next to Reborn. He looked at his hands, which weren’t shaking anymore, although they still felt weak when he fisted them. “I gave Shouichi the box back then visited Haru. We’re all good now. No bad feelings from this afternoon, I think.”

“And who is Irie Shouichi? Does he have anything to do with this Byakuran you’ve mentioned before?”

Reborn was sharp.

“Well…” Tsuna said slowly. “It’s going to be a long story, but I guess I should tell you anyway. I guess it really started when Shouichi used Lambo’s 10-Year-Bazooka to go ten years into the future . . .”

-

[2004-05-01: time 12:33 AM JST]

[Chat: private]

 

[12:33 AM]

R: I know you’re online, so I’ll cut to the chase. I want you to find every scrap of information on a man named Byakuran. He may be affiliated with the Giglio Nero right now.

M: Demanding, aren’t you?

R: Are you going to do it or not?

[12:34 AM]

M: It’s going to cost extra.

R: That’s fine, just do it

R: and do it quickly.

M: It’ll cost extra for that, too

R: Fine.

[12:36 AM]

M: Why have you bugged me about strange things lately?

R: Don’t ask. I’m paying you, aren’t I?

[R has logged out]

M: Fine.

[M has logged out]

Chapter Text

(you know very well that your castle is just a cloud in the sky.)

chapter 7


-

Putting yesterday's overall creepiness aside, Tsuna tried his best on his way to school to think cheery thoughts—anything besides my life is so freaking weird. In his many years of experience, weird things were best left behind doors. There were quite a few secrets he never wanted to learn, including why Fran wore that huge hat-thing and whether Xanxus had really had a sassy French girlfriend like Squalo claimed or not. He should think about (what did he find cheery again?) … Kyoko-chan?

Who—wow, talk about coincidence—was walking through the school gates with another boy. Ryohei. ("Ryohei-nii-san—" he names, because there is no one he'd trust more for this assignment.)

Well, scratch that about coincidence. He already knew that his entire life was dictated by coincidences and Murphy's Law. (In retrospect, when he stares out of his office window and reflects on everything that has happened to make him who he is today, he thinks that perhaps, since things could have gone so differently, that—well, to call it all a coincidence… That is a thought he saves for later.)

It was the first time Tsuna had seen Kyoko and Ryohei walk together into school. Funny, he didn't see Kurosawa Hana, who was usually at Kyoko's side. Maybe Hana was sick.

"Good morning, Kyoko-san, Ryo-nii—er, Sasagawa-san," Tsuna greeted, walking up to them. Phew. That had been a close one.

"Good morning, Tsuna-kun!" Kyoko smiled. "I didn't know you already knew my brother. Onii-chan, this is Sawada Tsuna-kun."

"Nice to meet you, Sawada!" Ryohei exclaimed—of course, he always spoke at a notch higher than everyone else did—and stuck out a hand. (It's funny that Tsuna never knew how much he'd missed his Sun Guardian until now.)

Tsuna took the hand, trying and failing to match the strength of Ryohei's hand. He could almost hear the tiny bones in his hand creak. "Nice to meet you, too." —then in a split second, he remembered Reborn saying Never pass up a chance to make Family. "I… heard you were the captain of the boxing club?"

Ryohei's grin was blinding, and Tsuna immediately knew he'd just condemned himself to hearing about the boxing club for hours.

-

When Tsuna finally escaped—er, left Ryohei, who had to rush off to a boxing club meeting, he ran into Gokudera on his way out of the school… which was, you know, just his luck. Gokudera's eyes were shining, which usually meant something bad per se; but Reborn was sitting on his shoulder, which usually multiplied any kind of trouble by at least a hundred.

"Ah, Tsuna," Reborn said. "Just at the right moment. Good job on recruiting Sasagawa Ryohei."

Gokudera spluttered immediately—something about New Family? and I'll still be your right hand, right, Tenth?

Tsuna stared at Reborn flatly. He knew he shouldn't be so surprised anymore. It'd truly be the end of the world the day Reborn didn't keep tabs on just about everyone in the world. "What now, Reborn?"

"We need a hideout for the Vongola Family," Reborn announced.

"In Nanimori? I thought my house was already one." If there was a tiny bit of resentment there—well, only Reborn would pick up on it.

Grinning, Gokudera clenched his fist, with the look he always got when he was excited. (Funny, for all of the similarities Tsuna knew existed between him and Giotto, G and Gokudera were less alike the more you stared at them. While G was the perfect solemn, accomplished right hand, Gokudera was the only one Tsuna would ever consider for the position.) "A family such as the Vongola definitely needs a hideout! It'll be a great, Tenth!" He quickly rattled off the assorted furnishings he would gladly donate for the cause of a Vongola hideout…

Reborn was still smirking, which translated to some manipulative plan of his behind this suggestion. Tsuna felt ridiculous—shouldn't he be able to say 'no' when he wanted to?—but for all of Reborn's crazy schemes, they usually had at least a little inch of benefit in them.

"Where were you thinking?" Tsuna stuck his hands in his pockets. It felt weird—of course, his pockets lacked the comforting wool of his gloves. "It'd better not be too far."

"In fact, the reception room at this school is almost never used and would serve as an excellent hideout." Reborn pointed to a second-story room, which looked surprisingly nondescript. "The furniture is sufficient enough, the view is fine, and the location is perfect for a hideout."

Shading his eyes from the sunlight, Tsuna stared up at the room. "Are you sure?" he asked dubiously. "Sure the view might be fine, but the location isn't that—urk!" Reborn had thrown one of Gokudera's dynamite sticks at him, which uncharitably smacked him in the eye.

"The location is perfect," Reborn emphasized with a warning gleam in his eye.

Tsuna glared at him and rubbed his eye. Fine, so the whole spiel about the "excellent hideout" was definitely a farce to hide some scheme. But Gokudera was still unaware and already enamored with the mere thought of a hideout—in fact, Tsuna was fairly sure that if Reborn had announced their new hideout was in a sewer, Gokudera would have been just as enthusiastic.

Sighing, Tsuna relented. There was only so much arguing one could do with Reborn before giving up completely.

"I've already told Yamamoto," Reborn said with the barest of triumphant smirks. "We'll meet him up there."

-

"Hey everyone," Yamamoto greeted them as they arrived in front of the reception room.

"Baseball freak," muttered Gokudera, although he didn't seem as annoyed when he usually said it. Was a hideout really that great?

Tsuna dug into his pockets again, wishing for the feel of his familiar gloves. Since climbing up to this floor, he'd felt uneasiness and growing anticipation that usually came before a battle—but there wasn't going to be a battle, was there? Reborn wasn't that crazy, was he?

Tsuna's mind halted. The answer to that question, it reminded him, was always yes.

"Heh." Yamamoto grinned as he pushed open the door. "I didn't know we'd get such a nice room—"

"Who are you?"

Tsuna stared at the familiar figure of Hibari Kyouya. Hibari-san. Hibari. He looked way younger than Tsuna remembered, but it'd been so long. Way too long. A sensation of relief thrummed through his chest, something that unclenched—it wasn't the same as when he'd first seen Yamamoto; that was just relief. This was—something else. Hibari. It was funny because of his guardians, the one that he felt he'd never understood completely was him, and yet—there were some tasks he'd only give Hibari, because he could depend on him. Hibari was the Cloud Guardian, but he wasn't aimless or flimsy. Hibari was—well. Hibari. Just seeing him now sent a wave of a thousand different emotions through Tsuna, most of all—a feeling like another piece had clicked into place. A feeling of rightness, over everything else.

And then, that feeling shifted abruptly. Hibari stood up, and it was amazing and creepy and terrifying all at once, because Tsuna could just tell. The way he moved. Just like a panther ready to strike.

(An unbidden voice echoed: Ah, I suppose there's not one in the mafia world who isn't afraid of Kyouya now.)

"Who's he?" snarled Gokudera. He'd only moved to Nanimori a few days ago. Of course he wouldn't know.

"Gokudera, wait," Yamamoto said, an unusually wary and almost frightened look in his eyes. (Good ol' Yamamoto. He always had a sixth sense about danger and gaging its level. Must be the assassin blood in him.)

Hibari took a step forward, a predatory gleam in his eyes. "Put out your cigarette in front of the Disciplinary Committee President, won't you? Although, either way, I won't let you get away." Tsuna saw his fingers inch to his two tonfa.

"You bast—"

"Put it out."

Before anyone else could react, Hibari whipped out his tonfa and struck the end of Gokudera's cigarette (lightning-fast, insanely powerful—in Italy, they don't even dare to whisper his full name)

Gokudera reeled back, hands reaching for dynamite. "What is he?"

Had Hibari been this eager to fight before? No, he hadn't—(remember the negotiations in Brindisi? Hibari waited to attack the emissary for his slight of Japan and Nanimori until after the meeting, wasn't that an improvement?)—but by this time, he hadn't met Dino, either. As a proficient fighter himself, Dino could always match Hibari and in some ways, restrain him. (Other times, though, Tsuna thought he was more like Hibari's personal punching bag.)

Tsuna glanced at his friends. Obviously Reborn had taken the chance to disappear and leave them to this mess. Gokudera looked a bit pale—he'd probably realized from the first blow how powerful Hibari was. Yamamoto also seemed wary. Appropriately, too…

It'd probably be funny in retrospect how unafraid Tsuna was at this moment. Many, many dealings with Hibari had led him to some level of realization that Hibari was frightening and terrifying and everything Tsuna was scared of, and there was nothing he could do about it. (He'd reached that conclusion with others, too. Xanxus? Mukuro? He frankly wasn't scared because all of that terror had been chased out of him long ago.)

"I hate weak herbivores that form groups," Hibari growled. It shouldn't have been so funny to hear herbivores coming from a younger Hibari's mouth, but it was. Tsuna wanted to laugh. He didn't.

"I really want to bite them to death."

The tension was so thick that even Lambo could have noticed it. Well. Tsuna supposed it was his turn to do something, so he stepped forward.

"Wait, Tsuna!" panicked Yamamoto.

"Hibari Kyouya," Tsuna said calmly. The others froze. Hibari had a silently furious look in his eyes, sizing Tsuna up like a true predator. He was probably expecting Tsuna to be afraid, which Tsuna was.

But the thing with Hibari was, if you wanted respect, you had to actlike you deserved it before he decided you didn't.

Tsuna's mind spun furiously—somehow, his plan had stopped at "say his name." What could you say to someone dangerous that wouldn't get you killed? (Seemed like he needed to brush up on his diplomacy skills—)

So like a true idiot (Reborn would probably say True to your nature, Dame Tsuna), he stuck out a hand and said, "Hi, I'm Sawada Tsuna."

WHAT THE HECK, I just offered him a freaking handshake, he thought, trying not to let the panic show on his face. Hibari doesn't do handshakes.

Hibari stared at Tsuna's outstretched hand in… disbelief? Repulsion? Disgust? Most likely a combination of all three.

"Er," Tsuna fumbled, dropping his hand. "Um. No handshake, then."

For all of his supposed indifferent nature, Hibari did a wonderful no, duh face.

"I don't have time to deal with herbivores," he hissed, raising his tonfa. "Die!"

Tsuna stepped back instinctively—he'd learned long ago that the statement Die! was best responded to by getting the heck out of the way—but Gokudera apparently had skipped out on that lesson.

"You dare try to hurt the Tenth?" growled Gokudera, whipping out sticks of dynamite. "I'll blow you to—"

But before the bomber could finish, and before anyone else could react, Hibari lashed out at the sticks with his right tonfa, sending them out of Gokudera's hands. Shocked, Gokudera pulled back with a furious look and began to pull more dynamite sticks out—but by then it was too late.

"You bas—"

Hibari's other tonfa slammed into the side of Gokudera's head with a sound that made Tsuna flinch—and as Gokudera rushed forward, Hibari struck the back of his head. In the span of a few seconds, Hibari had taken out Gokudera.

Hibari. What a monster, even as a young teenager.

Thankfully, Hibari stopped after the last hit. Gokudera was on the ground, unconscious, but that was about it. Tsuna sighed in relief, knowing all too well the damage Hibari could do if he was really angry. What was Reborn thinking, sending three vastly outmatched teenagers into the lair of Hibari Kyouya?

"Hibari-san—" Tsuna began, but Yamamoto interrupted him.

"You'll pay for that," growled Yamamoto, looking unnervingly deadly. (A natural assassin, Reborn had said. He was absolutely, horribly right, and Tsuna could only watch.)

Hibari drew his tonfa in, prepared to attack. (The way he moved. Just like a panther ready to strike.)

Suddenly lunging forward, Hibari struck furiously and rapidly at Yamamoto until his tonfa seemed like white blurs. As Reborn called it, Yamamoto's natural quickness kept the tonfa barely out of reach, though it was terrifyingly close each time. How Yamamoto was going to attack without a weapon, Tsuna didn't know.

"You're slow," Hibari said and grinned that mad smile of his. Tsuna could almost see his thoughts: I'll bite you to death.

Yamamoto prepared for the impact and drew his arms higher, but the impact of Hibari's foot caught his stomach instead. Sent flying, Yamamoto landed against the wall, head lolling.

"Two down." And Hibari's eyes fixed on his next prey—Tsuna.

A shiver skittered up Tsuna's spine. Somehow, when Hibari looked at him like he was actually some defenseless herbivore (which he used to be, but wasn't now), it always creeped Tsuna out.

"Your friends won't wake up," Hibari said. "I hit them hard enough to make sure of that." He stepped closer, intent on scaring Tsuna, or something equally useless like that.

It wasn't that Hibari wasn't scary. Hibari was definitely scary—terrifying, even. But considering the sheer number of terrifying people Tsuna had met over the years, and considering he'd fought with the older Hibari who was about a thousand times scarier… This Hibari wasn't so intimidating after all.

Tsuna glanced at Gokudera and Yamamoto. As Hibari had said, they were completely out, and wouldn't be waking up any time soon. But it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

"Thanks for not killing them," Tsuna said, which in retrospect sounded terrible on its own. But it was Hibari they'd been up against.

Hibari stared at Tsuna, as if reevaluating him. In dealing with Hibari, Tsuna found that doing the opposite of what everyone would do—as in, not screaming and running—was more effective than ardently fighting.

Finally, Hibari seemed to come to a conclusion about Tsuna. (Which was amazing, because Tsuna still wasn't sure what to think about himself.) "You can wait there," he said. "I'll call an ambulance for them."

Ah, Hibari. So kind.

Hibari turned away, and the glint of a gun from behind him caught Tsuna's eye. Tsuna whirled around—and stared.

Reborn?

The baby hitman stood innocently in the window, cocking his gun at him.

Why was he surprised? Of course it was Reborn. Reborn always had to break the moment, didn't he? Reborn's black eyes flicked toward Hibari, who hadn't noticed Reborn yet. Never pass up a chance to make Family, his eyes seemed to say. Or do you want the Dying Will Bullet?

Tsuna gaped. And now, Reborn was threatening him with the Dying Will Bullet! He didn't even know how Reborn figured out that the Bullet freaked Tsuna out like nothing else.

He gulped. He had really hoped he could avoid Hibari this time around. "Eh—Hibari-san?" Tsuna said. How did one recruit scary men for the Family again? … Hibari liked fighting, right? And fighting tough guys?

Hibari turned around, his eyes narrowing. "Herbivore," he snapped. "I'll bite you to death if you keep talking."

Ambulance then a death threat. How typical for Hibari.

Reborn was still staring at him. Dame Tsuna. Stop stalling and get on with it, will you?

Fighting. Start with fighting. Hibari liked fighting, didn't he? "Hibari-san," Tsuna said, sticking his hands into his pockets so Hibari wouldn't see them shaking. (No comforting wool of the gloves this time.) "Er. You… um, you're really great at fighting—"

Hibari just stared at him.

Suddenly, from the window, Reborn spoke up. Too impatient with Tsuna's hesitance, probably. "Hibari Kyouya."

"A baby?"

Tsuna could almost see the skepticism. Disbelief. The silent What are you, an idiot?

In some ways, he really, really was.

"You're strong," Reborn told Hibari. "Join our Family."

Hibari snarled immediately. "I hate crowds."

"But you like to fight, don't you?" Reborn smiled wider, realizing he'd caught Hibari's attention. "You can be the Cloud Guardian. Unattached. A loner, for the most part. You're not unfamiliar with how it works."

Tsuna turned to Reborn, surprised. Hibari already knew about Famiglia and how it worked? But then again, Hibari was such a strong fighter that there was no way the mafia or gangs or triads hadn't already tried to recruit him.

"I hate crowds," Hibari repeated more venomously. "Especially if they're full of weak herbivores like these." He didn't have to point for Tsuna to know that he meant Yamamoto and Gokudera.

Reborn just smiled. "Tsuna isn't a weak herbivore."

Immediately Hibari's eyes snapped to Tsuna. Oh. No. Reborn had said Tsuna wasn't. Tsuna wasn't. If that didn't attract Hibari's attention like fresh meat to a wolf—

"Wait." Tsuna began to backpedal. "Wait, wait, wait—Reborn didn't mean that—"

"He seems like an herbivore," Hibari snarled.

In response, Reborn tossed a shape to Tsuna, who caught it out of reflex—it was a Beretta 92. A sleek model, shiny and new… the tiny thrum of a heartbeat in his palm informed him that it was a transformed Leon in his hands. Reborn never did give up trying to hook him on guns, did he?

(It's funny what familiarity can do to you. He doesn't use guns, but even holding one calms him down. He's protected, he can hurt—knowing these facts is a comfort. How messed up is that?)

Hibari tensed at the sight of the gun, but Tsuna sighed. "I keep telling you, Reborn. I'm not a gun person." Nevermind the fact that he could shoot just fine, thank you very much, courtesy of some mixture of Reborn's, Colonello's, and Lal's training sessions.

At Tsuna's words, Hibari seemed to perk up. "Can you fight with that?"

It would be difficult for anyone to forget years of training. But Tsuna didn't want to fight—not here, not now, anyway. "I don't want to fight, Hibari."

Hibari drew his tonfa up. "Show me what you can do with that."

Lunging forward suddenly, Hibari drew back for a hit—maybe temporal bone, maybe base of the neck—and Tsuna pulled back barely in time to see Hibari's tonfa graze the tip of his nose. The next hit held no hesitation: left tonfa and arm, swinging around to slam into Tsuna's right shoulder in a blast of pain and a crack—

Tsuna blocked the next swing with the body of the gun, still unwilling to shoot. Guns were messy, and their wounds took longer to heal. Even if Hibari joined after being shot, Tsuna didn't want to risk a temporary or permanent injury.

Hibari was his future Cloud Guardian, and Tsuna was the Sky, wasn't he? He was supposed to take care of his Guardians. As much as he could without it looking like mother-henning, anyway. ("Can't be helped," Yamamoto laughed. "Tsuna's just naturally caring like that.")

How long could Tsuna's fingers, wrapped around and placed behind the gun's body for support, weather this battering? Hibari wasn't above hitting weak spots.

"Shoot—" Tsuna hissed as his fingers gave way, dropping the gun.

At that moment, Hibari saw the vulnerability and exploited it (he'd always been good at that). Tsuna had no guard against his strikes now, no gun to block his tonfa. He was backed up against a wall, almost to the corner because Hibari had maneuvered him there like the expert predator he was.

Hibari pulled back further for a stronger, final hit—he's aiming for the left temporal, going for a kill shot because Hibari doesn't know how to pull punches

It wasn't a particularly smart move, but there were limited options without his gloves. Tsuna (in a burst of speed he didn't have, wasn't supposed to have—) dropped to the floor and wrapped his fingers around the Beretta, and pushed forward and up with his legs—he and Hibari, so close that there was no room for Hibari to pull back—

("You've got one objective," his commander snarled—"and that's to kill the enemy. Don't forget that.")

His left arm, up, to the side, collided with Hibari's tonfa (with the ulna, ouch, swore he'd heard a crack) and halted it in its tracks. His right hand and the Beretta rose too quickly for Hibari to stop.

The barrel rested under Hibari's chin.

Hibari stared at him with disbelief, annoyance, and—some level of approval and excitement?

Tsuna thought he'd be furious, since Hibari was the one with a gun to his chin. Speaking of which—when did that all happen? Tsuna had acted by instinct so quickly that it'd seemed like an instant. He still wasn't entirely sure what had happened. He'd gotten the gun, and then dropped it when Hibari was hammering him with blows, and then—he was pointing the gun at Hibari.

His left arm began to ache.

"Ouch… ouch…" Tsuna's arm was screaming under the pain—broken ulna, probably. How bad it was depended on how hard Hibari had hit. Hibari, for better and for worse, was unfamiliar with the word restraint.

He couldn't help it—as soon as Hibari pulled back with a look of fascination in his eyes, Tsuna crumpled to the ground. Breathe in, breath out. Hadn't even been a minute of fighting, but he was fighting for air already. ("Look at him. Can't even stand against one of his own Guardians.")

Hibari's face—oh snap, Hibari's face. Gleeful, appraising, triumphant, and utterly fixed on Tsuna. Like a fascinated predator reevaluating its prey.

"I wonder," Hibari mused. "What else can you fight with?"

On cue, Leon trembled and shifted into his normal lizard-y self. He glanced up at Tsuna inquiringly. D'you wanna pair of tonfa next?

"What is that?" Hibari eyed Leon enviously, subtly fingering his own tonfa.

Tsuna was about to say something like Steal from Reborn and you're dead, literally! because he's had limited experience with that—but then Reborn hopped down from his windowsill seat.

"Hibari Kyouya. Are you willing to join our Family now?"

Honestly, Tsuna didn't know why Reborn thought that would work. It wouldn't. Hibari loathed crowds. (When Hibari nearly destroys a small town in southern Italy again, Tsuna can guess out of two choices: annoyance or crowds.)

"Never," Hibari snarled. Then he turned to Tsuna with a very small Hibari-grin. "You're not like those weak herbivores. Let's have a rematch."

Rematch?

"No way!" Even though he'd seen horrible events and had become a mafia boss, Tsuna still retained the urge to run from every fight when he could. In fact, that was probably how he'd survived till twenty-something. (You don't count birthdays in war.)

He looked down at his broken arm, which was beginning to swell. (It's funny because… this unmarked arm without scars doesn't seem like his arm at all. He's broken limbs more times than he can remember—an especial treat for those in his dangerous line of work. And it shouldn't hurt this much because, because he was supposed to be used to it by now—)

"Hibari," Tsuna said quietly. "Call an ambulance, won't you?"

Hibari looked affronted at the familiar address.

Tsuna's eyes met his. So serious, so unlike Tsuna—a level glare that assumed leadership—it is funny what a weapon in your hands will do.

"It's not an option. Call an ambulance now."

"Don't order me around, herbivore—"

"You broke my arm," Tsuna snapped. "You knocked out my Guardians. The least you owe me is a freaking ambulance."

"I'll bite you to death!"

Reborn interrupted at the most opportune moment: just in time to stop Tsuna from infuriating his future Cloud Guardian. "I already called the ambulance," the baby said. "Hibari. Will you help bring Yamamoto and Gokudera to the first floor?"

"I hate herbivores," hissed Hibari before he stalked out of the room. By the tone of his voice, it was clear he meant Tsuna, too.

Thankfully, Reborn was surprisingly capable of carrying large bodies even in his less-than-meter-high height. Tsuna's arm throbbed viciously the entire walk out.

-

The arm was fractured.

Given that it had been Hibari, Tsuna had been lucky to escape with just that, but the nurse nevertheless chided Tsuna for breaking it. The nurse was… a friend of a friend of his mother's? In some way, Nana knew every woman in Nanimori. The normal ones, anyway.

"Poor Tsu-kun!" exclaimed his mother when she saw his white arm cast. Then, she winked at him. "I guess you'll just have to skip chores for this month, right?"

A month. An entire month of the cast, and months afterwards regaining the lost muscle. This was a major setback. Why hadn't he let Reborn shoot him with the Dying Will Bullet?

In some ways, he already knew the answer. (The Bullet—it's old, you know? You're not that kid who ran around in his boxers anymore. You're—grown up. Too old for that stuff. You should be able to fight on your own.) Pride, mostly.

"What's that sigh for?" Nana glanced into the rearview mirror, casting a smile at Tsuna from it. "It's not so bad. You might even get to skip PE! Don't you like that?"

"Yeah."

A month. Did he even have enough time for that? He couldn't remember what month everything started. Mukuro, the Varia—Dino. Dino was coming soon, wasn't he? That wasn't a problem… but a broken arm meant he couldn't train with it. Which meant he'd be somewhat handicapped in the upcoming battles. If he messed up with Mukuro, he didn't even know what he'd do—

"What's on your mind?" Nana was smiling at him.

"Nothing," Tsuna said, not meeting her eyes in the rearview. "Just—it's annoying, you know. Not going to be able to do a lot of stuff. And I have to shower with this on, too."

He laughed, but it was a cheap laugh, especially in his own ears.

"Hmm." His mother seemed to be thinking about something as she drove. "You know, Tsu-kun."

"Hm?"

She paused, as if considering how to phrase her thoughts. "I know it might be… hard sometimes, especially with your father abroad, but… anytime you want to talk, I'm here, alright?"

Tsuna jerked upright—she didn't know about the mafia, did she?

In the rearview mirror, her smile was genuine but completely unreadable.

"Mom," Tsuna started. "Do you know…"

His mother's head tilted. "About what? Oh! No, it's just mother's intuition." And she winked.

"Oh." Tsuna frowned. Considered. Last time, she hadn't been much involved in his activities, and if she had ever known she'd been extremely discreet. But this time?

He frowned. Nana smiled at him in the rearview.

"No," Tsuna said eventually with a reassuring smile. "It's nothing. Thanks, Mom." And surprisingly, he meant it.

-

"Hibari Kyouya."

In Tsuna's bedroom, Reborn—the most destructive toddler in the world, Tsuna was convinced—fired a bullet into the wall.

"Gokudera Hayato. Yamamoto Takeshi."

Two more shots were embedded in the wall.

"Sasagawa Ryohei… Bovino Lambo."

Again two more shots fired from Reborn's gun, joining the others. A grand piece of art, wasn't it?

"Reborn," Tsuna said slowly. "Are you making a smiley face in my wall?"

"No, it's your face," Reborn replied, calmly blowing the smoke from his Beretta. "You have one more Guardian to recruit."

"Reborn."

"Or two, if I remember correctly. Rokudo Mukuro and Dokuro Chrome, am I right?" Reborn nonchalantly assumed a look of careful consideration. "But if we find one, we find the other."

Tsuna groaned. He honestly didn't know why he thought he could deal with this. Reborn was a pest and a freeloader. Hibari was breaking his bones. His only friends were two guys who could kill in an instant. What a mess his life was—what a mess.

"Good job, Tsuna," Reborn nodded finally. "You aren't completely useless."

From the way Reborn spoke, it sounded like he was announcing the crowning achievement of Tsuna's life. (In mad retrospect, it was probably true. Couldn't really argue against Dame Tsuna and Vongola X, could he?)

"Goodnight, Reborn." Tsuna crawled into bed and pulled the warm sheets over his head. (Thick sheets—what a luxury. But even thin rags feel warm if you're cold enough.)

He shivered, but not from cold.

Two Guardians left.

Countdown until the end.

Chapter Text

(in particular, it's the gritty smell of blood and coffee that you miss most.)

chapter 8

-

 

A broken arm shouldn’t have hurt so much, but it did. Tsuna couldn’t even count the number of times he’d broken bones, but this felt as bad as dim light, shaky hands, bones bent in all the wrong ways.

Don’t go there, Tsuna thought firmly. Don’t go there. (He swallows: can almost taste bitter blood slipping down his throat again.)

Simply put, his broken arm was a handicap. A huge one. The funny thing was that he’d lived with broken arms before, and had been extremely deadly at the same time. (In another time, another world, he might be thankful for the hospital casts that made others underestimate him.) But he was too young now, and his body was too inexperienced. A broken arm would be nothing but a hindrance. Plus, training would be limited.

Tsuna had heard of drugs that forced broken bones to mend faster than bruises. Maybe Shamal had some.

But then, there was the dilemma: bear with a broken arm, or visit the aggravating, stubborn Shamal? (To jump into the frying pan, or fire?) He’d… have to think about it more. Decisions, decisions.

Tsuna glanced at his watch. Still ten minutes until school started, though with his recent marks, he probably wouldn’t even have to show up anymore to get decent grades, which was incredibly relieving. As he remembered it, between the constant threats of enemy families and poor grades, past-Tsuna had nearly collapsed the pressure. This time, he wouldn’t have to worry about education.

Squinting, Tsuna spotted Yamamoto and Gokudera… arguing in front of the school? What would it be this time?

“Tenth!” exclaimed Gokudera, guilt flashing over his expression.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Yamamoto said, giving him a reassuring grin. “Sorry, I’ve got to go, um… clean up from this morning’s club activities.” He rubbed the back of his neck (bad habit, Yamamoto, you broadcast your nervousness) and walked away.

“I have to go prepare for class.” Gokudera shot one glance at Yamamoto’s quickly retreating figure and sped off.

Completely puzzled, Tsuna stared as both of them ducked out of sight. His sight. What were they trying to hide? He trusted his Guardians to make responsible decisions, but why were they so nervous in front of him?

Come to think of it, Bianchi and Haru had also acted strangely this morning, avoiding him. Could it be…?

Tsuna bit his lip, trying to not let the ridiculous grin spread on his face. Tomorrow was his birthday.

Huh. Hadn’t celebrated his birthday in a long time. 

-

There is neither time nor occasion for celebration in war. Your birthday’s tomorrow, right? Save it for those who care. Your friends died today. (—and tomorrow, and forever.)

You can’t celebrate with corpses.

-

“They’re preparing for a birthday party,” Reborn told him when Tsuna met him outside of school. (No need to mention names; it was all Family business now.)

Tsuna blinked. “Why are you telling me?”

“You might be interested,” Reborn off-handedly remarked. His face was absolutely indecipherable.

“Sure.” (Don’t be excited. It’s just a birthday party.)

Reborn glanced up at him, eyes obscured by the shadow of his fedora. “Anything I should know?” Futuristically speaking, went the unsaid. By now, walking home had become informal debriefing sessions.

Tsuna frowned. He couldn’t remember exactly, but… “Dino’s coming soon, isn’t he?”

“Bucking Horse, yes.”

“And… Fuuta, I think.” It was hard to forget the kind, shy boy Tsuna had (would) come to regard as a younger brother.

Reborn’s eyes widened in obvious interest. “Ranking Fuuta?”

“The same,” Tsuna confirmed. Huh. Now that he thought about it, he’d always had the strange skill of attracting important mafioso. Some might say lucky; he preferred a genetic disaster. “He should be arriving sometime after Dino does, but he’ll stay at my house for a while.”

After that, Reborn seemed deep in thought in his own world and ignored Tsuna’s further attempts to talk. By the time they’d reached home, Tsuna’s thoughts had given way to nervousness and anxiety.

How do I act? Tsuna took a deep breath. He’d fought wars before, but birthday parties were definitely a match. (How do you return to a life you’ve already thrown away with your own hands?)

His hand hesitated over the doorknob for a fraction of a second, then turned it and pushed.

Immediately, streamers and confetti shot toward them, revealing his Family, smiling in front of them. Nana, Yamamoto, Gokudera, Bianchi, Haru, Lambo—all exclaiming “Happy birthday!” (What is happiness?—)

(—“Thanks,” Tsuna whispers to field of graves.)

—“Thanks,” Reborn said from beside him.

Tsuna felt his chest cave to—shock, disbelief, bitterness, blankness (of course it’s Reborn, it’s always Reborn—don’t think that way)—Why hadn’t he remembered?

“Yeah,” Tsuna said. (With what voice? His throat was stuck.) “Happy birthday, Reborn.” That was only fair, wasn’t it? It was Reborn’s birthday. Let him have his day. Heavens know he’d only have what, ten more, until—

Reborn glanced up at him sharply, then faced the others. “It’s nice of you all to gather here.” A wry grin. “I’m one year old today.”

One year old, Tsuna thought dryly. What a joker.

-

Tsuna’s thoughts remained scattered throughout the rest of the afternoon. The sushi was delicious—always had been, always would be until Yamamoto’s father died. Yamamoto himself didn’t make bad sushi, although in the later years there simply wouldn’t be enough ingredients to make a really great meal of sushi. Reborn had never publicly shown preference toward a type of food (diplomacy, and all that), but Tsuna suspected he preferred homemade sushi to any expensive caviar.

Reborn announced the traditional Vongolian Birthday Party game—impress the birthday person, on a scale to a hundred points, etcetera. Tsuna wasn’t surprised when Reborn awarded Yamamoto eighty points for the sushi. Reborn had always liked a good plate of Japanese food.

Haru presented a target-patterned suit to Reborn, meticulously detailed and made with obvious care. Bianchi exhibited a pizza-spinning routine that sliced Tsuna’s TV in half while everyone ducked, and Lambo blundered by with a one-point “Lambo stick.” Useless, but at least he had a willingness to bluff through situations. It would certainly save the Bovino’s life multiple times in the future.

“Tsuna?” Reborn smirked. The smug jerk. “Forfeiting is automatically zero points.”

Well… shoot. Tsuna wasn’t going to be shot by the Dying Will bullet again, that was for certain. (No, he’d hold that off as long as humanly possible until he got the gloves.) There was something nagging at his memory, ever since they’d talked about—

(“In the future… did you ever break the curse of the Arcobaleno?”)

“Tenth!” Gokudera exclaimed. “Let’s team up!” A hint of desperation was in his eyes. Ah, he’d noticed Tsuna’s predicament as well. (Good kid.)

“No, it’s fine. I do have a present.” Tsuna paused. “Sorry, it’s not really a performance, though.”

“What is it?” Reborn’s eyes glinted with interest. The rest of the party stared at Tsuna, confused.

“I don’t know why I didn’t remember it until now.” Tsuna shifted slightly. “We had a temporary cure.” In the future. For the Arcobaleno curse.

Reborn stilled suddenly.

“A cure?” Haru inquired, worried. “Is Reborn-chan sick?”

Sheepishly, Tsuna rubbed the back of his neck. It didn’t help that everyone’s undivided attention—including Lambo’s—was on him. “I asked Verde to do it.”

Yamamoto frowned. “Who’s Verde?”

“And he obeyed you willingly?” Reborn asked, incredulous.

“I may have—um—” Tsuna stumbled— “…convinced him? I—I guess I could do it again. Talk to him, I mean. If you wanted.”

“Verde is flighty. You shouldn’t trust him.”

“I did it once, and I’d do it again,” Tsuna insisted. “I know you’ve always wanted…” (to be whole again—)

Reborn stared at him with unblinking eyes for a few moments (wow, never thought he’d be able to shock Reborn speechless)—before nodding once stiffly. “That would be… good.”

And it was. After all Reborn had done for him, Tsuna wasn’t going to turn down his mentor’s greatest wish. (He’d learned, in bits and pieces, what a wretched transition it had been, from man to baby. Somehow a sliver of grief from the impenetrable Reborn had always been enough to send Tsuna packing for another quest to find the cure.)

“One hundred points,” Reborn whispered later, quiet enough for only Tsuna to hear.

-

The next morning, Tsuna walked to school with a Beretta tucked away in his bag. Reborn had slipped it into his school bag again, but Dino was coming soon, right? Might as well keep it. Tsuna’s chest always felt constricted when he thought of the future. Of everything that was going to come. It was almost like a bad movie.

Scratch that—his life was essentially a bad movie.

Dino was coming soon, which meant all sorts of trouble—Enzio growing a building high, for one. Must not make that mistake again, Tsuna thought. And if possible, he’d have to prevent Dino from seriously injuring himself when he stayed at his house. Tsuna loved his older brother figure, sure—he just wasn’t confident enough that Dino wouldn’t trip on a knife. Or fall down the stairs, or ruin his house.

Tsuna was suddenly struck with a frightening thought: what was his insurance rate like in the future?

The future suddenly became bleaker… and… smelled like garlic?

Tsuna looked up, glancing around for the source. He knew this smell, this was… I-Pin!

He spotted her on a wall next to the street, strolling along and eating one of her buns. Funny, the picture almost reminded him of Reborn walking along the same wall, eye-height (high enough to give leverage against tall opponents; high enough to attack and move and dodge).

“I-Pin!” Tsuna ran up to her, though she stopped abruptly and stared at him suspiciously. “I-Pin, hi. I mean, ni hao.” He’d almost forgotten that at this young age, she only knew Chinese.

Chinese. The halting language stuck to his tongue. His mouth wasn’t used to speaking it, even if his mind remembered.

I-Pin rattled off slurred, staccato Chinese too quickly for him to follow. Tsuna stared at her, dumbfounded—he thought he’d be able to catch all of it. Still, he caught the words assassin and Triad and mark, which was enough for him to guess her meaning. I-Pin shoved a picture at him.

“Sorry.” Tsuna frowned and pushed the picture back at her. “That’s definitely gang-related. I shouldn’t get involved.”

I-Pin frowned and muttered an insult.

“Look, I can’t just… help you assassinate someone for free. I’m an Italian mob boss, I-Pin! I can’t just…” Tsuna sighed. “You’re not part of my family yet, I-Pin.” Stupid Family ties.

Readjusting her pack, I-Pin said something unintelligible, though her tone seemed oddly sympathetic. She jumped away, disappearing behind the wall.

Hopefully, she’d come back. Tsuna wondered if he hadn’t already made a terrible slip. (In the future she’s amazing. Kind and loving, yet absolutely ruthless as an assassin. The best dumpling maker in the future.

He hopes she’ll forgive him when she’s forced to enter the mafia world again.)

-

“Hey, Tenth. I’m gonna skip class ‘n go down to get more cigarettes—want anything?” Gokudera always asked him. For all of his supposed belligerency, Gokudera really was considerate. (At least of the people he cared about, and not even then.)

“No thanks,” Tsuna replied, as he usually did—and then stopped. “Wait, can you get a pair of glasses from the store?”

“Sure,” Gokudera said, pulling out his wallet. (A right-hand man never asks, only does…) “Yeah, I should have enough. Any prescription?”

Tsuna paused. Last time, I-Pin had mistaken him for her mark, who had looked drastically different… “The strongest?”

“Got it.” Gokudera gave him a grin and an O.K. sign with his hand.

“Thanks! I’ll pay you later.”

“Don’t worry about it, boss!” Gokudera called back, slipping out of the classroom.

To think, when Tsuna had first met Gokudera, he’d been frightened. Even if his adoration was a bit creepy, Tsuna wouldn’t trust anyone else now.

His life had changed so drastically since the memories and Reborn and everyone else. And it was going to change even more. Tsuna took a breath—he wasn’t even sure if he was ready for the ring battle, the future, or anything else. (Though he was scared of the future. Who knew what would happen, or what it’d be like.)

He kept thinking of his memories, which was frustrating. They wouldn’t leave him alone. Should probably write it down, Tsuna thought. But if his notebook was stolen? What then? The man with knowledge is the king of the world. Some things were better already, for sure—his understanding, relationship with Reborn… but Tsuna knew he would mess up, sooner or later. And what then?

Tsuna sighed. It was too much to think about, at least for one person. Reborn wasn’t sympathetic, though; he was too pragmatic to sympathize. But who else could he trust?

(Dino is coming soon, right?)

Tsuna sat up. Dino! What if he told Dino about his memories? The man was basically an older brother to him. Better yet, he understood what it was like to be responsible for thousands of lives. He knew what being a mafia boss was like. He understood, and Tsuna could absolutely trust him.

Yeah. He’d tell Dino the truth. And hopefully, Dino would accept it.

-

Tsuna could barely wait for Dino to arrive. A few days later—after he’d given I-Pin the glasses, after he’d convinced Kyoko and Haru to keep I-Pin occupied so she wouldn’t run into Hibari, and after he’d told Reborn his plan—Tsuna had already run the conversation in his mind a million times.

Dino, I have weird memories of a future, and it’s coming true, he’d say. Sorry to suddenly spill this to you, but I need someone to talk to.

Sure, little bro, Dino would say with a grin. Tell me everything.

And Reborn would confirm. It couldn’t go wrong, Tsuna thought. There are only so many ways the world could change, right? Right?

The more he thought about his conversation, the more anxious he felt. He couldn’t remember the day Dino came and Reborn wouldn’t tell him, so every morning Tsuna woke up thinking This could be the day.

Then suddenly, Dino was there.

Tsuna came home to a hundred-fifty men in black suits surrounding his house, like a mob of solicitors. They seemed only half alert—not that there could be much guarding on a suburb road—and curious people walking up to them was probably the most exciting thing that had happened so far.

One man approached him. “Sorry, you can’t pass. I can only let Sawada family members pass through.”

Last time, Tsuna had stuttered his name and presented a poor first impression. Well, Tsuna thought. That would have to change. “Sorry, but my name’s Sawada Tsunayoshi,” Tsuna said firmly. “You’re going to have to let me through.”

“What? You’re Sawada?” exclaimed a mafioso, staring incredulously at him.

(Remember the days when you had to affirm your status, build your reputation with fire?)

The mafioso’s name was Costanzo, a distant relative of Dino’s, and he’d once served Tsuna coffee. (The only reason Tsuna remembered this was Reborn’s insistence that he try true Italian coffee, which he promptly choked on.)

Tsuna squared his shoulders. “Yes, Costanzo of the Cavallone Famiglia, I’m Sawada, and you had better let me through.”

Needless to say, Dino’s men immediately split to let him through. Hey, Tsuna thought with giddy amusement. I’m getting better at this boss thing.

-

“We’ve been waiting for you, Tsuna,” Reborn said as soon as Tsuna entered his room.

“Yo, Vongola boss.” On cue, Dino swiveled around in his black leather chair. (Had he really brought the thing from his personal office in Italy to Japan?) “I’ve travelled pretty far to meet you. I’m the Cavallone Family’s Tenth boss, Dino.”

Tsuna stared at Dino. Had Dino been so… showy last time?

“He’s no good!” Dino exclaimed suddenly. “You don’t have the aura. You feel just like a regular kid, and you don’t seem ambitious… you present yourself terribly, and you look unlucky.”

“Your legs are short,” Reborn interjected. That jerk.

“The likeliness of you becoming a boss is zero,” Dino said, nodding firmly.

Wow. Just… wow. Tsuna definitely did not remember Dino being so… judgmental. Rationally thinking—it was probably some test, to gage his response or whatever. But hey. Two can play this game. Tsuna inclined his head in a half-bow. “Dino, Tenth boss of the Cavallone Family. Tsuna, tenth boss of the Vongola Family—nice to meet you, and thanks for camping in my bedroom.” Just a bit of sarcasm. Just a bit.

“Oh,” Dino said, eyes widening. “He’s smart, isn’t he, Reborn?” Mocking tone, just a bit. Suddenly, Tsuna felt fear. What if I can’t tell him? I don’t want to spill my memories to this type of Dino.

“Dino is your senior apprentice,” Reborn said.

Leaning forward, Dino opened his hands in a disarming gesture. “Don’t let the things I said get you down, Tenth. Before I met Reborn, my chances of becoming boss were zero, too.”

Tsuna frowned.

“I taught Dino how to become a mafia boss before I came here,” Reborn explained. There was an edge in Reborn’s voice: You’re hearing this for the first time. Act surprised, Dame-Tsuna.

But Dino had heard the edge in Reborn’s voice, too. “Reborn?” Dino stared at his mentor with a puzzled look.

Tsuna thought quickly (think of something, anything—). “I guess that makes sense,” he said, shrugging. “It didn’t seem like Reborn was one year old, anyway.” (Change the topic, change it!) “Did he call for you? Why are you here, anyway?”

Tilting his head, Dino crossed his arms. “Maybe he has more boss potential that I judged, Reborn.” With such an obvious diversion in topic, Dino had the entire right to pursue Tsuna’s lack of surprise. (“He’s not stupid,” Tsuna tells Hibari. “He’s never been. But you always knew that, didn’t you?”) But Dino answered Tsuna’s question. “I wanted to see Reborn. He taught me so many things, you know. Thanks to him, I’m now the boss of 5000 mafioso.”

Tsuna managed to look appropriately shocked. (Though the Vongola Family he knows in the future is at least double that size…)

Dino continued, watching his reaction carefully. “But I also wanted to see you, Reborn’s new student. Reborn left me to teach you, by the way. He insisted, even though I still wanted to learn many things.” Now a slight edge was in his voice.

In some other past, Dino would have been disarmed by Tsuna’s incompetency, relating to him as fellow students of the slave-driver, Reborn. But now Dino was suspicious, and worse—resentful. Tsuna didn’t think he could bear animosity between them. (If anyone, he’s the constant: the same caring older brother, who understood his problems and frustrations.)

What to do, what to do… (Grief. This isn’t going at all the way he hoped.)

(Sure, little bro, Dino would say with a grin. Tell me everything.)—a future without the Cavallone Family as staunch allies of the Vongola leads to absolute destruction and chaos.

At this tense moment, Lambo and I-Pin decided to wander in. Lambo chased I-Pin with two grenades in his hands (privately, Tsuna thought Lambo should be a poster child for dangerous Mafia toddlers)—and as Murphy’s Law would have it, Lambo tripped onto the floor.

Murphy’s Law. Lambo. Tsuna was too tired to deal with this. (Grief, fear, anxiety.) “I told you not to play with hand grenades, Lambo,” Tsuna said, picking up the Bovino… who stared, confused, at his empty hands.

“The grenade! Wait, Dino’s men—” Tsuna jumped up, but Dino was quicker.

Leaping out the window, Dino lashed out his whip. “Get down, guys!”

His men took cover as Dino’s whip wrapped around the two grenades that were descending toward them. With a twist of his arm, Dino threw the two grenades into the sky, where they exploded.

“Wow,” Tsuna mumbled. Even at this young age, Dino was amazing by mafia standards.

“Are you amazed?” Reborn joined him at the window. They watched Mafioso slap Dino on the back fondly, laughing and teasing him. “The mafia boss will always risk his life for his Family.”

“I know that.” (It’s a group effort in the future—risking lives for others. Except too often his Guardians never let him.) “I guess I am amazed. I always have been. I’ve always admired Dino for—everything.”

-

“Thanks for letting me stay,” Dino said, gulping down a mouthful of rice. “Guess it’s only proper for me, as your senior, to give you a few tips.”

“Thanks, Dino-san. I really appreciate it.” Tsuna tried not to glance at the slowly-growing mess of food in front of Dino.

—“Ask me anything, my cute sworn brother,” Dino says—

“Got any questions, then?” Dino was watching him carefully. (What is it like, when brothers treat you as strangers?)

The problem was, Tsuna didn’t have many questions. Stupid, he should have thought this out before. Stupid, stupid—“So… what’s it like being a mafia boss?” Stupid question, stupid—

“Well… what do you want to know?”

Don’t be suspicious. The best way to throw off suspicion is honesty. “I don’t know. I’ve never been a mafia boss. I didn’t even know I was going to be one until Reborn told me.” Tsuna tried to keep his eyes on Dino. Remember, it’s all true. “I just… don’t know what to expect.”

Dino considered for a moment. “Well, I guess it’s pretty different from what you’re used to now. But don’t worry, Reborn prepares you for anything.” He gave a lopsided grin. “You know.”

Tsuna grinned back. “Yeah, he’s a slave-driver—ow!”

Reborn released his grip on Tsuna’s shoulder. “Students shouldn’t complain about the teacher,” he warned, giving equally intimidating looks at both Tsuna and Dino.

“Ahaha…” Dino slipped his hands off the table, out of Reborn’s reach. “So do you have any Family now?”

“Just four, I think… Gokudera, Yamamoto, Hibari, and Ryohei. They’re friends and classmates at school.”

“Good! You’re on your way to having a big Family of your own,” Dino exclaimed. “Pretty soon, your Family’s going to be bigger than mine.”

“What?”

Dino frowned. “Don’t you know? That’s why Reborn came here to teach you. Vongola’s the center of our Family alliances, and it’s the most influential. It gets priority in nearly every situation.”

“Oh.” Tsuna looked down. “Sorry.”

“What for?” Dino chewed his food, then set his chopsticks on the table. “Don’t be bothered by what I said earlier. Reborn makes his own decisions, and if he wanted to leave me and teach you, then okay. Who am I to complain against him and the Vongola?” He grinned wryly. “At least I got Enzio. That’s my turtle—I think he’s roaming around here somewhere. I asked for Leon, but Reborn gave me him instead!”

Tsuna laughed with Dino, glad that there wasn’t any remaining resentment. Maybe he could still salvage this situation. Maybe.

“Excuse me, Dino-kun,” Nana interrupted. “Your food…”

“Ah!” Dino glanced down at the mess he’d made. “Sorry!”

“Dino doesn’t function well without his men,” Reborn explained. “He only uses his powers for or in front of his Family. Without his men, his athleticism drops dramatically.”

“Reborn, you can’t expect Tsuna to believe that…” Dino laughed weakly. “I don’t use chopsticks that often, sorry. I use forks and knives more.”

“Oh, I see,” Tsuna nodded. “Right, that makes sense. Geez, Reborn. Don’t tell lies.”

Reborn just smiled.

Nana rose to prepare the bath for Dino. As Dino haphazardly started to clean up by moving all of his dropped food into one pile—if that could be called cleaning up—suddenly, they heard a shriek from Tsuna’s mom.

Immediately, Tsuna rose, terrified. “Mom!” (“Sir? The doctor would like to speak to you. I’m so sorry, sir. She’s—”)

“What happened?” Dino jerked up, but tripped and slammed into the floor. “Ouch…”

“The tub! In the tub!” Nana dashed out.

“Mom! What’s in the tub?” Rushing past her, Tsuna opened the door to the bathroom and immediately realized what had happened. Enzio, now a massive monster ripping chunks out of the bathtub, had come into contact with water.

Dino gasped behind him. “Shoot! When did Enzio escape?” He stepped forward with his whip. “Nobody interfere! It will be a disgrace for the Cavallone Famiglia if their boss can’t take care of his pet, right?”

“Wait—”

“Calm down, Enzio!” Dino swung his whip around in the small bathroom, where it snapped Tsuna’s cheek.

“Ouch!” Seriously, that hurt

“Sorry, I slipped. Let me try again!” Dino raised his arm and swung again. This time, his whip lashed not only Tsuna, but also Lambo and I-Pin.

Amid Lambo’s and I-Pin’s indignant cries, Reborn calmly reminded Tsuna, “Remember? Dino’s utterly useless without his men.”

“I know, Reborn!”

“He told us not to interfere.”

“I know! But the house—”

“But I guess it can’t be helped,” Reborn sighed. “It’s Leon’s turn now.” He tossed Leon to Tsuna’s face, where Leon stuck and molded to his face like a prosthetic skin. Honestly, Tsuna was too shocked to do anything—guess Leon really could morph into anything—

“Romario?” exclaimed Dino, stunned.

What?

“I thought you went back with the others!” And as if a switch had been flipped, Dino became a mafia boss. “Stay back and let me deal with this!”

In three deft moves, Dino had immobilized the struggling Enzio with his whip. “Why don’t you sleep for a while, Enzio?”

Tsuna grinned as Leon slipped off his face. That was his big brother.

-

“Ahh,” Dino sighed, leaning against Tsuna’s bed. “I’m so glad that’s over.”

Tsuna sat down next to him. “Same.” They were silent for a moment. Tsuna glanced at Reborn, who returned it with an expectant look. You have to tell him sometime, you know.

Tsuna hesitated. Just… do it. “Dino… can I tell you something?”

“Sure, little bro.” Dino slung an arm around Tsuna’s shoulder. “Anything. After braving the terror of Enzio eating your bathtub, we’re pretty much family, right?”

Tsuna laughed lightly. “Yeah.”

“So, tell me. What’s up?”

He took a deep breath. Here goes everything—“Ever feel like… you’re just not ready for the future?”

Dino laughed. “Sure, all the time!”

“Well—I am. I’m completely ready for the future, and at the same time—I’m not.” (Words fail him. Useless, just like before.)

Dino frowned, trying to figure out his meaning. “What do you mean?”

Tsuna sighed, trying to quell his nervousness. (You’re the Tenth. Stop messing around.) “I don’t know if you’ll believe me. You have every right to ignore me after this, but I’m going to take a chance because you’re Dino, and I know you.”

“What’s going on?” Dino asked. “Reborn?” He glanced at his former tutor, who gave no inclination of help. “What’s going on?”

“I should start from the beginning,” Tsuna said, forcing himself to not fidget. “Before Reborn came, I had a weird dream. A really weird dream—like, it wasn’t even a dream, it was memories of my future.”

“What?” Dino stared at him. Tsuna could only imagine what he was thinking—is this kid crazy? And we chose him to be Tenth?

“I’m not crazy. I knew I was going to meet Reborn before I did. I knew exactly why he came here, even though I’ve never been told anything about my mafia dad. I know who my Guardians will be, even though I haven’t chosen them yet. And I know exactly what is going to happen in the future.”

“What…”

“The Ring battle,” Tsuna continued. “Xanxus will lead the Varia to take back the Vongola rings. You can’t deny they’re already on the move, right?”

“Yes, but you could have found that out from anyone else.” Dino had retracted his arm from Tsuna’s shoulder and was now staring at him with guarded apprehension. (It hurt.) “Tell me something you shouldn’t know.”

Tsuna thought for a moment. (Try to remember, will you?)

Ehh? Dino-san is asking Futa for help?—Lately in our area, a family called—“The Gospella Family,” Tsuna said suddenly. “They’re causing trouble because they’re passing firearms around and causing harm to civilians. You didn’t only come here to see Reborn and me; you’re looking for Ranking Prince Futa to purchase rankings on the Gospella Family. You want a list of their most influential weapons dealers.”

At Dino’s staggered look, Tsuna smiled. “Don’t worry—Futa’s going to be here in a few days, and he’ll give you your rankings. For no charge.”

“What…” Dino stared at him and rose suddenly, fury in his eyes. “If there’s a spy in the Family—”

“It’s true, Dino,” Reborn interrupted. “I wouldn’t have let Tsuna live if it was anything else.” He gave Tsuna a sharp grin.

Dino slumped back. “What am I supposed to say to that? Seriously, guys…” He ran his fingers through his hair, completely overwhelmed.

Tsuna waited a moment. (What must it be like, to find your whole world shaken?) “Sorry, I… I wanted you to know.”

“Why me?” Dino said. “Why not the Ninth, or even your Guardians? You’ve already told them, right?”

Shaking his head, Tsuna looked down. “Only you and Reborn.”

Dino gave a long sigh. “Well, thanks. Now you’ve put me in a hard spot.” He turned to Reborn. “You know I’ll have to tell Nono, right?”

What? Tsuna thought, alarmed. “You can’t tell him.”

"Why not?" Dino countered, eyes hard, mouth set. (This. This is the the Cavallone Tenth. This is the man you feared, and love, and know.) "He's your head. You should be telling him. But seeing as you haven't, now I have to."

“You’re not under his jurisdiction.” Was he? Was he? This was going horribly. (A future without the Cavallone Family staunchly allied to the Vongola…)

“No, but I am loyal to him, seeing as Vongola’s Ninth is pretty much the head boss back home.” Dino’s mouth pressed into a tight line. He stood up. “Thanks for the hospitality, Tenth. I should go now.”

No. No. 

(What is it like to have relationships crumble in your hands and slip through your fingers like sand?)

“You’re not loyal to him,” Tsuna gritted out. “You’re a mafia boss, but you’re not loyal to him.”

“Do you know what you’re saying, Tenth? That’s near treason—”

“You’re not loyal to him,” Tsuna continued, “because you’re loyal to the future.” Dino stared at him, uncomprehending. “When you swore an oath to become the head of your family, you swore to protect the future. I have the future. You swore.”

For many tense seconds they matched each other’s hard gaze. The moments crawled by, until Tsuna finally whispered, “Don’t tell him, Dino. Please.”

Dino stuck his hands in his pockets—a relenting gesture. “Fine,” he said. “I won’t.” He paused for a moment, and then lowered himself to the floor again. “What type of ally am I?” he muttered. “Not even listening to you. Making you beg. What type of…”

“You’re the best,” Tsuna replied, looking at him straight in the eye. “You always have been, you always will be. You’ll always be my brother.”

Dino gave a half-hearted shrug. After a moment, he looked up at Tsuna. “In the future. Am I… okay?”

(Bucking Horse Dino. Bravest, strongest, beloved. His name lives on.)

“The very best,” Tsuna said. “The absolute best. I’ve always looked up to you. Always. You were always there for me. You knew what I was going through, and what it would cost for you, and you still stuck with me, even as—” his voice broke. (Breathe, pause; continue.) “The future was bad. I don’t want it to happen again.”

(Blood, guts, flesh—when will it all stop? Fingers broken, lungs crushed—this is WAR, boys—)

Dino stared at him, but this time in understanding. After years of immersion in the mafia world—well, there was no way he wouldn’t guess what Tsuna was implying. (Dino laughs bitterly. “It’s like all of my worst dreams come true—”)

Drawing his knees to his chest, Tsuna leaned into Dino’s shoulder. “I’m still the same, kind of. I’m still completely stupid and useless, and I’m going to say things that I’m going to regret, and—”

“I get it.” Dino’s voice was unexpectedly gentle. “You still need me around, right?”

“Yeah.”

For a while they sat in that position—Dino sitting against Tsuna’s bed, Tsuna leaning on his shoulder, Reborn watching over them with a smile. For once, it seemed like everything was going to be okay.

-

Deep in an underground laboratory lit only by computer screens and flashing lights, Verde leaned back in his chair. Of all messages he’d received, this was probably the most interesting.

EIXX-293, it read. I KNOW YOU HAVE IT. WHY DON’T YOU PUT IT TO BETTER USE?

It was only signed V.X, but the implications were obvious. Who knew Vongola’s Tenth—just a kid, if he remembered—was so astute? Now to compose a reply… well, that was the difficult part. What to do, what to do.

Verde had always had his malicious streak (necessary, you know, for genius scientists). He didn’t mind seeing the world shaken for once…