“I-I was wondering, Kyoko-chan, if you aren’t doing anything tonight and have time and wouldn’t mind,” Sawada Tsunayoshi mumbled, face as red as a tomato, “w-would you have dinner with me tonight?”
He cursed his hesitance when it came to girls. Sure, he could save his future from the vice-like grip of destruction. Sure, he could pummel someone as strong as Xanxus into submission (or something like it, anyway, since Xanxus really wasn’t submissive in any way, shape or form.) And, sure, he could take on the likes of Rokudo Mukuro. But asking a girl out? He could barely stop stuttering long enough to get a full sentence out properly.
The frown on Kyoko’s face wasn’t exactly encouraging either. “I’m so sorry, Tsuna-kun, but Mochida-senpai already asked and I said yes.” She seemed genuinely sad and that eased the blow somewhat, if only a little. “Maybe some other time?” she offered kindly, never one to refuse her friends without feeling guilty afterwards.
Tsuna almost agreed but bit his tongue in the end.
Why did he keep putting himself through this? Kyoko was always, always misinterpreting his advances. She saw him as just a friend, but would that ever change? Could he make her see him in a different light? The fact remained she liked more out-going guys like Mochida, ones who were willing to change for her and not lose themselves in the process. She liked guys who weren’t him.
It was time to move on, he supposed. He needed to get over Kyoko before he did something stupid and messed up their friendship entirely. Plus, their school life at Namimori High would be ending in less than two years time. Did he really want those days to end on a bad note? He was still young; he still had a chance to find someone else to love, someone who could love him in return.
With a shake of his head, he declined her rain-check.
“How about we just go bowling with everyone tomorrow?” The words came easier now, no stumbling or stuttering or blushing. Instead, he felt strangely empty, unable to look Kyoko in the eye. He had lost; to himself, to Kyoko, and (with a small flare of jealous) to Mochida the jerk. A heavy sigh later and he forced himself to look at her, noting how worried she looked. She was probably wondering why his mood had suddenly changed, afraid she had upset him, one of her closest friends. He attempted a half-hearted smile to put her at ease. “What do you say, Kyoko-chan? Does bowling sound good?”
She grinned in return. “Great! I can’t wait to tell Onii-chan. He’ll be looking forward to it, too.”
“Is eight okay?” He furrowed his brows afterwards, considering. “Or maybe seven? I can see if I can talk Reborn out of our ‘quality time’ together.” The idea probably wasn’t the best nor the brightest, but he deserved a night off for once. It was a chance to take his mind off screwing up his last, self-imposed opportunity to ask Kyoko out. The failure stung, something in his heart clenching painfully, but he ignored it. Time would heal it, he figured. Time fixed everything.
If only, his subconscious whispered a bit too sarcastically. Like the pain, he shut that out as well. Time, he insisted, was all he needed.
Kyoko merely nodded with a small smile. “Seven sounds fine.”
“No. The answer is no. What were you thinking, Dame-Tsuna? I’d reorganize my schedule to suit your every whim?”
The questions were all rhetorical, but Tsuna answered them out of habit. “It’s just one night, Reborn. What’s the big deal? Everyone’s been working harder than ever, especially Gokudera-kun and Yamamoto. Don’t you think a break would be better than working ourselves into an early grave?” The last part was bit out sharply, the irony making him want to laugh. Weren’t they working so hard to prevent the exact opposite from happening?
Unfazed in the slightest, Reborn replied with a straightforward arrangement. “Finish your homework tonight with nothing less than a hundred percent and I’ll consider it. Anything less,” and here Reborn paused to allow a smirk that wasn’t quite a smirk to take shape, “well, you know what’ll happen.”
Tsuna gulped and rubbed instinctively at the back of his head. He knew all too well what Reborn was hinting at and knowing that, he could already guess it was going to be a long night.
- X -
Having fallen asleep a few measly hours beforehand, Tsuna wasn’t too thrilled to be disturbed from the relative sanctuary of his sleep, and thereby his dreams. The type of fantastical dreams wherein he was married to Kyoko and no crazy mafia existed to interfere; the typical, never-ever-going-to-happen-in-his-lifetime kind of stuff.
Abruptly, reality came crashing down on him, stifling and suffocating all at once. Then, the feeling was gone. Breathing in a lungful of air, he exhaled slowly, trying to calm his wildly beating heart and figure out what had woken him up. His gaze locked on a figure in his doorway and his eyes widened slightly. From what he could make out of the small face from the light in the hallway, the child hadn’t meant to wake him. The tiny frown, the hands twisting in the worn fabric of a night shirt, and the eyes lowered to the floor all proved the boy was sincerely upset he had bothered someone.
“What’s wrong, Fuuta?” he mumbled sleepily, starting to rise from his bed and covering a loud yawn in the process. “Morning already?”
The little boy blushed, still looking at the floor as if it was the most fascinating thing in the world. “N-No. I just …” Couldn’t sleep, was what that young face was saying.
Tsuna smiled a little. This wasn’t new to him. Living with three kids had taught him how to handle situations like this. “Trouble sleeping?” he supplied gently, stretching his stiff limbs in the process. “Do you want to talk about it?” He patted the spot beside him on the futon, letting Fuuta know he was welcome to have a seat as well.
A vigorous shake of a small head answered him. “But I-I shouldn’t bother Tsuna-nii.”
“Can you at least tell me what brought you back to Japan the other night, then?” Curiosity had gotten the better of him, but his intuition soothed the sudden apprehension after asking. It had been the right thing to say, a good way to approach matters without prying into the real reason Fuuta couldn’t sleep.
Fuuta’s slight nod was proof enough his intuition had been correct. “Scary things have been happening, Tsuna-nii,” the child admitted, taking tentative steps toward the promise of a warm bed and Tsuna. “Dino-nii said I shouldn’t worry Tsuna-nii, but he sent me here because it was too risky for my rankings to stay in Italy.”
The explanation made sense. Fuuta’s power could easily spell trouble in the wrong hands. The next few questions that raced through Tsuna’s mind weren’t ones Fuuta could answer, however. Questions such as: who was behind the trouble? Had things already taken a turn towards the future they had seen and prevented? Was there no way to stop what was to come? Unless … and here Tsuna grimaced. Would things keep heading down that path until he took care of that person in this era, too? That Byakuran …
But killing, a serious kill without any alternatives, how could he ask that of anyone? Let alone himself?
Not to mention, Byakuran was an average teenager here, just like him, and he hadn’t … done anything yet. To kill someone like that … how could he, his friends, or anyone willingly take a life without a second thought? He could recall the older Gokudera in front of him, shaking him, eyes clouded with bitter sadness. He could remember that man, so much more mature than his younger counterpart, telling him there was no need to hesitate.
He bit back the bile that rose in his throat. If only, he thought, if only I could forget what lays in wait.
“Tsuna-nii?” Fuuta had taken up a seat beside him by now, leaning into his side. “Is something wrong, Tsuna-nii? You look pale.”
The urge to admit yes, everything was wrong almost overruled reason, but he faltered. Softly, oh so softly, he whispered sweet words of comfort instead. “Everything’s going to be fine, Fuuta. Don’t worry.” The young boy made a sound of contentment as Tsuna affectionately ruffled his hair. “I’ll take care of anything that tries to hurt you,” he promised; a promise he meant and wouldn’t take back, not now. “No one’s ever going to hurt you, Fuuta. Not while I’m around.”
Fuuta seemed appeased, a sleepy yet contented smile lighting up his face. “As long as Tsuna-nii’s around, it will be okay, no matter what happens.” The simple admittance was mumbled, but Tsuna heard it clearly. The smile that took shape as he brushed back the boy’s hair couldn’t be stopped. To realize he meant so much to someone, it was still a somewhat foreign concept, but getting more familiar all the time. The smile, however, disappeared as a feeling of dread settled in the pit of his stomach, his body going numb. It finally hit him why Fuuta had woken up, why the boy had immediately sought him out, why the tired words had been spoken. Unconsciously, his free hand curled into a fist. If he had a say in the matter, he would prevent Fuuta’s nightmare from ever coming true.
A light snore broke him out of his thoughts and he chuckled a bit. After tucking the boy into bed, he headed to the bathroom to splash some cold water on his face.
Going back to sleep now would be pointless. Nightmares from another time, another place, would only come back to haunt him. He would save them for another night, when he had the courage to vanquish them for good.
- X -
“You look like hell. Warmed over, frozen, and then warmed over again.”
The commentary was testing his patience, but then again, Reborn was always testing his patience when he saw a perfectly good opportunity to do so. “And how would you know?” Tsuna asked innocently enough. “Been there for a visit, have you?”
The provocation worked, contorting Reborn’s expression into what could only be considered an angry scowl. The minute change in expression wasn’t exactly easy to make out, but after years of practice and watching Reborn for any signs of violence, he had learned to read Reborn’s not-quite-there emotions and what they meant. Nowadays he could pick up on the Arcobaleno’s mood changes faster than even Dino could, mostly in thanks to his intuition.
“Watch it,” the baby warned. “Putting me in league with Mukuro isn’t exactly how you should go about earning your freedom from tonight’s lesson.”
Tsuna winced at the reminder. Reborn had already known he wouldn’t succeed in obtaining a perfect score. It wasn’t fair, but neither was the world. He had a feeling Reborn was trying to teach him something in a roundabout way, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He was too tired, too drained from the previous night, and too fed-up with everything in general. “Like you’d really let me go,” Tsuna countered sullenly and then sighed, losing all motivation to continue on with his verbal attack. The lack of sleep was getting to him obviously; he wasn’t usually this bold (or cranky, for that matter) in the morning. Usually he had no problems getting his full eight hours, plus some. In a sane state of mind, this whole ‘talking back’ thing wouldn’t have even been considered, not when the person he was talking back to happened to be a miniature assassin. Another sigh and Tsuna mumbled out an apology, half hoping Reborn wouldn’t hear him.
“Just get going before you’re late to school.” He saw no reaction to his words. Maybe the Arcobaleno really hadn’t heard after all? “Next time you slip up, I won’t be as accommodating. At least not to a pathetic sorry. Am I clear?”
“O-Okay.” There was nothing else he could do but agree. Other options were likely to involve some form of torture.
Tsuna grinned tiredly at his friends, waving a small greeting.
“Tenth!” Gokudera exclaimed again, a flush of excitement to his cheeks. “You’re not going to believe this!” Either Gokudera had good news or he had beaten up yet another local gang of thugs. What ever it was, the other boy didn’t wait for further prompting before speaking once more, enthusiasm clear. “We’re going to Italy, boss!”
“That’s great, Gokudera-kun,” congratulated Tsuna, his attention elsewhere as he focused on climbing the stairs to the school. When he got to the top, he stopped dead in tracks. Gokudera’s words had finally caught up to him. “Wait, wait, wait; did you just say we?” He spun to face his Storm Guardian with realization dawning on his face. “Was it Reborn who told you this?”
Gokudera nodded, genuinely happy. “Yeah, sure was. I can’t wait to show the Tenth around! There’s this great place in Naples to eat -”
He was cut off by the much taller boy next him. “Is it just you and Tsuna going then?”
“Ya-Yamamoto!” Tsuna squeaked, having forgotten his other friend was there. He lowered his head in embarrassment. How could he have dropped his guard like that? Allowing himself to relax, forgetting other people happened to be around. It just proved how truly safe he felt around these two. He wasn’t sure if that was a comforting thought or one that banked too much reliance on others.
“No.” Gokudera’s expression soured. “Reborn’s offering the chance to all of the Guardians.” The silver-haired teen glanced briefly in Yamamoto’s direction. “Despite my objections, you’re invited as well, you stupid baseball freak.”
The words seemed to bounce right off the oblivious baseball player. “That’s great! It’ll be like another summer vacation.”
“It’s the middle of the school year, though,” Tsuna objected. “What in the world is Reborn thinking?”
“He’s thinking this would be an extreme opportunity to forge more brotherly bonds!” A new voice exclaimed enthusiastically. Tsuna groaned. “Sawada! Nice plan! Making Kyoko think we’re only going bowling like that! Tonight’s party is going to be extreme.”
Tsuna made to correct him, but Gokudera had already taken over before he could get in a single word. “Of course Tenth’s plan was brilliant, he’s the Tenth!”
“That’s what I just said, octopus head!”
“But you were being disrespectful in the way you said it, shitty lawn head!”
Nervously, Tsuna turned his attention to Yamamoto. The other boy was watching the argument with nothing short of amusement. “Shouldn’t we stop them?” the Vongola boss-to-be asked. A fight that was bound to escalate into physical violence, right here and now, would only end up attracting a lot of unwanted attention.
“That would be wise,” someone that was definitely not Yamamoto replied. “They’re disrupting the order of this school.”
Tsuna forced a half-hearted smile as Yamamoto laughed openly. Then, in a shaky voice that bespoke of his disconcertion around this particular person, the Vongola heir rambled out a quick, “Of course, Hibari-san, right away!”
“See that you do,” Hibari warned coldly, “or else there will be consequences.”
Why’s he always targeting me? Even in the future, he did this sort of thing! There was nothing for it, though. Together with Yamamoto, they restrained both Gokudera and Ryohei before explosives and fists could be exchanged.
“By the way,” Hibari spoke again, making Tsuna tense expectantly, “your departure to Italy … it will inevitably disrupt the peace of this town. If you do not return to Namimori, I will be forced to hunt you down.” Tsuna almost smiled out of genuine disbelief. Was that a hint of worry he heard? “If only to bite you to death for disorderly conduct.”
With that, the older boy left, his uniform flapping dramatically in the wind. Tsuna was too busy gaping at the unfairness that was Hibari to realize he had slackened his grip on Gokudera. Next thing anyone knew, Ryohei and Yamamoto were being escorted to the infirmary to have a mess of first-degree burns treated.
- X -
“Don’t give me that! What’s this about going to Italy?” Tsuna dropped his school bag on the floor of his room with a scowl directed at Reborn. Then, leaning on the nearest wall, he proceeded to repeatedly bang his head against it and mumble the entire time. “Why didn’t you tell me this morning? Why?”
“I was going to tell you tonight.” Was Reborn smiling? It was giving him the creeps.
Jerking a thumb to the window, purposely ignoring Reborn’s creepy smile, he demanded before he lost his nerve, “Explain right now why those three are outside my house, under the impression we’re all going to Italy?”
“Because we are. But not for the reasons I gave them.” The solemnity that overtook Reborn didn’t go unnoticed. “The Ninth requires your presence immediately.”
“And if I refuse?” challenged Tsuna, looking away. He had his own life here; wasn’t it his choice whether he decided to leave or not?
“Hmm. Are you sure? If you refuse, there will be repercussions. Imprisonment. Death. Torture. Take your pick. The price for disobeying direct orders is higher than you would be willing to pay, wouldn’t it?” Leon had shifted into a suitcase by now, Reborn starting to pack as if this sort of thing happened all the time. “My old suitcase is in the closet, make sure you have everything ready to go and soon.”
Resigned to his fate, Tsuna did as he was told and pulled out the suitcase buried under a pile of junk in the aforementioned closet. “When do we leave?” The apprehensive question was asked, Tsuna dreading the answer as he began sorting through his clothes.
“Tomorrow morning. Seven o’ clock sharp.”
“What? Why so soon?”
“Orders.” One word that explained everything and yet nothing in the most confusing of ways.
A few nagging thoughts in the back of his mind unsettled him greatly, forcing out another question. “What’s going on, Reborn?”
Through gritted teeth, Reborn admitted, “I don’t know.” Even Reborn didn’t know?
That unsettled feeling increased ten-fold.
“Tsuna! How’s it going up there?” He looked towards the window, startled. He had forgotten he had people waiting on him.
“Tenth, don’t let that baseball idiot rush you!” Resisting the urge to laugh, he allowed a small smile play along his lips.
“Sawada! Get down here! We’re going to be late to the extreme.”
The feeling of uneasiness washed away as he remembered his friends were behind him every step of the way. “Almost done, guys!” he called down to them, finishing off his packing as fast as he could. Snapping the locks into place, he tossed the suitcase carelessly onto his bed.
He was out the door within seconds, Reborn asleep on his shoulder.
- X -
The farewell party was in full swing when they arrived. Bianchi and Haru were arguing over the popularity of the newest cake store in town, while Kyoko ordered food at the concession stand. Streamers were everywhere, the place obviously rented out for the night. Some of the decorations were too bright to look at and some sported random phrases like ‘Happy Tenth Birthday’, or ‘Congrats, it’s a girl!’ Tsuna couldn’t help but laugh, the rushed look making it appear more unique in a strange sort of way.
“Tsuna-nii.” He looked down with a smile, reaching out a hand to rest atop light brown locks. “Do you really have to go, Tsuna-nii?”
“Good question.” His eyes went wide, looking to the person who had brought the boy over. “What’s going on, Tsu-chan?” His mother looked so confused, so lost. “Your father called this morning saying he needed you to fly overseas right away. He wouldn’t tell me why, though.” Her lips met in a thin line, barely stopping her frown of disapproval. “Do you really have to leave us like this?” Her voice was soft as she asked, almost a whisper, and Tsuna had to strain his ears just to make out the words.
Slowly, he nodded to both of their questions. He didn’t like it either, but accepting what needed accepting was his job now. He couldn’t get out of his new life; he didn’t want to anymore. As long as he had his friends and he could protect them with everything he had, that sort of life didn’t seem so bad. But that’s not all there is to it, his mind reminded him and he barely held back a grimace. “I have to,” he tried to explain, pleading for them to understand. He didn’t tell them why, conveying his conviction in those three words and praying they would accept it as he had.
They did, but their expressions showed their mixed feelings on the matter, enough to make Tsuna’s heart clench painfully in his chest. A tackle from behind had him distracted a split second later as someone clung to him. He would have fallen over from the sudden weight on his back if Fuuta hadn’t reached out and steadied him along with his mother.
“Tsuna-san! How could you leave your wife behind?”
Tsuna knew of only one person who would speak like that and go to such lengths. He gently tried to pry her off.
“I’ll be back in no time, you’ll see.”
The young woman was anything but convinced, even if she did let go. She wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket and he felt ten times worse upon seeing those tears. “Don’t cry, Haru. Tell you what,” he said after thinking something over, “I’ll give you this.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out an old, wrinkled paper charm. He held it out to her, smiling. “You can keep this. It’s a promise, okay? I’ll come back to get my good luck charm, no matter what. You’ll take good care of it for me, won’t you?”
Tears continued to fall as she accepted it, knowing how much it had meant to him, and offered her own watery smile in thanks. “A promise,” she agreed, breathing out a soft “ha-hi.” Clutching at the little piece of paper, she held it to her heart causing Tsuna to flush a little from embarrassment at her actions. “Haru knows Tsuna-san will come back to her now. It’s a promise.”
Tsuna didn’t know how to take her sincerity and settled for fighting back a blush long enough to reach out and gently squeeze her shoulder in a reassuring manner. “I knew I could count on you.” Then he pulled back before she could read too much into his actions. “I have to say goodbye to a few other people, so I’ll see you later Haru.”
He made his escape while he could. After a round of farewells, he had seen everyone present at the party – from Bianchi to Shamal to Hibari’s pet bird that seemed out of place among the humans in the bowling alley. Actually, it seemed out of place for another reason entirely. The bowling alley didn’t allow pets. He wasn’t sure how it had gotten in.
“I’ve got your shoes, Tsuna,” Yamamoto called, attracting his attention away from the wayward bird. “Let’s play. The little guy suggested a team battle. Want to be on mine?”
“As if he would want to!” Gokudera seethed. “Tenth and I are forming our own team. Aren’t we, Tenth?” It wasn’t easy to deny Gokudera anything when he made a face like that.
“Er, why don’t we form a team with Yamamoto?” suggested Tsuna meekly. “And we can ask Haru and Fuuta to join.”
“If that’s what the Boss wants,” Gokudera grudgingly acquiesced, “but when he messes up, I’ll make sure to win back the points.”
Yamamoto ignored the insult to his gameplay and handed the bowling shoes over to Tsuna. “What about Sasagawa and his sister?”
At the mention of Kyoko, Tsuna couldn’t hide his wince. “Let’s not bother them tonight. Kyoko-chan probably wants to spend time with senpai before we leave tomorrow.” Yamamoto and Gokudera exchanged glances over his head, but he pretended not to notice. “Maybe Bianchi will join us,” joked Tsuna to change the subject.
“Anything but that, Tenth!” pleaded Gokudera, and the moment where Tsuna had looked so sad was forgotten. Or that was what Tsuna would have liked to believe.
The party continued well into the night and Tsuna heavily suspected Reborn had something to do with that. He didn't call the mini-assassin on it, though. He had to enjoy these fleeting moments of peace, because he didn't know what awaited him in Italy. Everything was about to change, his intuition whispered to him. His earlier sense of foreboding returned full force that night when he laid his head down to rest. Nothing could last forever.