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Fifty Snapshots – Sun and Sky

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                Tsuna’s hands and knees sting when he goes down hard, hitting the asphalt with a smack as his books and bag spill all over the sidewalk.  Still, even at seven, it isn’t the newest scrapes on his palms that hurts the most and fills his eyes with tears; instead, it’s the mocking laughter and taunting voices around him that makes him wonder why life is worth living at all if this is all there is to it.




                “This is my Tuna-fish!”  The stupid idiot beside him beams, waving a photograph in the air like some sort of demented monkey.  Reborn can’t even compare the man to a dumb blond because that would be an insult to blonds everywhere.  However, he does spare a glance at the picture even though he’s not really paying any attention to the litany of gushing words coming from Iemitsu’s mouth.  He sees a tiny boy in the frame, small and doe-eyed and timid-looking, and he snorts with derision, downs the last of his coffee, and dismisses the child from his mind as unimportant and weak, a boy who will never amount to much.




                Tsuna brings home another bad grade, and his mother smiles and says it’s okay, but he’s not so stupid as to miss the disappointment in her eyes and the brief worried crease to her brow and the soft sigh she releases when she thinks he is out of earshot.  It makes Tsuna want to curl up in his bed under the blankets and never come out again because at least then, hidden in the safety of his room, he won’t be able to mess anything up, and nothing will be able to hurt him in return.




                Reborn looks around at the scatter of bloody corpses around him, and then turns to eye his main target scornfully.  The obese yakuza boss is whimpering on the ground, and Reborn smirks rather sadistically at how visibly terrified the man is even though Reborn is forty centimetres tall and stuck as a two-year-old.  When he raises his gun and points it at the begging, quivering mess in front of him, his hand doesn’t waver.  It hasn’t wavered in a very long time.




                Tsuna peers out at the blond-haired man walking around the house, goofing off and cracking jokes as Okaa-san giggles and looks at the man with adoring eyes.  The man is Tsuna’s father but the memories that Tsuna has of him are fuzzy at best.  His memory’s never been all that great though so maybe that’s why he can only recall booming laughter and a hazy face topped with yellow hair when he isn’t looking directly at the family picture on the coffee table.




                “I don’t wanna become a mafia boss, and you can’t make me!”  The petulant runt screeches, and Reborn inwardly rolls his eyes even as Leon morphs into a gun in his hand.  What he was thinking he agreed to train the next Chiavarone heir is now beyond him.  But he made a promise, and Reborn is a man of his word if nothing else, so he’ll stick with this assignment until Baka-Dino is fit to carry the Chiavorone Famiglia on his shoulders.  Still, after this, Reborn swears he won’t ever take on another babysitting job again.




                “Crowding is against school rules; clear out or I will bite you to death.”  Hibari’s cold tones snake into Tsuna’s ears, and when he looks up, all the bullies are gone, fleeing down the street as fast as they can.  Cautiously, Tsuna lifts his head even higher, only to flinch when he meets unimpressed grey eyes that stare back at him with disdain.  Still, he knows his manners so he manages to stammer out a thank-you as he cowers on the ground and hopes that the prefect won’t turn his tonfas on Tsuna.  However, Hibari only scoffs derisively and walks away, coat flapping behind him, and for some strange reason, Tsuna feels like he’s somehow disappointed even himself.




                Reborn watches the life dim and fade out from the last assassin’s eyes before turning to face his charge.  Dino is frozen in one corner of the room, twenty years old but still so useless without one of his subordinates around.  This incident wasn't particularly clean in its execution either, and the twelve assassins sent to kill Dino look more like roadkill than humans after Reborn interrupted their job.  Personally however, he doesn't really care about the bloodbath; instead, Reborn observes his student (who won’t be his student much longer; Dino’s about as capable as Reborn will ever be able to make him) with impassive eyes.  There’s a new wariness in the blond’s expression, one that comes and goes in the space of a breath, but Reborn catches it anyway, and it makes him pull out his phone and order in a cleanup crew just to have something else to do.  Dino looks at him in a way that is familiar to Reborn, guarded despite the trust between them, and coupled with just the faintest, tiniest glimmer of instinctive fear that Baka-Dino probably isn’t even truly aware of, now that the teen-turned-man has finally seen exactly what Reborn is capable of.


                Reborn doesn't care.  It was bound to come out sooner or later anyway.




                “Try harder next time, Sawada,” The teacher sighed as he slapped Tsuna’s math test down on his desk, and the rest of the class burst into sniggers.  Tsuna’s cheeks burn and he quickly whips the test out of sight, hunching in his seat as he stares miserably at his desk.  His eyes stay dry though; he’s long since stopped crying over idiotic things.  He doesn't look up again until the teacher moves on to the lesson of the day.  Out of the corner of his eye, he catches the subsiding laughter on his classmates’ faces, and breathes a sigh of relief.  Humiliation over for the day.  He ducks down to retrieve his math textbook, pausing for a second when he accidentally catches someone’s gaze.  Yamamoto Takeshi, he thinks, or something common like that.  The boy looks embarrassed, and glances away as soon as he realizes that Tsuna is looking at him.  Tsuna inwardly shrugs and flips open his textbook.  He ignores the odd painful twinge in his chest that somehow makes him feel just a little bit betrayed.




                “You're training another one then?”  Dino laughs brightly at the thought, dodging Reborn’s half-hearted bullet with ease.  “And here I thought you had sworn off teaching any more No-Good students.”


                Reborn huffs but returns Leon to his fedora.  “It’s a favour for the Nono, otherwise I wouldn't do it.  My next student looks even weaker than you used to be.”


                “But he’s supposed to be the Vongola Young Lion’s son,” Dino pointed out.  “Some of the genes must've been passed on at least.”


                “Hmph, I certainly hope not,” Reborn snorted.  “I told the Nono that if the boy shows any Iemitsu-tendencies, I have the right to quit.”


                “But you wouldn’t either way,” Dino grinned knowingly.  “The greatest hitman in the world doesn't quit at anything ’cause that’s the same as failure.”


                Reborn hops up and aims a kick at his cheeky ex-student.  Dino evades again but Reborn simply flips in midair and floors the Chiavarone boss with another kick to the skull.


                “You still have a long way to go, Baka-Dino,” Reborn lectures, reclining victoriously on top of Dino’s groaning carcass.


                However, Reborn is rather gratified to hear the good-natured grumbling from his former student who shows no real fear even when Reborn points a gun at him or beats him up per usual.  Even if the fear is still there ever since two years ago, at least it’s only buried in a tiny part of Dino’s subconscious.  The blond has grown quite a spine after all.


                Recalling the photos of his next student who looks about as wimpy as a human being can possibly get, Reborn doesn't know if he’ll be able to say the same for Sawada Tsunayoshi, even with the greatest hitman in the world there to shape him up.




                “Hiiee!!”  Tsuna shrieks when the deranged baby with the transforming lizard-gun fires a series of rounds at him like someone straight out of a mafia movie.  The last week has been hectic.  Tsuna can’t go a day without being kicked, shot at, electrocuted, or blown up, just because he makes a mistake in his homework (which happens often) or he oversleeps (though Reborn blasts him out of bed with electricity whether or not he does) or any and all number of things that Reborn feels like doing just because.  It’s ridiculous, dangerous, downright insane; his life is never supposed to be this crazy, it’s supposed to be boring and normal and safe, but Reborn won’t let him have that back, and Tsuna thinks that he could really hate that demanding baby hitman for doing this to him.




                The boy has potential.  It’s something even Reborn doesn't see until after Gokudera Hayato more or less proclaims himself to be Tsuna’s Right-Hand Man without any input from Tsuna himself, and after Yamamoto Takeshi is talked down from committing suicide also by Tsuna and joins their little group.  No, Reborn doesn't truly see potential in the boy until one average afternoon – weeks after the three teens become friends – and they are walking to Tsuna’s house, and a group of other kids decide that it is a good idea to cut them off at the school gates to jeer at both Gokudera and Yamamoto for hanging out with Dame-Tsuna nowadays.  Of course, Tsuna turns red and shrinks in on himself, looking embarrassed that the bullies are turning against two of the most popular kids at school because of him.  On the other hand, Gokudera growls fiercely like a guard dog while Yamamoto smiles a smile that puts a dangerous gleam in his eyes, and both boys begin ushering Tsuna around the gang of students.


                And then, because of the lack of any real attention towards their antics, the bullies do something stupid: they recall everything they know about Gokudera and Yamamoto (which actually isn’t much), and they twist them into malicious barbs.  The ringleader brings up Gokudera’s smoking habits and penchant for getting into fights (“Bet your parents get tired of putting up with a delinquent son.”), and he takes a jab at Yamamoto’s near-jump from the school roof mere weeks ago (“If it only took Dame-Tsuna to stop you from jumping, you must've just stood up there to get people to pity you for breaking your arm.”).


                Children can be cruel.


                Gokudera and Yamamoto turn white.


                And Tsuna sees, and he goes very, very still.


                Even Reborn is surprised when his student forcibly shoves his two friends behind his small frame before facing down the instigator.


                “Don’t- Don’t talk to Gokudera-kun and Yamamoto like that!”


                It doesn’t even sound like a threat, and there’s a shaky note of nervousness in Tsuna’s voice, but both Gokudera and Yamamoto look stunned because Tsuna is neither one to yell nor one to confront someone so openly (or at all).  Naturally, the bullies just laugh and jeer some more.


                Tsuna retaliates.  He glances behind him at the school and then darts forward, aiming for the boy standing on the far right instead of the ringleader, and rips the kid’s bag from his startled hand.  The contents scatter across the sidewalk even as Tsuna backs away.


                Reborn is just a bit impressed because three packs of cigarettes and a small unmistakeable bag of cocaine comes tumbling out along with books and papers, and not half a second later, Hibari comes swooping in like some vengeful bird of prey, no doubt having been alerted by all the noise.  He takes in the drugs, takes in the bullies’ horrified guilty faces, puts two and two together, and proceeds to tear into the group with vindictive fervour.


                In the aftermath, Tsuna drags Gokudera and Yamamoto away, leaving the screaming teenagers to Hibari’s not-so-tender mercies.  Predictably, he reddens when Gokudera showers him with praise and thanks and asks him how he knew that that boy carried drugs, all while looking at Tsuna with warm gratitude glowing in his eyes, and Yamamoto slings a friendly arm around his shoulders and smiles a smile that lights up his face.  Neither of them pay any mind to Tsuna’s stammers of “I- I really didn't do much!”.


                Reborn observes all this from his perch in a nearby tree, and he finally sees the boy’s potential.




                There are days when Tsuna doesn't understand how this is his life now.  Reborn forces him to do better at school (or else), chaos abounds wherever he goes, and for a reason that he just can’t figure out, the people he meets these days all tend to stick around and not leave.  There’s Gokudera and Yamamoto who absolutely refuse to leave him alone and are his first friends since forever, Bianchi (who admittedly stays more for Reborn than anyone else), Haru (whom Tsuna is still kind of afraid of), Hibari (who’s also more interested in Reborn than Tsuna’s expanding group), I-Pin (who’s feeling frighteningly more like a younger sister to Tsuna with each passing day), Lambo (who is incapable of being quiet for more than five minutes when he is awake, and also nabs the status of Tsuna’s exasperating younger brother), Onii-san and Kyoko-chan (who are opposites in practically everything but equally protective of each other), Dino (who is Reborn’s former student and managed to survive it; Tsuna looks up to him a great deal), and even Shamal (who insists he’s staying in town for all the beautiful women).


                Still, none of them leave.  They say hi to Tsuna when they see him, including Bianchi who has cut down on the death threats, and Shamal who still laments Tsuna’s gender but is generally amicable enough.  The people he goes to school with eat lunch with him at least a few times a week (excluding Gokudera and Yamamoto who eat lunch with him every day), and Tsuna is suddenly no longer just Dame-Tsuna, the boy who was picked on and shunned by everyone.


                (He thinks that for this, he can hate Reborn just a little less than he does.)




                It was an uphill climb for Reborn to polish Dino into a mafia boss.  It’s a Mount Everest climb to get Tsuna to simply do.  Oh, the kid obeys, with a mix of shrieking and whining and running around (or away, depending on the day and the situation), but Reborn can’t shake the feeling that it’s just harder with Tsuna.  Which doesn't make any sense because Tsuna is just as bad as Dino used to be, and Reborn implements the exact same methods to train his second student, yet he still finds himself tired at the end of each week when he never was – not to this extent – with Dino.  Maybe it’s because Tsuna is Vongola, and that makes all the difference.  The kid draws people into his sphere of influence without being aware of doing so at all, which means Reborn has to juggle all of them as well.  It’s exhausting at times, but it’s a gratifying sort of exhaustion, the kind that he feels after accomplishing something difficult, and as each week passes and someone new – Reborn-invited or not – sticks their nose into Tsuna’s life and promptly loses any wish to skip back out of it, Reborn begins to think that it’s not such a bad thing that he agreed to the Nono’s request after all.




                Tsuna’s mom cries sometimes.  He has known this since he can remember.  It’s always because of his dad.


                The first few times, it frightened him because no little kid ever wants to hear their parents cry, never mind the fact that Sawada Nana has never been a woman who cries easily.  And those first few times, he remembers busting into her room and bursting into tears as well even as she tries to comfort her, which only makes her stop crying and force a smile on her face for him, so eventually, Tsuna learns, and he simply settles for sitting outside her bedroom door to listen, never creeping away until the tears stop.  It hurts his heart and makes him feel like he’s sharing her pain – helping – even though he knows he’s not.


                Now is one such time, though to be fair, ever since the kids came to live with them, his mother has been much better.  Bianchi is sleeping in the guest room, Reborn, Lambo, and I-Pin are sleeping in his room, and Tsuna is curled up outside his mother’s bedroom in the hallway, wrapped in a blanket as he listens to her quiet sobs.  It’s times like this that he resents his father, who – Tsuna suspects – hasn’t really ‘become a star’.  Tsuna’s mom would've been far more crushed when she told him that if Sawada Iemitsu really did die.


                Tsuna doesn’t hear him coming, but then he never does.  Still, when he shifts, he catches sight of sharp ebony eyes scrutinizing him from two feet away.  For once, Tsuna doesn't jump and yelp.  He just looks right back at the baby hitman because this is his time for his mom, and if Reborn tries to order him back to his room, well, Tsuna may be weak and cowardly and stupid but he will stare down God himself for his mom (because no one else will), and while Reborn comes terrifyingly close, his tutor isn’t God.


                Reborn doesn't try to order him to do anything though.  Instead, the hitman looks at him for a second longer with something that may-have-been-kind-of-sort-of-almost approval before turning around and disappearing back into Tsuna’s room, presumably to go back to sleep.


                The next morning, everything is back to normal (or Tsuna’s version of normal nowadays which sure as heck doesn't even come close to normal anymore), and neither of them ever mentions Tsuna’s occasional night ritual to anyone.




                Reborn starts to get just a little worried when Fuuta arrives and a phone call from the Nono instructs him to tell Tsuna that it’s his responsibility to apprehend the group of convicts that have waltzed into town.  Reborn doesn't know what Timoteo is thinking; Tsuna isn’t ready.  The kid’s getting there, inch by agonizingly slow inch but he’s been a civilian up until a few months ago, and to toss him into battle against a bunch of Vendicare escapees does not sit well with Reborn.  Still, he has his orders, so he hides his reservations and steps up his student’s training instead, steps up his student’s friends’ training, and watches silently as deepening worry lines age Tsuna’s face more and more after yet another student is sent back bruised and beaten and bloody.  It doesn't seem to matter whether or not Tsuna knows them personally, though when Sasagawa Ryouhei comes back in much the same condition, the kid’s eyes take on a haunted look.


                Tsuna is too compassionate most of the time, Reborn decides, and people like him are usually unfit for the mafia life, so the worst thing of all is that Reborn suspects that this particular trait of his student is exactly what both the Nono and Iemitsu are banking on.




                Outwardly, Tsuna is anxious and scared.  Inwardly, Tsuna is terrified out of his mind.  But Gokudera and Yamamoto and Bianchi are the physical manifestations of full-steam-ahead enthusiasm and unruffled bravery as they amble into Kokuyo Land like they're simply out for a fun day at the amusement park so Tsuna forces himself to go on as well.  Letting his friends go by themselves is unthinkable, not to mention that they need to find Fuuta who’s just a little kid, and if that means facing his fears and confronting the bad guys in the insanity that his life has become, then so be it.




                It’s surprisingly hard to stay out of the fight as Reborn watches Rokudo Mukuro toss Tsuna around like a ragdoll, only for Tsuna to get up again and again and again.  His student’s tenacity is impressive, and it makes Reborn that much prouder.  Still, Tsuna’s increasingly battered form makes something in his gut twist uncomfortably, makes him restless, and it results in him glancing repeatedly at Leon, silently willing his animal partner to hurry.




                Mukuro looks at him with cynical anger and bitter hatred and – even now – an empty, hollow smile, and Tsuna can’t bring himself to return any of those dark, ugly emotions (not even after the older teen possesses his friends) because none of it is directed at him, for all that he is the one Mukuro is fighting against.  Even after he’s down and out, even after Tsuna has won (though it doesn't really feel like a victory, not with everyone injured and his enemies who are Tsuna’s age clapped in chains and hauled away), Mukuro doesn't really care about Tsuna one way or the other at the moment; he’s too busy raging at the world that has shown him nothing but pain, treated him so unfairly that he can’t find it in himself to trust even those who have shown him loyalty.  So in the end, it’s sympathy Tsuna feels – and the funny urge to protect them even though he can’t and shouldn't – as he watches the Vindice drag those sad, broken boys away.




                Tsuna’s first question after he wakes up is, “Are Gokudera-kun, Yamamoto, Bianchi, and Hibari-san okay?”  His second question, after receiving a positive affirmation for the first, is, “What will happen to Mukuro and his friends?”  This one, Reborn brushes off with a, “They’ve been sent back to jail for the time being.”


                And then, as soon as Tsuna is on his feet and fully healed again, and badgering Reborn about the fates of the convicts once more, Reborn tries to break that habit.  Because it’s a dangerous habit to have; empathizing with one’s enemies never turns out well, and Tsuna will drown in the mafia if he relies on his heart too much.


                It doesn't work of course, and Reborn is partially to blame.  After all, he’s the one who’s been hammering steel into his student’s spine for the past several months, and these days, when it comes to something Tsuna truly believes in, the kid can become annoyingly obstinate about it.


                So Tsuna continues to ask from time to time, and Reborn continues reprimanding him for asking.  Human kindness rarely survives in their world, and those that do never does for long, especially when you're Vongola.  Vongola is drenched in blood and sins despite the fact that it started out as a vigilante group, and Reborn is certain that it will crush his student under the weight of it if Tsuna doesn't harden his heart, doesn’t distance himself from feeling too much, doesn't change.


                Iemitsu should know this, the Nono should know this, and Reborn begins to see their gamble: either Tsuna will save Vongola, or Vongola will destroy Tsuna.




                After the whole Mukuro incident, the tension that has been brewing like an oncoming storm above Namimori clears, leaving sunny skies and relieved laughter.  Gokudera and Yamamoto guard Tsuna extra close for the next week or so, Onii-san insists on asking at least once a day whether or not they are sure that their injuries are extremely healed, and even Hibari patrols the block that Tsuna lives on a little more often than usual for the following few days even though Tsuna is certain that the prefect won’t ever admit it even on pain of death.  For his part, Tsuna is sore and tired and still secretly concerned about Mukuro, Ken, and Chikusa, but he’s happy too – thrilled and astonished – because he honestly has no idea how he managed to get so many people to worry about him.  It’s a heady feeling, and the part of him that he hides away from the rest of the world at the bottom of his heart, the part that is still waiting for everyone to get tired of putting up with Dame-Tsuna, realize that they can do so much better than him, and leave – that part of him relaxes just a little.




                Reborn can barely hold back the urge to slam his head against the nearest wall when he gets a phone call from Iemitsu telling him multiple pieces of bad news all at once: a struggle for the Vongola Rings has cropped up, the Nono is acting oddly, and – the kicker in this entire clusterfuck of a situation (pardon his language) – the opposing faction looking to challenge Tsuna for the throne (or steal it) is none other than the no-longer-frozen Xanxus, Nono’s fourth son, and the elite members of the Varia.  There are – on occasion – times when Reborn thinks that Timoteo should’ve retired by now (no offense to the man), especially ever since the Vongola boss has had to resort to freezing his own son to prevent losing control of his Famiglia.  This is one of them.




                ‘Not again,’ is what Tsuna thinks with a sinking heart in the aftermath of Superbi Squalo’s assault on him and his friends.  There’s nothing he can do to stop it though, nothing he can do but go along with what Reborn wants, what Tsuna’s father wants, what the Ninth wants, and Tsuna wants to know why he doesn't have any say in his life anymore just because of his thrice-damned lineage.  Nevertheless, there’s currently an assassination squad after Tsuna all because they want the top dog position that Tsuna doesn't want at all (seriously, this Xanxus person can have it), but apparently, that isn’t an option, so all Tsuna can do now is sigh, gather together the near-nonexistent amount of bravado he possesses, and resign himself to the inevitable.




                Reborn is proud.  Strangely enough, he feels that sentiment more and more often even though he started out with the firm belief that Sawada Tsunayoshi is a near-hopeless case.


                But it’s hard not to be when his student watches his Guardians fight with eyes full of anxiety and a heart full of faith.  When Ryouhei comes out with injuries that will eventually all go away, and Tsuna is almost boneless with the force of his relief.  When the stupid cow rushes into his battle with reckless abandon, and Tsuna frets and stops the fight even though it will put them behind.  When Gokudera considers placing winning above his own life, and Tsuna’s long-fused temper snaps and he all but orders his Right-Hand out of the arena.  When Yamamoto tries to save Squalo, and approval and open admiration flash across Tsuna’s face.  When Chrome falls, and Tsuna panics, and when Mukuro appears, and Tsuna recoils with horror but worries all the same.  Even when Hibari tears through his robotic opponent only to unknowingly trigger a trap after being goaded into it by Xanxus, and Tsuna never once even considers blaming his Cloud Guardian for it.  Instead, all his fury simply hones itself into the finest of blades and directs all of its lethality at Xanxus with single-minded intensity.


                How can Reborn possibly be anything but proud when Tsuna claws his way to victory, fighting tooth and nail against a much tougher opponent despite all his misgivings before the Ring battles?


                And yes, Reborn has had a hand in that, guiding the kid, putting him through his paces, making him stronger, yet when Tsuna creates his own version of Primo’s Zero Point Breakthrough, and emerges triumphant, standing on his own two feet with Sky Flame eyes and tired but resolute features, Reborn can’t help thinking, for the very first time since he laid eyes on that little midget of a boy in that picture Iemitsu once showed him, ‘He’s strong.  And he’ll only grow stronger.’




                Tsuna doesn't know why every single one of the enemies he has had to fight always has to have such a sad background.  Why couldn't they just be lunatics bent on world domination?  At least then – hopefully – Tsuna wouldn't have trouble sleeping for days after the violent confrontations and subsequent healing is over.  He acquired short-term insomnia after the Mukuro debacle, and now it’s back after the Varia disaster.  It will take a few more days before his brain can settle and his regular sleeping patterns return.  Right now, all he can do is lie in the dark and go over every fight and cause for those fights in painstaking detail (he doesn't kid himself by thinking that Reborn doesn't know he is still awake even though the baby hitman is already blowing a bubble in his hammock).


                True, Tsuna was angry at Xanxus for locking up his own father in that Gola Mosca, but most of that disappeared after their fight.  Instead, he’s more inclined to feel irritated on Xanxus’ behalf now, and doesn't that just take the cake.


                Fathers.  Who needs them?  Certainly not Tsuna; he grew up all the same without one.  Still, it stung when Tsuna found out that Sawada Iemitsu picked Vongola over his family, and only comes home when it suits him (he came home this time for work after three years of not visiting Tsuna’s mom), never the other way around (and for some stupid, stupid reason, it stings all the more when he realizes that Reborn knew all along and didn't tell him, which is just stupid because Reborn has no obligation to tell him anything, none at all).  So Tsuna can relate, just a little, to what Xanxus must've gone through after discovering that he is adopted and that no one ever told him.  Tsuna thinks that the man would probably have taken it better if the Ninth – Xanxus’ father – had never lied to him to begin with, had simply come out with the truth from the very start and still treated Xanxus like a son, even if that would've taken the child-Xanxus a little longer to give his trust to his surrogate father.  Even if it takes more time, more work, Tsuna thinks that it’s far better to forge a bond built on truths than to forge one built on lies.  If Tsuna was in Xanxus’ place, he’s fairly certain that that is what he would've preferred.


                There’s nothing anyone can do about it now though, and while Tsuna can empathize with the Varia leader when it comes to the father issue, he does hope that Xanxus – embittered as he is – can still patch things up with his dad, or at least come to trust the old man again (and with any luck, said old man won’t mess up a second time).


                Because Tsuna doesn't know if he’ll be able to do the same with his own father.  Sawada Iemitsu has never been around long enough to forge anything with Tsuna so they have no basis at all.  Even now that he’s back in Namimori, all Tsuna’s dad does when he’s at home is laze around in the living room with a can of beer; the only other time Tsuna has seen him is during the Ring battles.


                (And in the deepest, darkest part of his mind, Tsuna can confess to feeling jealous of Basil, who is more of a son to Iemitsu than Tsuna’s ever been, and he feels guilty for this too because the other teen is a good friend and a good person, and despite being a year older, Basil still looks at him with a respect that Tsuna doesn't know how he earned or why he deserves it.)


                Fathers.  Tsuna can live without one, but some tiny part of him, pushed aside and mostly forgotten, wishes he doesn't have to.




                The events go like this:


                It is about as ordinary a day as a day can ever get (even by Vongola standards).  It has been two months since the Varia fiasco.


                Reborn is walking down the street with Tsuna and the cow, mentally plotting the next tortur- training session for his student come this weekend.


                Then the stupid cow gets upset.  Again.


                The Ten-Year Bazooka is pulled out.  Again.


                This time, it flies at Reborn, and he is prepared to move out of the way with plenty of time to spare.


                That doesn't happen because he can’t move, and before even his mind can figure out why, pink smoke fills his vision, and he is whisked away into the future.


                A future that-


                “What do you mean Tsuna is dead?”  Reborn’s voice comes out flatter than he anticipates, and colder than anyone else in the room is visibly comfortable with if their minute flinching is anything to go by.  Right now, he can honestly say that he doesn't give a damn.


                It doesn't come as too much of a surprise that his student has indeed become Vongola Decimo.  What does come as a shock is that Tsuna is now dead barely a decade into the future.


                Twenty-four years old.  Out of all the Vongola bosses, Tsuna is apparently the youngest to die.


                Reborn ignores the news of his own death (he is old compared to his student, has lived a much longer life, not to mention he’s a hitman and he knows that death is always hovering on the horizon), and listens to Bianchi and Fuuta’s shaky recount of Tsuna’s assassination instead.


                Because it is an assassination, and at the hands of some unknown Millefiore sniper at that.  That Byakuran kid didn't even have the decency to kill the Decimo himself.


                But then Reborn hears how all of Tsuna’s Guardians were ordered out of the country, on missions, on vacation to see Nana, and the Varia was given the same instructions as well.  Tsuna went to meet the Millefiore alone, and met his end alone, and not even Reborn was there because the Anti Tri-ni-set Radiation had confined him to the Vongola mansion months ago.  The other Arcobaleno – Lal Mirch excluded – were already dead.  Reborn had outlasted Tsuna just long enough to attend the Decimo’s funeral before finally succumbing to the radiation himself.


                ‘Tsuna went to that meeting to die,’ Reborn concludes silently, furiously, not bothering to say it out loud because it is clear that his student is still being mourned to this day.  ‘But why?’


                The death tugs at him, tugs at the guilt in the pit of his stomach that he has long thought to be far beneath him, and it even tugs at a heart that he has always thought to be too well-guarded, too carefully hidden away under lock and key, to do him any more harm at his age.


                (It’s only now that he consciously realizes that Tsuna has affected even him, and he doesn't know whether to laugh or shoot something at the fact that it has taken him this long to recognize just how far his student has already snuck past Reborn’s walls.)


                There’s nothing he can do to change what has happened though; all he can do is wait and see what will happen next.


                Six hours, forty-eight minutes, twenty-two seconds and counting later, with absolutely no sign of Reborn returning to his time, Giannini’s computers identify the fourteen-year-old Sawada Tsunayoshi in the forest where Vongola Decimo’s coffin rests, and Reborn knows that whatever plan future-Tsuna has cooked up prior to his death is about to begin.




                The future is horrible.  That’s the only thing Tsuna can think of to summarize the place they've been sent to.  At the moment, he’s sitting in the kitchen, the lights are off, and he’s nursing a mug of hot chocolate that he maybe kind of wishes to be something stronger.  Which is just great because now that makes him sound like his dad.  Which sucks because Tsuna has never wanted to be like his dad.  It’s an overall depressing thought.


                Not as depressing as the world they've been sent to via the Ten-Year Bazooka though.  One of these days, Tsuna is seriously going to find a way to destroy that weapon once and for all.  Having already weighed the two, he still thinks he’d rather face death threats from the Bovino for property damage than risk getting jumped to an apocalyptic future or something every time he turns around.


                This one’s not an apocalyptic future but it’s pretty darn close.  They’re hiding underground, in a secret base, fitting in training into every hour they can spare, in the hopes of defeating a powerful mafia Family out to murder them all.


                He has asked before, he will ask again, and more than likely, he will continue asking for the rest of his days on planet earth (which, come to think of it, currently has an alarmingly high possibility of being numbered): how is this his life?


                Tsuna sighs and rests his forehead against the cool surface of the dinner table.  He isn’t sure because he doesn't talk this way out loud, but lately, he thinks that his mind has become somewhat more... outspoken.  Not to mention he’s slowly becoming desensitized to all the mayhem around him day in and day out.  He isn’t certain whether or not that’s a good thing.


                “You should be asleep, Dame-Tsuna.” A disembodied voice scolds from somewhere to his left, and Tsuna jumps, flails, and almost falls out of his chair.


                “Hiiee!!”  Tsuna squeaks, making an effort to keep his voice down even as he comes down from his near heart attack.  “Reborn!  Don’t do that!”


                Reborn, now standing on top of the table in front of him, just levels a bland stare at him.  “A mafia boss shouldn't be so easily startled.”


                The only reason Tsuna doesn't roll his eyes openly is because he doesn't want to get shot.  He settles for rolling his eyes on the inside, and still gets the feeling that Reborn knows exactly what he’s doing.


                “I’ll go to bed in a bit,” Tsuna relents when Reborn just continues looking at him.  “I just felt like drinking some hot chocolate first.  I'm fine here by myself; you can go back to sleep.”


                Again, his tutor just gives him Reborn Stare #7: Who The Hell Do You Think You’re Trying To Fool Because It’s Definitely Not Working On Me, coupled with Reborn Arched Eyebrow #1: You’re A Hundred Years Too Early To Be Ordering Me Around.  Tsuna huffs.


                “...I don’t want to be a mafia boss,” Tsuna finally says for what must be the gazillionth time since Reborn showed up all those months ago.


                Reborn certainly thinks so if the hitman’s scoff is anything to go by.  “Is now really the time to be saying this, Dame-Tsuna?”


                For once, Tsuna doesn't continue his denials on the subject at hand.  Instead, he just rocks back on his chair to stare up at the ceiling.  He thinks, grimly, that his future self must've taken one too many hits over the head via Leon-hammer, number one reason being that... well.  He became a boss.  Of a mafia organization.


                Which.  What.


                Even with all the insane mafia things going on around him, Tsuna still has zero plans on becoming a Mafioso.  And even if – and that’s an if of epically colossal proportions – if he one day does become Vongola Decimo (the odds of which – at times – are so outrageously low that they borderline on comical), then-




                Frankly, if he thinks about it long and hard, it’s not the prospect of becoming a criminal or even the fact that criminals like Mafioso usually end up killing someone sooner or later (though that does play a rather large part in the reason) that really bothers him.  It’s more the fact that Tsuna just doesn’t want to do something intrinsically wrong.


                He knows that the world isn’t coloured black and white, that there are battlefields of grey in between (he figured this out long ago; it’s always been something he has innately understood before it was reinforced even further after going head to head against Mukuro and Xanxus), but becoming a mafia boss means crossing lines that Tsuna knows he will never want to cross, that he won’t cross, short of absolutely, desperately needing to cross them to save his family or friends, and even then, he’d like to look at other options first.


                However, becoming a mafia boss will undoubtedly mean making decisions that would benefit the Family, a mafia organization, and even Tsuna knows that you don’t benefit a criminal syndicate by donating to orphanages or saving puppies from burning buildings.  More likely, needless blood would be spilled or vengeance carried out or taking innocent hostages just to make an enemy surrender.  Tsuna would be required to do those things.


                And Tsuna can’t do that.  Right now, he knows it’s wrong, he knows his own ethics won’t allow him to do anything of the sort, but if he enters the mafia and things undoubtedly get much tougher, and the stakes get that much higher, when will all those wrong choices start becoming okay in his mind?  When will he start excusing them in his head and convincing himself that doing it once or twice would be alright, that the ends justify the means?


He doesn't want to drown in the mafia, doesn't want his moral compass skewed, and that’s why he won’t become a mafia boss.


(That’s also why he doesn't understand his future self’s decision to become exactly that.)


                “I don’t want to be a mafia boss,” He repeats out loud one more time, gaze skittering back to his tutor even as he stands up and downs the last of his chocolate.


                And for all that Reborn can pretty much read his mind, and is the human equivalent of the Devil himself, Tsuna doesn't think that the expert hitman can understand all the things Tsuna has left unsaid behind that simple, much-repeated vow.




                Tsuna side-eyes his tutor who is uncharacteristically weaponless even though Tsuna has just denounced his intentions yet again to become what half the world seems to expect him to be.  However, Reborn only surveys him with unreadable eyes instead, like maybe he’s actually listening – really listening – to Tsuna for the first time since he began his constant mantra of what his future career won’t be, and Tsuna thinks – hopes – that his tutor might finally be starting to hear what Tsuna has been saying without words all this time.




                Reborn inwardly fumes as he watches Genkishi nearly kill Tsuna.  Not for the first time, it reminds him of how restricted he is in this world due to the radiation, to the point where he can’t even go to his student’s aid.  Reborn is all for tossing Tsuna into the deep end and letting him fend for himself, but only when Reborn is there to cut in just in case Tsuna truly needs assistance.  In this future world however, he can only watch and give advice from the safehouse, and it’s frustrating to have to wait and hope that his student and his Guardians will get out of the enemy’s base alive.


                Later, when the truth is revealed, Reborn grudgingly agrees with Irie and future-Tsuna’s plan to test them and train them by throwing them into all the battles in the base, yet at the same time, it makes him want to kill something because in the aftermath, Tsuna looks about as bad as he did after Xanxus beat him into the ground, perhaps worse because while Xanxus didn't care whether or not Tsuna died, only that the other Decimo candidate was defeated, the enemies Tsuna has faced in this future thus far were all out to kill him, and it was a terrible gamble for future-Tsuna to take.


                It makes Reborn wonder if something even worse will happen if his student’s future self is willing to risk his younger self and the younger versions of all his friends in this manner.


                It also makes him wonder just how different future-Tsuna is because Reborn knows that his fourteen-year-old student (who has already pledged to all nine Vongola bosses before him that he will destroy Vongola itself rather than continue its bloody legacy) would never agree to put his friends in danger like this, much less those who can’t even fight like Kyoko and Haru and the children, all for the sake of Millefiore’s downfall so that Vongola will survival.  Tsuna would've thought of another way.


                So knowing all this, it makes Reborn wonder further just how badly the mafia world has ruined Sawada Tsunayoshi ten years into the future.


                (And he feels just a little bit sick when he thinks about it, so he doesn't, because he is beginning to see that whatever kind of person Tsuna has become in the future, it is Reborn – not Iemitsu, not even the Nono – who will have had a direct hand in moulding him into it.)


                (Kindness has no place in the mafia, no matter how much Timoteo is depending on it to wash away Vongola’s sins, so it makes Reborn feel just a bit like scum when he realizes that he will most likely have to drain some of that kindness away one day, if only to ensure that Tsuna will be able to survive in the underworld in the first place.)


                (But it’s his job to shape Tsuna into a Vongola boss, and Reborn has never failed to carry out a job.)




                It hurts.  It hurts when Reborn attacks them so ruthlessly, even if it’s just a trial, just a test, but Tsuna can’t fight back, can’t find the resolve to do so even as his friends are taken down one by one, because every fibre of his being tells him that Reborn means them no true harm, that it’s just a trial, just a test, not even a spar, more of a punishment, and Tsuna can’t fight back when that’s the only reason because somewhere along the way, Reborn has become something more than just his sadistic tutor whom Tsuna is supposed to hate.


                If Reborn is honestly out to slaughter them, then Tsuna thinks he would be able to muster up enough determination to strike back to protect himself and his friends, but Reborn isn’t, and that makes all the difference.


                Still, it hurts to see Reborn looking at him so coldly, a glint of disappointment in his eyes as he fires off another half a dozen shots at Tsuna, all meant to injure, none meant to kill, and even as Tsuna defends as best he can, watching his friends fall one by one, he makes a choice.


Spars don’t count, training doesn’t count, and even if they do, then with the exception of those, Tsuna swears that he will never truly raise a hand against anyone he considers friend and family, no matter how much they might try to force him into doing so.  It is not in his nature, and even if that makes him stupid or naive or far too stubborn, he’ll stick by that decision until the end.


This trial set by Reborn isn’t a spar, isn’t even training, just a stupid trial that his stupid tutor has stupidly decided to test them with when he could've picked something else – anything else – to assess Tsuna’s leadership skills, and Tsuna’s intuition tells him with absolute certainty that Reborn isn’t the enemy no matter how much the hitman orders them to pretend he is, and Tsuna just can’t, so he refuses.


A moment before he blacks out, he gives Reborn his first and best glare, and he hopes that that will convey to his tutor everything he doesn't have the guts to say out loud.


(However, for the future, for his friends, Tsuna might dredge up enough courage to ask for a rematch later, and he hopes he will be able to trick himself into pretending that it is just a spar next time.)


                But then, after Verde’s trial, Reborn – who has never backed down from anything, has never changed his mind once he settles on a verdict, and is about the most obstinate person Tsuna has ever met in his entire life – relents and gives Tsuna a pass on the Trial of Leadership for his actions on the beach against Verde’s experiments.


Tsuna knows – with the same certainty that he knows the sky is blue and the sun will rise again in the east tomorrow – that Reborn didn’t choose to pass him on a whim, that the tutor truly thinks he has earned it because the baby hitman would never settle for anything less, but at the same time, Tsuna wonders if Reborn saw his decision that day that the hitman beat him into unconsciousness, and if so...


He recalls the nod of acknowledgement shared between them after Reborn actively defended him against Verde’s experiments when Tsuna was about to release his X-Burner.


Even the memory of that exchange makes him smile.




                Reborn is inwardly shocked when Yuni appears, looking so much like Luce that it makes him do a double-take.  He’s defending her without a second thought when Byakuran tries to persuade her to return to his side with slimy words and predatory eyes that urge Reborn to shoot first, shoot second, and shoot again until the bastard is dead.


                When Yuni requests sanctuary from Vongola, Tsuna dithers and balks and stutters, and Reborn can see the horror dawning in his student’s eyes when Yuni confirms her willingness to condemn her entire Famiglia to death for the greater good, but just as Reborn thinks that he might have to cut in and prompt – ask – Tsuna to accept the Sky Arcobaleno into Vongola as a favour to Reborn himself, resignation and resolve overtakes the consternation and dismay in his student’s expression, and before Byakuran can take another step, Tsuna takes Yuni under his wing and instructs them all to protect her.


                Reborn knows that from that point on, now that he has given his word, Tsuna will defend Yuni with everything he has, but there is something dark and almost tormented in the kid’s sudden thousand-yard gaze, and selfishly, no matter how much it hurts Tsuna right now, and in spite of his own better judgement, Reborn hopes that his student will never lose that empathetic heart.




                “Hello, Decimo,” Giotto greets when he appears in Tsuna’s bedroom on the night before they will all leave for the future again.  Tsuna only startles slightly when the wreath of flames appears but the Primo was gracious enough to give his intuition a nudge to notify Tsuna of his impending arrival before actually showing up.


                “Hi,” Tsuna returns awkwardly, still not quite sure how to handle the spirit of his great-great-great-grandfather.  Reborn is off somewhere probably having a last word with Yuni, and Tsuna’s mother and Bianchi are downstairs with the kids.


                Giotto just smiles, gentle and fond, and Tsuna lets himself relax.  There is something about his ancestor that puts him at ease, and even with only a handful of interactions with the man so far, Tsuna can already say with certainty that he respects the Primo very much.


                “Shall we go for a walk?”  Giotto suggests.  “Unless you have a curfew.”


                “Not for another hour,” Tsuna readily assures as he slides off his bed and grabs his coat.  “I just need to tell my mom.  I’ll meet you outside?”


                Giotto inclines his head, and two minutes later, Tsuna is strolling down the street with the Primo hovering at his side.


                “Did- Did you need something?”  Tsuna ventures after a while.


                Giotto shakes his head.  “No, nothing in particular.”  He pauses, looking contemplative.  “I take it you have not changed your mind on becoming the next Vongola boss?”


                Tsuna denies this vehemently.  “No way!  Definitely not!”


                Giotto quirks a smile and points out, “Yet you fill those shoes right now.  You lead your Guardians and your Famiglia into war against the Millefiore, going so far as to earn your inheritance from myself and my Guardians as well.”


                Tsuna frowns.  “I'm not doing that because I'm going to become the Tenth.  I'm doing it so we can all survive the war and get home safely.”  He hesitated, shoulders hunching when a gust of wind rolls past them.  “I- Even if I ignore the whole mafia thing, I'm not- I'm not really a boss.  I'm not really leader material.”


                Giotto tilts his head, amber eyes thoughtful.  “Why do you think that?”


                Tsuna waves an erratic hand in the air.  “Isn’t that obvious?  I'm- I'm not exactly brave or smart or- or strong, you know?  I'm just- I'm just me.  I wouldn't be able to do anything without my friends or Reborn there to back me up and keep pushing me forward.  And they’re- they’re so much better at this stuff.  I mean I can see that they’re worried and sometimes stressed out, but they still barrel on ahead like they think they can take on anything that comes their way, and I've seen them and I know that they can, but I- I'm nothing like them!  They just keep on going like nothing scares them, and I'm-” He falters, staring miserably at the ground as the pressure he has been feeling since Reborn was poofed away by the Bazooka all those weeks ago began to register all at once now that he’s finally talking about it.  “I'm scared of everything.  There is absolutely nothing about this situation, this war, that doesn't scare me.  And that’s- that’s not really what a boss should be like, is it?  But everyone – Gokudera-kun, Yamamoto, even Onii-san – they all look at me like I- like I know what I'm doing, and I don’t, not really, I'm just winging it, and I'm terrified that I'm going to mess up and someone’s going to-”




                He doesn't say it out loud.  The word stays stuck in his throat, and his eyes burn with the pain of the mere thought of it.


                He jumps when a warm hand drops on his head.  Peering up, he finds Giotto watching him with wise eyes and a reassuring smile.


                “You're doing just fine, Tsunayoshi,” Giotto says with steady certainty.  “It’s okay to not know what to do.  It’s okay to depend on the people around you.  That’s what your friends are there for, to support you whenever you need it.  You don’t have to be the smartest or the bravest, though you have plenty of each from what I've seen.  And you're strongest when you stand with your friends, never forget that.  You're not alone, you have people you can always count on, and that makes all the difference.  It doesn't go just one way either; your friends depend on you too.  You draw strength from them, and they draw strength from you.  They look to you not because they think you know how to do everything, but because they trust you to protect them to the best of your ability, to care for them and consider their wellbeing first and foremost, and in return, they will always do the same for you.  To inspire devotion like that is the mark of a true leader, Tsunayoshi.”


                Tsuna has stopped walking by now, stunned and still a little skeptical because that- is that really him?


His voice is tiny when he speaks.  “But- But I'm still so scared-”


“Of what?”  Giotto enquires calmly.


The answer comes instantly.  He is scared of everything but all of that stems from a single source- “Of failing them.  I'm scared I won’t be able to protect them.”


And Giotto smiles, warm and proud and full of something Tsuna is afraid to put a name to because no one – not his mom and certainly not his dad – has ever looked at him like that before.


“That fear you feel is perfectly normal,” Giotto floats down to his height, hands clasping Tsuna’s shoulders as the flame on the Primo’s head flickers out of Hyper Dying Will Mode, and fire-gold eyes slowly recede to a brilliant ocean blue as they stare straight into his.  “They are your friends, your family; it is only natural for you to be afraid for them.  It makes you work that much harder to get stronger so you can protect them, doesn't it?  Your friends are much the same.  Why do you think they push themselves just as hard when they train?  In time, you will have better control over it, but you should never forget that fear.  It comes from the bonds you share with your friends, it shows that you care, and even in the mafia world, Tsunayoshi, you should never stop caring.


“You care very much,” Giotto finishes, pulling back a little even though his gaze never wavers.  “Some would say you care too much but your compassion is part of what makes up who you are, and you should never seek to change that.”  He offers another faint smile.  “You’re fine the way you are, Tsunayoshi.  It’s okay to just be you.  There’s nothing wrong with that, nothing at all, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.”


Tsuna’s eyes sting, and a single tear slides down one cheek even as the memories of the nightmares he has of his friends getting hurt or dying fade to the back of his mind.  He scrubs it away, hideously embarrassed, but Giotto is good enough to pretend he doesn't see, ruffling his hair instead before escorting Tsuna home.


Giotto bids him goodnight at the door before disappearing in a flash of fire, and by the time Tsuna gets back to his bedroom, Reborn is already there, polishing off the last of his hot chocolate from where he is perched on the desk.  The hitman inspects Tsuna’s face for a long minute, and Tsuna has no doubt that his tutor knows exactly where he has been (and probably eavesdropped too), but Reborn doesn't say anything on the matter.  Instead, he nudges at another mug of hot chocolate sitting on the desk, still hot and topped with whipped cream.


“Drink it before it gets cold, Dame-Tsuna, and then go to sleep,” Reborn orders before hopping off the desk, magically vanishing his own mug and leaping up to his hammock.  “We have an early day tomorrow.  If you're not up on time, I have several new methods to get you out of bed.”


Tsuna huffs a laugh, too used to Reborn’s (very real) threats by now to get too worked up over them.  Instead, he wraps his hands around the warm mug on the desk and takes a sip.  “Thanks, Reborn.”


His tutor hums a noncommittal reply.  “Don’t get used to it.”


Tsuna smiles.




                Reborn will deny it until the end of his days but his heart almost stops, not when Tsuna chooses to join the battle to stop Ghost, not even when Yuni is forcibly drawn into the fight, but when Tsuna collapses from near-asphyxiation at Byakuran’s hands.  The entire situation pisses Reborn off, and his temper only gets worse by the fact that he’s pissed off at all, but he can’t lose it here because he’s always been the cool and collected hitman/tutor, and if he gets emotional, there’s no telling what the kids will do.


                So he stamps down on his fury and gut-twisting apprehension, clinging on to his patience instead as he coaxes his student back onto his feet, to get up and face the enemy that the teen has promised to defeat.  He puts his faith in Tsuna, something he hasn’t done for anyone in a very long time, and believes with everything he has that his student won’t let him down, won’t let any of them down.  Reborn knows this fourteen-year-old boy better than anyone else in the world, and because of that, he knows – trusts – that Tsuna will pull through.


                And Tsuna does, flying above and beyond every last expectation Reborn has for him, standing up even when his legs are trembling and his shoulders sag with pained exhaustion.  He surprises even Reborn when he announces with defiant brown eyes and an unyielding voice that he doesn't regret a single moment of his time spent in the future.


                And when Sky Flames light up Tsuna’s hands, seep into his eyes, and sputter back to life on his head, it doesn't matter that Byakuran has his godlike strength or that Tsuna is weighed down with countless injuries.


Reborn knows who is going to win.  He’s never had any doubts in the first place.




                After defeating Byakuran (killed, you killed him), Tsuna sleeps for two days and two nights, and when he wakes, he’s in bed in the room he shares with Gokudera at the base.  No one is around, even after he takes a shower and puts on fresh clothes, so Tsuna ends up leaving a note on his bed because he doesn't want to worry anyone, and then sneaks out of the safehouse.  All of Reborn’s training has apparently done him some good because Tsuna easily pinpoints all the cameras, weaves through their blind spots, and successfully slips outside without any alarms going off.


                He is still tired but he wants some fresh air, and his feet takes him to the forest where his future self’s coffin lies.  It’s empty of course, but Tsuna replaces the open lid and takes a seat on top.  It’s his after all; he doesn't particularly care whether or not he’s respectful with it, and he doubts his future self would care much either.


                The clearing is filled with distant birdsong and the soft whistle of the wind through the trees.  Tsuna thinks of all that has happened, of their struggles and their battles, and his future self’s choice.  He thinks he understands why his future self decided to gamble on the past, on the girls, on the children, on his Guardians’ past selves, and on the weaker but still growing Tsuna himself, the same way he understands Yuni and her resolve to condemn her Family no matter how much it tore her heart apart to do so.  Sometimes, there are no good choices.  Sometimes, you have to pick the best bad choice out of a lot of bad choices.  He understands but he doesn't much like it.


                He glances down at the ring on his right hand, and he recalls how the resonation of the Sky Elements from the Tri-ni-set echoed not just from the ring but from somewhere deep inside him as well, as if his very soul was calling out to his other two counterparts.  Everything happened so fast, and Tsuna was too busy trying not to die during that battle, but now that he has time to think back, he realizes that it was then that he fully understood Yuni’s sacrifice and even Byakuran’s madness, understood where the former found the courage to make the choices that she must've hated, and understood where the latter’s insanity stemmed from.


                He can’t put it into words exactly; he just knows, deep in his heart, in the depths of his soul.  He knows that the Skies of the Tri-ni-set are always and forever connected in some way, no matter where they are or even when they are.  Through time and space, there are always three of them, always balanced.


                Or at least they are supposed to be balanced.  But then Irie Shouichi (and by no means does Tsuna blame him for this) experimented with the Ten-Year Bazooka and met two versions of Byakuran, triggering the Millefiore boss’ ability to see into parallel worlds, and that vast knowledge, the awareness of when one of him is killed or another is born or yet another is wounded in battle, to know all that along with all the thoughts and feelings and personalities of those other Byakurans can’t possibly be good for this Byakuran’s psyche.  No wonder he went crazy in the end, especially with no Tsuna or Yuni to keep him stable and sane.


                And it makes him wonder if anything would've been different had Tsuna met Byakuran earlier, and if they both knew Yuni while she was growing up, or if everything would've stayed the same anyway.  With her ability to see the future, Tsuna is pretty sure that Yuni already understood Byakuran, knew what he could've been if the power-craze hadn't taken over, and maybe that is part of why she was so afraid of him.  She knew what he was to begin with, knew the person he should’ve become but didn't because the balance between them had collapsed a long time ago, and that new Byakuran... was never supposed to exist.


                Tsuna kneads his forehead, trying to ward off a headache.  Even thinking about it gives him a migraine so he’s glad that he doesn't actually have to explain it to anyone.  It’s enough that he knows.


                “Gokudera is tearing the base apart looking for you,” A familiar baby voice interrupts, and Tsuna’s head jerks up.  He’s too tired to do more than yelp a little to show his surprise.


                Reborn saunters (how a baby can saunter, Tsuna will never know, but Reborn pulls it off like it’s the easiest thing in the world) across the clearing and hops up onto the coffin beside Tsuna, making himself comfortable.


                “...I left a note,” Tsuna says belatedly.


                Reborn just arches an eyebrow.  “It’s Gokudera.”


                ...That is a valid point.


                Still, Tsuna doesn't want to go back just yet.  He’ll feel guilty later when Gokudera runs up to him all panicked and concerned.  For now, he’ll push the issue to the back of his mind.


                “You’re not out here thinking about stupid things, are you?”  Reborn asks, blunt as ever when he’s not playing games to ‘train’ Tsuna.  “Byakuran was a necessary death.”


                Tsuna freezes, his breath stuttering in his chest before restarting again.  “...I know.  I know that.  But he-”


                He was part of me, in a way, Tsuna thinks, and the thought doesn't even seem strange to him, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.  And so was Yuni.  And I was part of them.  We were never quite three, more two-and-a-third, but at least we were all there.  Now... Now there’s just one left.  Now there’s just me left.


                “You killed him to save yourself and your friends,” Reborn continues, his voice and expression a paradox of cruelty and gentleness at the same time.  “That’s all there is to it.  If you linger on that death, if you let it guilt you, it will wear you down and devour you from the inside out.  Don’t let it.  What you did had to be done.  You took a life, your hands are stained; grieve for that if you have to grieve for anything, and then move on.  Don’t linger.”


                Tsuna closes his eyes against the onslaught of words but Reborn is relentless, and they creep into his skull anyway, leaving their mark.


                “I know that,” He repeats, sounding like a broken record even to himself.  “I know that, and for my friends, I’d do it all over again.  I know that, but...”


                “But you don’t understand it yet,” Reborn finishes matter-of-factly.  “That’s fine; take some time.  Just don’t take too long, Tsuna.”


                Tsuna opens his eyes and glances down at his tutor.  Reborn’s eyes are hidden from view under the shadow of his fedora so Tsuna can’t quite tell what he is thinking now.  It’s hard enough to do on the best of days.


                Neither of them says anything more on the topic, and a comfortable silence falls over them as the clouds meander by overhead.  Tsuna absently traces the gold Vongola crest on the coffin lid with one finger, idly thinking that the whole thing must've cost a fortune.  The coffin would probably be thrown away upon his future self’s return too, or at least put away for the time being.  He is fairly certain that it will be thrown away though; he can’t see himself – even in ten years – keeping something so morbid in storage.


                He pauses though, at the thought of his future self returning to his own burial site, if only to retrieve the coffin.  Maybe...


                “Hey, Reborn,” Tsuna turns to his tutor who raises enquiring eyes up at him.  “Do you have a notepad or something?  Or even just a post-it note?  And something to write with of course.”


                Reborn looks mildly bemused (Tsuna inwardly cheers because at the beginning of their acquaintance, he couldn't even tell the difference between happy Reborn and angry Reborn, and now he can even make out confusion; it’s an improvement) but after a speculative moment, he whips out a pencil and a small notebook from nowhere.  Tsuna has long stopped questioning Reborn the Magician.


                “Thanks,” Tsuna mutters, bending down to use the coffin as a makeshift table.  He frowns for a long minute, trying to picture what he could write to give his future self some closure as well as reassurance that this entire war has been settled, solid proof from himself to himself.  He can’t think of anything profound though, so in the end, he scribbles down a simple,


‘The fight within future self is over.  The curtain has closed.’


                It seems fitting, and Tsuna is satisfied with it.  He leaves it on top of the coffin, open at the page of the message.  Passing the pencil back to a silent Reborn, Tsuna clambers to his feet and dusts his jeans off.


                “Let’s head back,” Tsuna says, waiting only long enough for his tutor to jump up onto his shoulder before turning in the direction of the base.


                Just as they reach the tree line, Reborn’s tiny hand taps twice against Tsuna’s shoulder.  Tsuna cocks his head inquisitively.  Reborn’s other hand reaches up to tug at the brim of his fedora but a small smile curls at the corners of the hitman’s mouth.


                “You've done well, Tsuna,” Reborn comments plainly, and Tsuna almost trips over a tree root at the compliment.  He blinks dumbly ahead for a moment before a wobbly but genuine smile surfaces on his face.


                He knows, instinctively, that Reborn doesn't mean you've done well for killing Byakuran or anything of the sort.  Instead, it sounds more like a you've done well for handling things the way he has up until now, for not giving up even when the situation looked hopeless.


                And that much at least, Tsuna can accept.




                Tsuna is angry.  He is angrier than Reborn has ever seen him, even during his confrontation with Byakuran.  This anger is unlike the emotional reckless rage that Tsuna displayed in that battle; this anger is contained and controlled, and Reborn knows that this is because it is Yamamoto who has been attacked, near-killed, probably-crippled, and that makes all the difference.  Tsuna cared for Yuni – almost seemed to have soft spot for her and a special understanding with her – but Yamamoto is Tsuna’s second friend, one of his closest friends, and someone has almost fatally injured him.


                Tsuna isn’t just angry.  He is furious, and even Reborn wonders if his student will have any mercy left to forgive the Simon at the end of this, especially when things get worse, when Tsuna and the rest of his Guardians are defeated, when the Vongola Rings are broken, when the Simon takes Chrome, and all for a grudge formed ten generations back.


                And then the fights begin, and the truths start coming out one by one, and while Tsuna seems happier that Enma and his Family aren’t just attacking them for the heck of it, the haunted look he has always worn when facing a situation he truly despises comes back, skulking behind his gaze like living shadows until his eyes look like bruises in his face.  Reborn hates that look with a surprising amount of passion but there’s nothing he can do about it, not when Tsuna is so determined to move forward, work with the Simon, and save Chrome and even Mukuro from Daemon Spade, to the point where he even requests for the Varia and the rest of Vongola to please butt out of their business, thank you very much.


                It fills Reborn with a fierce sense of satisfaction even as they prepare to go to battle against Daemon.  Even after everything he has gone through, Tsuna’s heart is still the same.  Reborn hasn’t destroyed it (thank God) and neither has Vongola or the mafia, and at this point, it’s really all he wishes for.




                “You’ll be staying in Namimori then?”  Tsuna asks brightly as they jog to school, neither wanting to be late.


                Enma offers a shy grin in response.  “Of course; Koyo’s complained, but Koyo complains about all my decisions so you can’t really count on that.  I think he’s actually pretty happy to stay.  I’ve seen him hanging around the gym when your Sun Guardian has boxing practice.”  He pauses.  “You don’t mind, do you?”


                “Of course not!”  Tsuna is quick to dismiss that idea.  “I think it’s great.  I'm glad you and your friends are staying.”


                This earns him another genuine smile from the other teen as they round a corner and spot Adelheid, Yamamoto, and Gokudera up ahead.  Tsuna knows that a part of Enma still feels a little guilty over all the misunderstandings between them, but as far as Tsuna’s concerned, all of it is water under the bridge.  He’s gained himself a new friend, maybe friends, and he knows that Giotto and Cozarto would be happy for them too.


                He glances down when his Sky Ring grows warm for a split second, and a smile tugs at his lips.  Maybe he should feel somewhat uncomfortable with the invasion of privacy but Giotto’s always been an exception ever since Tsuna met the man during the Inheritance trials.  It’s not like Giotto can read everything in his mind or something so Tsuna is fine with it.


                “You idiots are almost late!”  Adelheid calls out impatiently when they’re within earshot.  Gokudera automatically rounds on her, dynamite out and lit in a heartbeat even as Yamamoto laughs on the side.


                Tsuna shares a rather exasperated glance with Enma as they pass through the school gates.  The people around them are a bit crazy and never dull, and Tsuna realizes that he doesn't want it any other way.


                He’s pretty sure that makes him a little crazy too.




                “I already told you – there’s no need to die for the Arcobaleno, Tsuna!”


                “That’s not your decision to make, Reborn!  You don’t have any right to tell me what to do now that you've given up!”


                “This is the only way, you stubborn brat!  If I'm going to die, then I might as well take the Arcobaleno system with me!”


                “Like I said – that’s not your choice!  Even if you don’t consider the others, don't you value your own life at all?!”


                “I'm a hitman!  I never expected to die a decent death anyway!”


                “What kind of depressing thought is that?!  Have you been thinking that ever since you became an Arcobaleno?!  Have you been thinking that the entire time you've been with me?!  You've made my life a crazy mess so you better take responsibility for it!  You don’t get to just waltz out and play martyr whenever you want!  You're my tutor, and if you think I'm gonna let you do this, then you don’t know me at all!  I already told you – I'm not gonna let you die!  I have a plan!  Why won’t you just trust me?!”


                Reborn rocks back on his heels, jaw tight as he fights to soothe his own temper.  He looks up at Tsuna, and if he thought that his student was furious during the whole Simon catastrophe, it’s nothing compared to the rage simmering under the teen’s skin right now, focused and lethal this time, like fire from a forge, tempered but untamed, and it’s etched into every line of his features, but for all that Tsuna (his No-Good student who was once afraid of his own shadow) has somehow gained the balls to shout at him not once but twice, all that outrage isn’t really directed at Reborn at all; it’s directed at Bermuda and the Vindice, and a spark of hope sputters to life in Reborn’s chest.


                He squashes it ruthlessly and holds out a hand.  “None of that matters.  Give me back the Boss watch, Tsuna.”


                All at once, caramel brown flicker once, twice, three times, before flame-bright orange floods their depths.  “No.


                Flames erupt from Tsuna’s hands and forehead, radiating power from within.  Again, Reborn feels that glimmer of hope, and again, he stomps it down hard.


                “If you want the watch,” Tsuna says evenly, voice pitched low with resolve.  “Then you’ll have to take it from me by force.  And if you’re going to fight me for it, then you damn well better make sure I stay down if you beat me because I swear to God, I will crawl to the battle tomorrow to face Bermuda if I have to.  I am not losing you.”


                Tsuna doesn't know it, but inside, Reborn shakes like his body wants to fly apart, and for some reason, his heart aches in his chest.


Who the hell does this boy think he is, to dictate Reborn’s actions like this?  Who the hell does Dame-Tsuna think he is?  This idiot who couldn’t even bring himself to attack Reborn during the Arcobaleno trials is now challenging him to a fight over the Boss watch, over what will ultimately amount to a death sentence in the end.  The kid is Reborn’s student, and the boy should never have the guts to say all these things.  Dino would never say them; heck, his first student is in town right now but he doesn't confront Reborn like this.  Nobody does.


                “I am not losing you.”  “I'm not gonna let you die!”  “You’re my tutor, and if you think I'm gonna let you do this, then you don’t know me at all!”


                Tsuna’s words echo in his head even as the boy – man now; there’s no way this person is just a mere boy anymore – himself stares down at him with the ferocity of a lion and the brilliance of a thousand suns.


                Reborn’s heart aches because his student makes him want to believe, and he can’t because he can’t do that to Tsuna.


                “It’s my mission to make you into a splendid Vongola boss,” Reborn starts again, quieter this time, more subdued.  “It would be pointless if you die here.  Don’t you understand?”


Tsuna just straightens, squaring his shoulders like he’s going to war.  “Don’t assume I'm going to die.  If I die, I lose, and I don’t plan on losing.  I have too many people I care about depending on me to win.  Besides, Vongola Primo would surely say that someone who abandons their friends cannot be entrusted with the fate of Vongola.  Someone unwilling to risk death for the sake of their friends is not qualified to become Vongola Decimo.  Don’t you agree, Reborn?”


Reborn stares and stares, stunned into temporary silence.  Does this mean-?  What does this mean?


Does it matter?  Because-


Reborn can’t seem to look away.  His student is mesmerizing, standing there with conviction in his eyes and earnest faith in the stubborn set of his jaw, trusting Reborn to trust him to make this right, to break a curse that no one has ever been able to break for as long as it has been in place, and-


And Tsuna is saying he can break it, he is saying he will break it, without losing Reborn or any of the other Arcobaleno, and hope flares in Reborn’s chest once more, blazing with the strength of a bonfire, refusing to be extinguished this time as it burns the last of his reluctance away.


At this point, there’s really only one thing he can do.


He closes his eyes, and admits defeat, yielding to his student’s indestructible resolve.


“Okay,” He says at last with a sigh, tilting his fedora back.  “Alright.”


“Alright?”  Compared to before, Tsuna’s voice is small now even though his gaze remains intent.


Reborn inclines his head in exasperated agreement.  “Hmph, I guess I want to live a little longer and die without any regrets.  You have guts standing up to me, Tsuna, and if it continues, then I think I’d like to see you grow some more.”  He pauses to rake his student up and down with a searching gaze.  Heart-stopping relief and steadfast determination stare back down at him.  “...I’ll go along with your plan, so you better keep me alive, Tsuna.”


Tsuna beams at him, radiant in the sheer joy that that single expression contains, and Reborn’s eyes widen.


(Later, much later, he will look back and laugh at how utterly clueless he was, because it is at this exact moment that he begins to fall, his scarred, closed-off heart slipping away into the unknowing possession of an equally clueless fifteen-year-old teenager, and Reborn never even sees it coming.)




                Tsuna fights like he’s never fought before because it’s Reborn on the line this time, and at some point since the two of them met almost two years ago, without Tsuna consciously realizing it, the baby hitman has become much more than just a tutor or an ally.  He’s become a friend, something Tsuna would never have believed at the beginning of their acquaintance but true all the same.


                And it’s this that gives him the hope and courage to go on, the will to fight with a calm heart and confident hands, because Reborn has never failed him before, has always been there for him, and now it’s Tsuna’s turn to do the same.


                He wins of course, beating Bermuda into submission and shattering the Vindice boss’ Arcobaleno watch.  There is no other outcome he would’ve accepted, and when he scans the assembled Arcobaleno, he doesn't stop until his gaze comes to rest on Reborn.  His tutor is watching him with a foreign emotion in his eyes but before Tsuna can figure out what it is, Checker Face arrives with the truth.


                “You’re the first one on the list, Sawada Tsunayoshi,” Kawahira informs him, tone of voice unaffected by the news it delivers.  “You will become the next Sky Arcobaleno.”


                Out of the corner of his eye, Tsuna sees his Guardians tense and the Arcobaleno start, most looking uneasy and worried.  Even Mammon and Verde stiffen in place, the former’s mouth becoming pinched and the latter’s glasses flashing ominously under the sunlight.  It’s Reborn who draws Tsuna’s attention though.  His tutor’s hand convulses around the brim of his fedora, and murder flits across the hitman’s face in the span of a heartbeat.  Tsuna would not be surprised if Reborn decides to fling himself back into battle in Tsuna’s defence the second Kawahira makes any move to pass the Sky Pacifier on to him.  The mere thought makes something warm unfurl in Tsuna’s chest.


                Still, this is a consequence he has also considered when he was hatching this plan.  He knew what could happen even after defeating Bermuda, and he has accepted this too.


                “I’m prepared for that,” Tsuna announces grimly, ignoring the onyx eyes now drilling into the side of his head at his declaration.  Instead, he prays that the last part of his plan will make it on time.


                His prayers are answered.




                In the aftermath, Reborn finds Tsuna on the roof of the hospital, no doubt to avoid the pandemonium wreaking havoc downstairs.  He joins his student at the railing, glancing up to take in the tranquil expression adorning the teen’s face.


                “Thank you,” Reborn says without fanfare.  “For giving me another chance to live.”


Tsuna blinks, looking surprised at the admission.  Reborn inwardly smirks, amused and fond all at once.  He can give his student this one.  It’s the least he can do to show his gratitude.


Tsuna smiles, bashful and pleased at the same time.  “Anytime.”


Anytime.  Reborn believes it.


The silence between them is relaxed and comfortable, and they only break it with a smatter of conversation from time to time, mostly content to simply enjoy the sense of companionship they share.


“Oh yeah,” Tsuna gives him a fleeting look.  “That man in the suit who helped me fight Bermuda – who was he?”


Reborn scoffs, arching his eyebrows.  “You really don’t know, Dame-Tsuna?”


Tsuna glances down and then back at Reborn again.  Another smile curves his lips.  “I guess I do.  Thanks for the help, Reborn.”


                As if he would ever give Tsuna anything less, Reborn muses in his head with a rather resigned sort of acknowledgement, and it comes as a bit of a shock when he thinks back, way back, to the very first time he ever heard about Sawada Tsunayoshi from Iemitsu.  If someone told him all those years ago that that small, doe-eyed, timid-looking child would one day become one of the handful of people Reborn would willingly trust with his life, he most likely would've carted them off to a hospital if he was in a good mood or shot them if he wasn't.


                Unimportant and weak, Reborn remembers thinking.  He glances ruefully to the side where his student is smiling up at the sky.  He doesn't think he has ever been more wrong about a person in his entire life.


                “Oi, Tsuna,” Reborn prods, waiting until Tsuna’s attention is focused on him again.  “Have you changed your mind about becoming Vongola Decimo?”


                Tsuna makes a face and shakes his head mulishly.  “How many times do I have to say this?  I'm not gonna become a mafia boss, Reborn!”


                Reborn cocks his head in consideration, thinking back to all the times Tsuna has said this, and all the little bits and pieces he hasn’t said but wants people to hear anyway.


                “I didn't say anything about becoming a mafia boss, Dame-Tsuna,” Reborn scolds, eyeing his student with interest when the teen becomes very still.  “I said – have you changed your mind about becoming Vongola Decimo.”  He studies Tsuna carefully.  “To you, there’s a difference, right?”


                Tsuna runs a hand through his hair before countering quietly, “But to you, there isn’t one.”


                Reborn twitches with irritation but refrains from going for his gun.  “Dame-Tsuna, don’t assume things about me.”


                Tsuna offers a sheepish smile before shrugging almost defensively.  “...Giotto-san wasn't a mafia boss either but he was still Vongola Primo.  If – and I mean if – but if I... consider becoming Vongola Decimo, then...”


                He straightens and looks at Reborn with the same resolve he showed when he was yelling Reborn down.


“If I become Vongola Decimo,” Tsuna says in a measured tone, eyes flashing amber.  “Then the Vongola Family will no longer be a mafia syndicate.  I will change it.”


Reborn hears the conviction in his student’s voice, and he sees a world of possibilities in Sky Flame eyes.  He smiles, just a little, and then exhales shortly before reaching for Leon and brandishing his animal partner in mallet form as he takes a swing at Tsuna.


“Hiiee!”  Tsuna scrambles back, orange eyes melting back to brown, panicked Rebornyoucrazytutorstop! surfacing on his face as he ducks under Reborn’s assault.  “Wait, wait!  What did I do this time?  Reborn!”


“Don’t get so cocky, Dame-Tsuna!” Reborn smirks, leaping after his student and successfully landing a blow that sends Tsuna tumbling backwards.  “You still have a lot to learn before you can even think about changing anything.  Looks like it’s a good thing that you still have me to train you up good.”


“Hiiee!!  No way!  Stay away from me!”

Reborn huffs a breath of genuine laughter as Tsuna dashes away, disappearing back into the rapidly crumbling interior of the hospital where the rest of the Family and its allies are waging war with each other.


He glances up at the clear blue sky as he gives his student a few seconds’ head-start.


It is a good day today.  He hopes that there will be many more to come.


39.  [One Year Later]


                Tsuna grimaces warily as he tiptoes into Kokuyo.  He doesn't much like it here but Mukuro still refuses to take Tsuna’s ‘charity’ – meaning a small apartment closer to where everyone else is living, paid for out of his, Gokudera’s, Yamamoto’s, and Onii-san’s collective pockets – which means Ken, Chikusa, and Chrome are all staying here as well so if Tsuna wants to visit them, he has no choice but to trek all the way to Kokuyo Land to see them.


                “Oya, oya, it looks like we have a lost little lamb wandering around in our humble abode.”


                Tsuna jumps a foot in the air, biting back a shriek as he whirls around to face the smirking face of one-half of his Mist Guardian.  “Mukuro!  Don’t do that!  You’re going to give me a heart attack!”


                Mukuro just offers his signature laugh as he pushes off the doorway he was leaning against before sauntering over to Tsuna.  “That’s half the fun, Tsunayoshi-kun.  Now what can I do for you today?  You don’t usually come by more than three times a week to make sure we aren’t plotting world domination again.”


                Tsuna rolls his eyes.  He is still a little nervous around Mukuro (and Hibari, and Xanxus, and quite a few other people, truth be told) but he’s found that it’s pretty hard to stay scared of someone you've fought so many times in life-or-death situations with together.  Even Mukuro’s ‘I’ll possess your body’ threats have lost most of their intimidation factor after the first couple hundred times.


                “You know full well I check on you guys to make sure you haven’t died or something,” Tsuna grumbles.  “But I'm not here for that today.  Is Chrome around?  There’s something I want to talk to her about.”


                “Oh?”  Mukuro studies him curiously even as he begins leading Tsuna further into the building.  “And is this something a top secret matter?”


                Tsuna scowls a little at him.  “As if anything’s top secret between the four of you, and I wouldn't try to drag Chrome into something without you anyway.”


                Mukuro smiles winningly at him, all charm and fake cheer.  “A wise decision.  You're in luck; we’re all here today.”


                “Boss?”  Chrome looks up when Tsuna steps inside behind Mukuro.  The girl is playing cards with Ken and Chikusa, and Tsuna breathes a sigh of relief as he always does when he sees that Chrome is a little more outgoing these days, more confident with the support of Kyoko, Haru, and Hana, along with her determination to get stronger every day.


                “Hey, Chrome, Ken, Chikusa,” Tsuna greets, sweatdropping when Ken just tosses him a sullen glower, Chikusa nods once at him before promptly spreading out a straight flush, and Chrome looks momentarily disheartened at having lost before tossing her cards down and getting up to greet Tsuna.  “How are you all doing today?”


                “Damn it, Kaki-pi!”  Ken bellows, throwing his cards at Chikusa.  “You’re cheating!  I know you are!”


                “We’re doing well, Boss,” Chrome replies, apparently adept in the art of ignoring the background noise.  “Is everything okay?  We weren’t expecting you until tomorrow.”

                “Everything’s fine,” Tsuna assures, ushering her over to one of the leather couches.  It was relatively new, bought only half a year ago along with the rest of the furniture in the place.  Tsuna managed to compromise with Mukuro on this; they wouldn't have to move out but the furniture and appliances needed to be replaced.  The entire building was enough of a hazard as it was.  “I just have a few things to talk to you about.”

                “Oi, Vongola!  You're not trying to con us into anything, are you?”  Ken’s irritation is suddenly redirected towards Tsuna, and Tsuna heaves a sigh before raising his hands in a placating gesture.


                “No, of course not,” Tsuna sits down beside Chrome but gestures for the other three to settle down as well.  “This is something you should all listen to but the issue is about Chrome.”


                He turns to the girl beside him, who is starting to look somewhat pensive now.  He takes a deep breath.  “Alright, well, I’ll be blunt.  I know you’re strong enough now to provide yourself with illusionary organs but something can always go wrong.  If you're ever cut off from Mukuro and your own Flames, that would be a disaster.  It’s already happened multiple times when Mukuro was still helping you, and I really don’t want to chance it again, so for the past year, I’ve been working on finding real organs for you.  Reborn’s been helping me and he’s got loads of contacts so it wasn't too hard to find them.  We’ve located the correct match for two kidneys, a liver, and a pancreas, all from two people who recently passed away and agreed to donate their organs.  Unfortunately, we can’t do anything about your eye at this time, but for the other parts, I’ve had Shamal check the donators’ records and medical history to make sure nothing will go wrong.  I’ve also asked him to do the surgery, and since you're a girl, he’s agreed.  I know he’s a pervert, but Gokudera-kun has already threatened to blow him up if he does anything inappropriate to you, not to mention he is one of the best doctors in the world.  So... what do you think?”


                Tsuna watches Chrome anxiously as the girl stares wide-eyed at him, stunned and a bit pale.  He hopes he hasn’t shocked her too much, or frightened her with the prospect of such a difficult surgery.


                “Shamal’s one of the best,” He repeats hesitantly.  “And he takes his job seriously.  I know you don’t know him that well but once he’s agreed to perform any medical procedure, he’ll see it through properly, I promise.”


                Still nothing.  Tsuna adds, “And I haven’t told you about any of this until now because I wanted to make sure that the surgery is actually a real possibility before giving you the choice, and it is your choice.  If you really don’t want to do it, then no one’s going to force you.  But if you do, well, I just didn't want to get your hopes up or anything and let you down later, so I waited until Shamal gave me the green light before coming here to tell you.”


                Still nothing.  Tsuna is beginning to think that maybe it would've been better if he told her a year ago when he first suggested this venture to Reborn instead of waiting.  Uncertainly, he shifts and glances over at the other three.  Ken and Chikusa don’t look any better.  The former is gawking at him while the latter looks subtly dumbfounded as if he can’t believe what Tsuna has done.


                Mukuro on the other hand is staring at him with a look that Tsuna has seen before but has never been able to identify.  It’s a bit like surprise mixed with something else, and it always makes Tsuna a little uncomfortable because that expression is open and raw and genuine in a way that makes Mukuro look almost vulnerable.  Tsuna doesn't like it because nothing he has ever done should startle Mukuro like this, not unless his Mist Guardian is so unused to human kindness that, when it happens, it always draws forth a reaction like now.


                The illusionist tucks it out of sight again in another heartbeat, a smirk gracing his features once more as he sweeps forward to stand beside his counterpart.  “That is a generous offer, Tsunayoshi-kun, generous enough for there to be a catch.  This surgery has to be costly-”


                “We pooled together,” Tsuna rushes to interject, stiffening uneasily when Mukuro’s eyes narrow.  “I know you think it’s charity but it’s not.  You can deny it however many times you want, Mukuro, but the four of you are our friends, and the other girls all consider Chrome to be one of theirs too.  We all want this for Chrome, no strings attached, no calling in favours at another time, no whatever other underhanded schemes you can think of.  The organ transplants are for Chrome, free of charge, because none of us want to see her hurt.  I promise that that’s-”


                His babbling is cut off when Mukuro raises a hand.  The illusionist looks a little on the tired side even as he glances between Tsuna and Chrome whose visible eye suddenly shines with tears.  She looks three seconds away from giving Tsuna a hug but her reticence holds her back in the end, and instead, she clasps her hands together and voices earnestly, “Th- Thank you, Boss.  You didn't have to.  I know- I know in that other future we went to that time, my future self didn't have...”


                She trails off, and Tsuna guesses that it’s because his own face has darkened.  He doesn't like thinking about the future him in that parallel world who became a mafia boss, who never managed to free Mukuro, who never replaced Chrome’s organs, who never broke the Arcobaleno Curse.  Perhaps that version of him didn't have the same opportunities but it still doesn't sit well with Tsuna so he tries not to think about it.  It doesn't really matter anymore anyway so he makes an effort to clear his expression and smile again.  “Aa, I understand, Chrome.  Do you... Do you want some time to think about it?  Shamal has this method to preserve all the organs so they’ll still be ready for you whenever you want to go through with the surgery.”


                Chrome glances up at Mukuro before her head bobs up and down. “I’d like that, Boss.  I’ll tell you my decision in a few days?”


                Tsuna nods, getting to his feet.  “That’s fine.  Take all the time you need.  I’ll see myself out.”

                And with a last wave at everyone in the room, Tsuna ducks out of Kokuyo again.  The entire conversation could've gone worse so he’s glad no one blew up at him for pitying them or whatever.


                “Tsunayoshi-kun,” Mukuro’s voice halts him six steps away from the front doors of the building.


                Tsuna turns around.  He’s thankful to see that the illusionist hasn’t come running out with his trident, ready to skewer him or something equally gruesome.  Instead, Mukuro only walks forward and stops about two feet in front of Tsuna.  Heterochromic eyes examine him several unblinking seconds before the Mist Guardian sighs, the sound almost inaudible.


                “You are a fool, Sawada Tsunayoshi,” Mukuro declares this like it’s a fact of life.  Tsuna is lucky that he’s long since gotten used to the people around him insulting him.


                “Maybe,” Tsuna concedes.  “But I don’t think so.”


                In the end, Mukuro doesn't say anything else, remaining eerily silent as he stares at Tsuna like Tsuna’s the most fascinating thing that the illusionist has ever come across.  Which doesn't makes sense because Tsuna honestly considers himself to be a relatively simple person.


                Tsuna only lingers for a few minutes more, ensuring that Mukuro doesn't really have anything else to say, and then he waves again before jogging off towards the gates.  No doubt, Mukuro will discuss the surgery with Chrome before any answer will be reached.




                An unbidden smile touches Tsuna’s lips as he turns to the source of the voice.  Reborn – around seven years old now, though his last growth spurt was four months ago; his aging time looks to have slowed down for a while – is leaning casually against a retaining wall on the right.  The hitman still wears his fedora and black suit, Leon still rests on the brim of his hat, and his curly sideburns are still the same.


                “Yup,” Tsuna confirms, falling into step beside Reborn as they head home.  “They’ll talk about it between themselves for a while.  At least Mukuro didn't outright say no.”


                Reborn snorts softly, tilting his fedora up to give Tsuna a dry look.  “Don’t be stupid, Tsuna.  If it’s for Chrome, Mukuro won’t deny you.  There’s not much he wouldn't do for her no matter what he says.”


                Tsuna shrugs sheepishly.  “Yeah, guess so.  Probably shouldn't say that to his face though.  Ever.”


                Reborn smirks in agreement.  “Probably not.  He might threaten to possess you.  Again.”


                They share an amused grin, and a part of Tsuna still marvels at how comfortable he is with his tutor these days even after a solid year of friendship.  Reborn still teaches him and trains him of course but the last gap in a teacher-student relationship has pretty much disappeared for good after Tsuna succeeded in granting Reborn’s greatest wish of breaking the Curse.  Even better, their training sessions these days are less a one-sided ass-kicking courtesy of Reborn and more a spar.


                Tsuna perks up when they round a corner and catch sight of the local ice-cream shop.  “Hey, Reborn, wanna get some ice-cream?”


                Reborn smirks with sly approval.  “I wouldn't mind one.  You can pay.”


                Tsuna rolls his eyes but a worryingly fond smile tugs at his lips all the same.  “Which one of us has the bigger paycheque here?  Actually, which one of us has a paycheque at all?”


Reborn just directs a lofty smug look up at him.  “A Vongola boss should always be ready to cough up for the sake of their Family’s continued wellbeing.”


“You just made that up!”  Tsuna accuses indignantly.


“On the spot,” Reborn admits shamelessly.  “Doesn't make it any less true.”


 Tsuna throws his hands into the air before heaving a resigned – if amused – sigh.  “Yeah, yeah, whatever you say.  Coffee-flavoured?”


The smirk on Reborn’s face ebbs into a genuine smile.  “Of course.”


As they reach the ice-cream shop, Tsuna finds himself smiling as well despite now having to fork out for two ice-creams instead of one.




                It feels like déjà vu.


                Reborn recalls – with some morbid amusement – that this has happened before, though granted, it was with a different student.  Assassins these days – no imagination.


                It’s pretty much the same scenario – different house but identical formation.  Twelve hired guns, all having been in the process of invading the Sawada household not a minute ago, though the windows, the front door, the back door, all aiming for one unsuspecting Vongola Decimo, and all meeting their abrupt end at the hands of the greatest hitman in the world.


                Really, Tsuna should’ve sensed them coming but Reborn will give him a pass for today.  The eighteen-year-old has just returned from another intense training session with his Guardians, and even Hibari walked away from that looking tuckered out.


                Still, Reborn kind of wishes that he didn't have to step in like he has.  The living room now looks like a murder scene – it is a murder scene – and worst of all, Tsuna was witness to the entire showdown.


                Some part of Reborn – thirteen years old and feeling a hundred – slumps in resignation, though he doesn't show it outwardly.


                He shouldn't care.  It was bound to come out sooner or later anyway.




                Reborn exhales silently before turning in the direction of the faint-sounding voice by the couch.  “What, Tsuna?”


                “Oh my god,” Tsuna says, and there’s a sickened expression on his face, and horror in his eyes, and damn it, it’s worse than how even Dino looked afterwar-


                “Thank god Okaa-san and the kids are out!”  Tsuna exclaims, cutting into Reborn’s thoughts like a knife through melted butter.  He rushes over and drops to his knees in front of Reborn, anxious and concerned in equal measure as he drops careful hands on Reborn’s shoulders and scans him for... injuries?


                “Reborn?  Reborn?  What aren’t you saying anything?”  Tsuna asks frantically.  “Are- Are you hurt?  You don’t look hurt, but what do I know.  Reborn?  Aw jeez, I'm taking you to Shamal.  I don’t care if he doesn't treat guys; he’ll just have to suck it up.  Come on-”


                The torrent of words comes to a stop when Reborn clamps a hand around Tsuna’s wrist.  He can feel the heartbeat there, fluttering out a panicked, bird-quick rhythm.  Reborn only takes cursory notice of this.  Instead, his gaze is focused on the crimson blood soaking into Tsuna’s jeans where the teen is kneeling carelessly in the growing pool of blood leaking from the nearest hapless corpse.




                Reborn glances up again, and his mouth automatically spouts out, “Dame-Tsuna, I'm the greatest hitman in the world.  Twelve assassins is nothing.”


                Tsuna huffs out a shaky breath, trepidation and relief painting an odd kaleidoscope of emotions on his face as he sits back a bit.  His hands, trembling just a little, don’t leave Reborn’s shoulders.  “Well you could've said something.  I- I was worried.”


                Reborn doesn't say anything to this, observing instead the way Tsuna’s eyes now flicker over the dead bodies scattered around them.  The sickened expression returns, and he shudders before climbing to his feet, finally releasing Reborn only to grab his hand a second later.  Reborn is fairly certain that Tsuna isn’t even consciously aware that he’s crowding closer than necessary, like he’s drawing comfort from Reborn’s presence but also trying to protect Reborn at the same time, rather pointless considering all the enemies are dead.


                “Let’s get out of here,” Tsuna mutters, leading Reborn to the shattered debris that the front door has been reduced to.  “I think we’re going to need a new house.”


                They’re outside and squatting by the front gate before Reborn’s brain decides to pose a question without Filter’s agreement.  “Weren’t you afraid?”


                Tsuna, fiddling with his phone as he tries to decide who to call first to clean up the bloody mess in his house, looks up with incredulous disbelief.  “Are you kidding?  Of course I was!  I'm still scared!  That was one of the scariest things I've ever had to face in my life!  I thought I was gonna die!  Even when we were in the future, I didn't have to go through being the target of an actual hit!  That’s what it’s called, right?  A hit?  And now I have to explain to Okaa-san why we have to buy a new house, and there are twelve people dead inside, the carpet’s probably completely soaked through with blood by now, and- and I need new jeans, and-”


                “Tsuna, calm down,” Reborn orders in a tone that brooks no argument, and Tsuna sucks in a fortifying breath before releasing it again, looking somewhat steadier.


                He’s terrified, Reborn realizes.  But not of me.  He’s just terrified of the situation in general, like he always is when he encounters something new from the mafia world.


                Reborn isn’t sure how to feel about that.


                “I'm glad you were there,” Tsuna smiles this time, still a little unsteady but real enough in its gratitude.  “Thanks for saving me.”


                Reborn makes a noncommittal noise and tilts his fedora down as Tsuna finally decides to ring Shamal who’s practically the only adult in town besides Reborn who knows how to deal with the situation.  The doctor complains that Tsuna’s interrupting his time with the ladies but he shuts up sooner than usual when he hears the reason for Tsuna’s call, and briskly promises to send some people he knows to remove the bodies.


                The next phone call is to Bianchi, who is out with Nana and the kids, and once she’s briefed on what has happened, she readily agrees to find someplace else for the civilians to stay in for at least the next few nights.


                After that, he calls his Guardians one by one to inform them as well, starting with Gokudera who freaks out, calms down, and then tells Tsuna that he can move into Gokudera’s guestroom as soon as he’s cleaned it out, and that Tsuna isn’t to go anywhere until Yamamoto gets over there to walk him to Gokudera’s apartment.  Yamamoto says that he’ll do as much when Tsuna calls him, and all the other Guardians sans Lambo take in the news with reactions ranging from concern (Ryouhei) to irritation (Hibari).


                Reborn never even has to offer his own input.  Scared, Tsuna may be, but the teen knows what he’s doing, and he handles it with a level head.


                “I need new jeans,” Tsuna remarks mournfully, plucking at the still clean parts of his pants.  “New socks too.  And I want a shower.  I think I'm two seconds away from losing my lunch.”


                “Who told you to kneel in blood?” Reborn scolds, sharper than he intends.  Tsuna doesn't seem to notice, gaze still focused on the stains in his jeans.


                “There was blood everywhere, and I thought you were hurt,” Tsuna mumbles defensively.  “I've never seen you go all-out like that before.  You were-”


                “Scary?”  Reborn suggests with caustic humour.  This time, Tsuna does look at him, a confused frown creasing his brow.


                “A bit,” Tsuna admits slowly.  “But I’ve always known that.  You were scary the day I met you.  Hitmen usually are, aren’t they?  Anyway, I was going to say ‘really dangerous’.  I don’t think I realized that until now.”  He hesitates, faltering for a moment as he searches Reborn with eyes that see too much.  “...I feel like... I should be apologizing, I think.  You're mad, about something.  Was it- Was it because I didn't react in time?”


                His face pinches with dismay, and Reborn grimaces inwardly at this turn of events.


                “No,” He says shortly.  “Although next time, I do hope you’ll have the sense to do something when people try to kill you.”


                Tsuna offers an apologetic sheepish look at this but isn’t so easily distracted.  “So if it’s not that, then what’s bothering you?”


                “Nothing,” Reborn denies, annoyed that he’s giving himself away so easily.  That, or Tsuna knows him a lot better than he’s been giving the teen credit for.


                Tsuna clearly doesn't believe him but he drops the matter.  Instead, his gaze skitters back towards the eerily silent house.  “I wonder if they had families.”


                “Most likely,” Reborn says bluntly, not bothering to sugar-coat it.  Tsuna flinches a little, and his eyes close for a moment.  When he opens them, a determined glint burns in their depths.


                “Next time,” Tsuna looks at Reborn, stubbornness lining his jaw.  “Try not to kill them, okay?  I mean, I- I know that sometimes, there’s no helping it.  I said I’d fix Vongola but I can’t expect it to magically change overnight.  There’ll be- I’ll probably have to kill – kill again – sooner or later, but I'm going to try not to, not unless I have to, like with that future Byakuran, so- so you have to try too, okay Reborn?”


                Reborn just stares at his student, torn between dubious laughter and stunned bewilderment.  “...Alright.”


                Tsuna smiles again, warm and thankful like Reborn’s promised him the world.  In retrospect, maybe he has, because killing people is Reborn’s world.  He’s a hitman, going out and voluntarily taking on assassination jobs is what he does, yet here he is giving Tsuna his word that he won’t ever kill again unless it’s absolutely necessary.


                And he didn't even think about it before giving his reply.  This should bother him more than it does.


                “Aren't you afraid?”  Reborn repeats, and this time, Tsuna seems to hear the unspoken of me.


                The teen cocks his head, cautiously puzzled.  “...Should I be?  I mean, sometimes, your antics and your crazy training methods scare me, as they shouldfor anyone with any sense of self-preservation, but other than that... well, it isn’t as if... as if you’d ever hurt me.  I trust you.  I trust that you’d never hurt me.  I trust that you’ll always be here to protect me to the best of your ability, and I trust- I trust that I know you well enough to say that you'd never kill someone just because.  Why should I be afraid of you?”


                Reborn stares again, and for the life of him, he can’t find anything to say.  Something twists strangely in his chest, pulling at his lungs and closing his throat.  He loses track of the seconds ticking by, and only looks away at last when Tsuna begins fidgeting.


                He doesn't speak again until Yamamoto arrives, sprinting up to them and looking like he ran all the way from his house to Tsuna’s.  He nods at Reborn, scans the area anyway, and then tells Tsuna to stay outside before ignoring Tsuna’s protests and entering the house himself, presumably to pack some of Tsuna’s clothes and other necessities for his impromptu stay at Gokudera’s.


                “Are you sure you're okay, Reborn?”  Tsuna prods once more as they wait for Yamamoto.  “You're acting weird.”

                Reborn reaches up to adjust his fedora before finally turning back to his student.  “I'm fine, Tsuna.”  He pauses long enough for Leon to change into a hammer before waving it threateningly up in Tsuna’s face.  “What kind of a boss lets his subordinate go into a fresh murder scene alone?  At least wait for him by the door.”


                Tsuna yelps and scurries away, leaving Reborn alone on the sidewalk.  They're lucky that the street is clear or there would be more than a little explaining to do.


                Absently, Reborn lets Leon crawl back onto the brim of his fedora before flexing his hands, larger than before but still the size of a kid’s.


                Either way, they are stained.


                “I trust you.  I trust that you’d never hurt me.  I trust that you’ll always be here to protect me to the best of your ability, and I trust- I trust that I know you well enough to say that you'd never kill someone just because.  I trust you, so why should I be afraid of you?”


                Tsuna doesn't see those stains though, or perhaps he does, and accepts them anyway, so freely, so naturally, that it shouldn't even be possible.


                Now that he thinks about it, a lot of the things Tsuna does shouldn't be possible yet he does them anyway, never easily, never without mountain-high difficulties, but he always sees them through to the very end, and he always succeeds.


                Tsuna has succeeded in this too, in making Reborn happy in a way that even the breaking of the Arcobaleno Curse didn't, with something so simple yet so complicated at the same time, and if Reborn was anyone else, someone with lesser control over his emotions, this situation would probably make him shed a tear or something equally ridiculous.


                He’s not though, so he doesn't, but because he’s Reborn, and he never does anything by halves, he settles on something monumentally worse, and this time, he’s aware of it.


                He looks at Tsuna standing by the front door and having an ongoing semi-shouting match with Yamamoto as they argue back and forth over whether or not Tsuna should go up after the Rain Guardian (Tsuna yes, Yamamoto an obstinate absolutely not, stay where you are, I'm almost done).


He looks at his eighteen-year-old student who seems to have accomplished more in the five years that Reborn’s known him than a lot of other people have or even can in their entire lives.


                He looks at this brilliant, compassionate young man who treats Reborn like a friend despite their (mental) age differences and polar opposite backgrounds, who makes Reborn smile with exasperating fondness more often than not, who is far closer to Reborn these days than anyone else – even Luce – has ever gotten in a long, long time.


                Who, if Reborn was smarter, should never have been allowed to get as close as he has because-


                Because watching Tsuna now – almost entirely out of his teenage years, lean more than lanky, slender more than skinny, and filling out in all the right places – makes Reborn’s chest tighten and his heart do that ludicrous stutter-flip-flop-stop-restart thing – like a freaking teenage girl – that Reborn recognizes only after a few seconds of baffled contemplation, and with no small amount of dread pooling in his gut, all he can think of is, oh fuck.


                There are so many problems that come with this new development that Reborn doesn't even know where to begin.  This is a disaster of the highest order, and he bundles that disaster into a corner of his heart as quickly and mercilessly as possible, not letting his mind dwell on it for even a second.  He refuses to even put a name to it.


                It’s a passing fancy, Reborn assures himself scathingly as they set out towards Gokudera’s house after Tsuna has scrambled into a clean pair of pants and socks in the privacy of the yard.  Tsuna is kind and has an interesting personality, not to mention he’s grown up to be not so bad-looking either.  Plus you’re going through puberty all over again.  It’s only natural that you’d notice him.


                It is a passing fancy, and it means nothing.


                Absolutely nothing.






                Tensions rise.  Tsuna’s palms are clammy for all that they’re casually clasped on top of the table in front of him.  He fights to hide it though, hide his nervousness and desire to flee from all the hard, judgemental eyes focused on him, and he clings desperately to his beliefs instead.  On either side of him are his Guardians, every single one of them, even Lambo and Mukuro and Hibari, and all of them, from the youngest to the most taciturn, all sit beside him to present a united front.  Tsuna draws strength from this; his friends have always been his source of strength, and he is so, so glad that they are here with him today.


                On the far left of the conference table are the Varia, all assembled around their boss.  Xanxus’ expression is unreadable, though his scars haven’t started spreading across his face just yet so Tsuna will take that as a good sign.


                On the far left of the table are the CEDEF, Lal Mirch scowling per usual but not giving away what she is feeling about the entire situation, Basil looking borderline anxious as his gaze darts between Tsuna and the formidable group Tsuna is currently facing down, and Tsuna’s own father is frowning in his seat, a troubled expression narrowing his eyes.


                And out of sight but still a solid presence at the edge of his senses, Tsuna can feel Reborn standing behind him, most likely several feet away and leaning nonchalantly beside the double doors at Tsuna’s back, a shadow guard providing silent support.  The hitman is nineteen-ish now to Tsuna’s twenty, catching up fast yet no less dangerous no matter what his age is.




                Tsuna mentally draws in a fortifying breath but doesn't let that show either.  Instead, he turns to stare steadily at Coyote Nougat, who is frowning rather menacingly at him.  That’s nothing new; the man’s been glowering at him since this meeting started five hours ago.


                “I don’t think you understand, Tsunayoshi-kun,” Nougat continues almost patronizingly, and Hayato bristles for the umpteenth time on Tsuna’s right.  They are speaking in Japanese, which is a concession that Tsuna dislikes being made for them because it already puts him and his Guardians at a political disadvantage but there’s no helping it since Takeshi, Onii-san, and Hibari are still iffy with Italian.


                “Vongola is a mafia syndicate,” Nougat reiterates for what has to be the twelfth time in the past two hours.  They've been volleying this issue back and forth between the room’s occupants for even longer, and while Tsuna was content with taking a more passive stance before and just watching everyone else argue, it has been long enough that he’s finally become sick and tired of it all and decided to put his foot down.


                “You will become Vongola Decimo,” Tsuna doesn't even need average hearing to pick up the inflection of doubt in Nougat’s voice.  Too young, too inexperienced, even after everything they've been through, all the tears they've shed, all the blood they've spilled.  “Therefore, you cannot maintain your absurd claim of not becoming a mafia boss.”


                “You misunderstand me,” Tsuna retorts without missing a beat.  “What I mean is – I will become Vongola Decimo but I will not become a mafia boss.  For you, I guess those are the same things.  For me, they are not.  Vongola is only a mafia syndicate for however long the Ninth remains the boss.  Once I take over, it will no longer be a mafia syndicate.”

                As stunned silence follows before Nougat leans forward and slaps a hand on the table, evidently incensed.  “Boy, you will cease this- this farce at once!  You cannot suddenly announce that Vongola will no longer be a mafia organization-”


                “Why not?”  Tsuna interrupts for the first time since this meeting started.  “I chose to inherit the Primo’s will, not the Nono’s.  I refuse to continue the bloody history that Vongola has been laying down since the Secondo.  My plans for Vongola will consist of either dragging it out of the mafia world or destroying it completely.  That’s all.”

                Shocked mutters sweep across the Ninth’s Guardians.  Timoteo himself is watching Tsuna with a measured gaze.


                “That is ridiculous-”


                “That is my decision,” Tsuna overrides firmly, and his voice thrums with the heat of his resolve.  “You can ask anyone in this room; they will all tell you that I have always said from the very beginning that I will not become a mafia boss.  I haven’t changed my mind.  I will never change my mind.  But I will change Vongola, or – if it’s too late – then I will burn it to the ground.”


                He stands up now, and as if on cue, Hayato and Takeshi rise to their feet on either side of him, followed by Lambo and Onii-san after that, and then finally Chrome and Mukuro and Hibari, and Tsuna’s heart is near-bursting with joy at seeing his friends stand shoulder to shoulder with him.  Hayato, Takeshi, and Onii-san are grinning openly, looking ready to take on the world, Lambo and Chrome stand quietly but proudly in their places, confident of their positions within Tsuna’s Family, Mukuro is smirking with smug amusement at everybody else’s expense, and Hibari simply casts a disdainful eye on all those staring speechlessly at them.  There are all here, they are all his, and Tsuna can’t be happier.


                “Of course,” Tsuna concludes serenely, back straight, shoulders squared.  “If you don’t like the plans I have for Vongola, then you are more than welcome to go find yourselves another Decimo.”


                He nods once at Timoteo, respectful and challenging all at once before glancing left and right and then turning from the table.  “We’re done here.  Let’s go.”


                And that is that.  A few of the Nono’s Guardians splutter indignantly behind them, Brow Nie Jr. actually mutters “kid has balls” from his place at the table, and what sounds like a laugh comes from the direction of Ganauche, but Tsuna pays none of them any mind.  He feels like he’s standing on top of the world as he treks out of the conference room, his Guardians behind him, around him, beside him, and as he passes Reborn by the door, the hitman tilts his fedora up, a lazy smirk curling at his lips even as he inclines his head with wordless praise.


                Tsuna nods back in acknowledgement as he strides past, and it doesn't matter that his palms are still a bit sweaty, and once the adrenaline wears off, he’ll probably be shaking with holy God I can’t believe I just pretty much told the Ninth and his Guardians to shove it, because he has his Guardians’ backing, and he has Reborn’s approval, and both those things rank about as high on Tsuna’s list of importance as anything will ever get.


                A snicker comes from Hayato once they’re out of the room and down three hallways, and everyone swings around to look at him.


                “Jyuudaime,” The Storm Guardian tells him rather gleefully.  “You know that last bit, when you said ‘you are more than welcome to go find yourselves another Decimo’?”  At Tsuna’s cautious nod, Hayato chuckles, “I'm not sorry to say that it sounded more like you said ‘you are more than welcome to go fuck yourselves’.”


                A beat of silence, and then Takeshi dissolves into laughter, Onii-san joins in raucously, Lambo snorts with childish mirth, Chrome tries to look appalled and fails dismally if the faint smile on her face is anything to go by, Mukuro’s smirk just widens and he looks like Christmas has come early, and even Hibari’s eyes gleam with quicksilver humour for a brief second.


                Tsuna on the other hand stares in frozen horror for a moment before clutching at his hair in despair.  “Aw, Hayato, you couldn't have stopped me or something?  That wasn't even what I meant!”


                This just makes them laugh harder, and Tsuna relents and settles on sighing disparagingly at all his so-called friends.


                Hibari apparently shares his sentiment because he sneers somewhat long-sufferingly at all of them, looking more resigned than annoyed, before turning for the front doors of the building, only pausing to toss back at Tsuna, “Omnivore, I expect a fight out of this once we are back home.”


                He doesn't wait for an answer as he takes his leave but Tsuna calls an exasperated agreement after him anyway; a spar between them is the cost for Hibari throwing on a tie and coming to the meeting today.


                “Kufufu,” Mukuro cocks his head and appraises Tsuna with a disturbing amount of affection.  “The meeting was entertaining to watch, Tsunayoshi.  Keep this up and I might hold off on possessing your body for another few years.”


                Tsuna rolls his eyes but waves anyway as Mukuro sweeps away, a regal “come, Nagi” directed at Chrome as he heads for the limo where Ken, Chikusa, and M.M. are waiting.  Chrome waves back with soft eyes and a shy smile before hurrying off after her counterpart.


                “Bastard,” Hayato grumbles without any real ire.  “We should be heading back too, Jyuudaime.”


                “Aa,” Tsuna glances back over his shoulder before smiling apologetically at the rest of his Guardians.  “I'm going to wait for Reborn.  You guys can go ahead first.”


                Lambo starts complaining at once about having to wait for ‘that bastard Reborn’, and Onii-san jumps in to declare that little kids swearing is not at all extreme (which Lambo refutes by loudly announcing that he’s already twelve, thank you very much, and that’s practically an adult), but Hayato and Takeshi both blink at him strangely before exchanging a speculative look between them.


                “What?”  Tsuna prompts with some perplexity.


                His two best friends smile in tandem, for once in complete harmony with each other.


                “Nothing, Tsuna,” Takeshi assures with a grin.  “Alright, we’ll head back first.  Stay inside until Reborn joins you, okay?”


                Still fairly bemused, Tsuna nods and sees them off before commandeering a piece of wall to rest against as he waits for his former tutor to join him.  His friends get rather weird lately whenever Tsuna says he’ll wait for Reborn to join him (which happens pretty often but Reborn’s been following him around – or vice versa – for years now so that’s nothing new), or when he takes a detour on his way home to grab some dinner with Reborn (which is also perfectly normal because they've been eating at least two meals a day with each other since Tsuna was thirteen), or even when Tsuna does something as simple as buy Reborn ice-cream or coffee (which, hello, Reborn’s been conning Tsuna into buying food for him or outright stealing his food since they met).


                It’s kind of odd, and Tsuna can’t figure it out.  Not even his intuition really helps, and the one time he asked Giotto about it, the man just keeled over laughing and didn't stop laughing until Tsuna got fed up with him and sent him away again.


                He guesses that it’s an inside joke, one he’s not party to, so all he can really do is shrug and let them at it.  He’ll probably realize what it is sooner or later, and then it’ll be one of those really obvious things that’ll make him feel like an idiot for a while.  His friends wouldn't laugh at him for something truly malicious.


                Putting the entire matter out of his mind for now, Tsuna glances out the nearby window.  It’s sunset, and an autumn chill wings upon the breeze.  His birthday is coming up, which means Reborn’s is too even though they never know what age to celebrate these days.  They won’t until Reborn catches up to his thirty-one years; the age he was when he was changed into an Arcobaleno.


                Tsuna will have to find a suitable present for the hitman.  It’s always difficult to get something for Reborn because he’s lived (survived) for so long, so it actually takes more than a little effort to think of a gift each year that will surprise him.  It’s fun though, at least for Tsuna, and it gives him a break from his evil paperwork because Reborn can be a greedy child when it comes to presents for him so the man will let him off if Tsuna says it’s for his birthday.


                Tsuna snickers at the thought.  It’s a rather endearing trait, all told.




                “Reborn, what the hell have you been teaching that kid?”  Brabanters demands as soon as the door shuts behind Hibari.  “You were supposed to mould him into a mafia boss!”


                Reborn pushes off the wall and surveys the Rain Guardian with a critical eye.  “No, I was supposed to mould him into a Vongola boss, and that’s what I’ve done.”


                “Vongola boss?”  Nougat cuts in furiously.  “Didn't you hear him?  He threatened to destroy Vongola!”


                Reborn remains unconcerned, posture still relaxed as he watches them all with dark amusement.  “Yes, I know.  He promised as much in that parallel future we fought in.  Vongola Primo deemed him worthy of becoming Vongola Decimo when Tsuna rejected the Vongola’s ‘greatness’ and insisted that he would not accept this Famiglia’s past sins.  Tsuna said he would rather destroy Vongola completely than inherit all the suffering and tragedy that Vongola has wrought in this world.”


                He pauses, enjoying the rather blatant shock cloaking the room.  It’s always fun to rile people up.  For him anyway.


                “And Primo accepted him as the Vongola successor?” Visconti enquired in neutral tones.


                Reborn smirks.  “Of course.  You must have noticed, even if you don’t want to accept it – out of all the Vongola bosses who came after the Primo, Tsuna is the one most like Giotto.  He’s certainly Giotto’s favourite.”


                “He can’t be the Primo’s favourite!”  Nougat objects crossly.


                “Why not?”  Reborn counters.  “They talk to each other at least once every two weeks.”


                More than one face takes on a startled expression.  “But a Vongola successor can’t just summon a past boss from the ring.  The boss has to choose to come out.”


                Reborn arches an eyebrow.  “Yes, I am aware.  Tsuna and his Guardians are rather close to the First Generation Vongola.  Giotto has all but become a father figure to Tsuna.”


                He didn't have to say that but Reborn’s never claimed to be nice.  In fact, he’s of the vindictive sort most of the time, and if he derives pleasure in taking a stab at a certain blond-haired oaf, well, no one understands the minute flinch that momentarily wracks Iemitsu’s body better than Reborn does.


                Out of the corner of his eye, he spots the clock and notes that ten minutes have already ticked by.  He’s pretty certain that Tsuna’s waiting for him out in the front foyer so it’s time to wrap things up.


                “Well, not that this hasn’t been enlightening,” Reborn adjusts his fedora and nods once at Timoteo.  “But I have other things to do.  A word of advice: Tsuna is going to become Vongola Decimo whether you like it or not so it’s best to just accept it.  He’s passed every test I've thrown at him, every test you've thrown at him, every test life has thrown at him, and he’s still come out on top.  You look at him, and you still think he’s too young or too naive, but he’s not that at all.  He’ll clean up Vongola one way or the other, and he knows it’ll be hard.  He knows there’ll be conflicts and battles and maybe even wars but he’ll face them down all the same like he’s done with every other obstacle that stood in his way.  That’s the sort of person he is.”


                Reborn offers one last smirk before turning for the door, only to halt three steps away when Timoteo finally speaks up for the first time since this meeting started.


                “You have a lot of faith in him,” Timoteo remarks, and his old voice is tinged with knowing approval.


                Reborn considers this before throwing back nonchalantly, “Of course.  He’s my former student, and I'm never satisfied with anything but the best.  And... he’ll be my future boss, and I never follow anyone but the best.”


                A few gasps colour the air.  Reborn doesn't blame them; he has never pledged his loyalty to any Famiglia in his entire life.  Alliances, yes, but never anything more than that.


Timoteo is one of the few who doesn't seem surprised by his announcement.  “Ah, you've decided to quit the freelance life then?”

                Reborn shrugs carelessly.  “Retirement is good for the soul.”


                “Sawada already asked him,” Lal supplies quite suddenly.  Amusement touches her voice.


                “Not like you’ll see one without the other anyway,” Mammon pitches in his two cents, much to the general consternation of the room’s occupants.


                Reborn eyeballs both his fellow former Arcobaleno with an undertone of warning in his gaze before he turns and saunters towards the door once more.  This time, no one stops him.


                Two minutes later, Reborn rounds a corner and spots Tsuna lounging against one wall.  The sunlight streaming through the closest window from the setting sun glances off the brunet’s eyes and turns them to liquid fire.  Tsuna’s expression is peaceful and open, as if he’s never known pain or loss, and a small, gentle smile tilts his lips as his gaze focuses on something only he could see.  Reborn finds himself wanting to keep that expression there forever.


                He closes his eyes and gives himself a mental shake.  He can’t think about that.  He shouldn't think about that but it’s been two years and he still is.  If anything, it’s only gotten worse, and other people are catching on.  If it was anyone other than Tsuna, then Reborn would be pulling all the stops to manipulate them into falling head over heels for him in return; he’s done it often enough in the past for people he doesn't lo- about.


But this is Tsuna, and Tsuna is probably the one person in the entire universe that Reborn would never forgive himself for if he ends up hurting the stupidly innocent moron who displays his heart on his sleeve and cares too much.  Besides, Tsuna can do a lot better than Reborn, who looks nineteen at the moment, and will restart his life at thirty-one sooner or later, but is old as dirt in reality compared to Tsuna.  Well, okay, not quite that old, but the comparison stands and-


                “Finished, Reborn?”


                Reborn blinks and finds Tsuna watching him curiously, head cocked to the side like an inquisitive cat.  “Are you done with the meeting?  They didn't kick up another huge fuss, did they?”


                Reborn inwardly sighs as he moves to join Tsuna.  “It went fine.  They just needed a little... convincing.”


                Tsuna doesn't even bother asking for the details before giving him an exasperated look.  “You had fun at their expense again, didn't you?  Honestly, Reborn.”


                Reborn shrugs unrepentantly as they head outside.  Even on Vongola property, he scrutinizes their surroundings for danger with discreet sharpness.  “Their fault for letting me.”


                Tsuna just shakes his head, quirking a helpless smile even as he drops the issue.  “Want to get dinner?”


                Reborn hesitates.  He really should say no.  He knows that Tsuna has no idea what he’s saying, what he sounds like he’s implying, partly because he’s clueless like that, and partly because the only dates he’s ever had were with clueless high school girls who didn't know of their world and only went out with Tsuna once or twice because they asked and Tsuna was too nice to turn them down.


                But then he glances at his former student, like he always does, and the idiot is looking at him with wide expectant eyes, which results in Reborn capitulating, like he always does.


                “Fine,” Reborn sighs, shoving away the voice in his head that says this is going to end up biting him in the ass one day.  “I feel like eating sushi.”


                “We’re in Italy!”  Tsuna protests.


                “Don’t care,” Reborn retorts haughtily.  “Find a place.  And it better be five-star.”


                Tsuna throws his hands into the air but a grin twitches at the corners of his lips, and his eyes glow with suppressed laughter, and Reborn feels like the biggest fool on the planet.


                This really has to stop.




                Tsuna isn’t brooding.  He’s never brooded in his life.  That’s Hayato’s job when his Right-Hand is irritated over something, big or small.


                He’s not sulking either.  That job goes to Lambo who’s been nagging him about learning how to drive recently even though he’s only fourteen.  Even worse, Lambo wants to drive a flying car, courtesy of their science department.  One of these days, Tsuna is going to hunt down Spanner and smack him for putting the idea into Lambo’s head.


                None of that changes the fact that Reborn’s been conspicuously absent in his life lately.  Normally, Tsuna isn’t one to keep track of everybody’s whereabouts so long as they're not out on dangerous missions but this... this has been happening more and more lately.  If he’s honest, it feels like it started as far as a year and a half ago.


                Reborn’s avoiding him.


                It’s not noticeable to most people observing their interactions but Tsuna is part of those interactions so he’s bound to notice sooner or later.  It was gradual to begin with, but Reborn requests just a couple more missions than necessary these days, he has plans of his own more often than not when Tsuna has a free day, and there’s a growing distance between them that scares Tsuna more than he expects.


                Like today for instance.  Reborn has just finished another mission (an assassination that needed to be carried out because that particular mafia famiglia just won’t leave Vongola well enough alone and has continued picking off Tsuna’s people one by one for nearly a year now), and Tsuna rushed through all his paperwork just so he could drag Reborn out for lunch or even just a sparring match because it feels like he hasn’t even really seen Reborn in months, only to be turned down because Reborn ‘has plans’.


                How the man can have plans an hour after returning to Italy is beyond Tsuna, but sure enough, he catches a glimpse of Reborn with some woman on his arm at Tsuna’s favourite coffee shop.


                Not that he was stalking the hitman or anything.  Honest to God, Tsuna was just out on a coffee run (he never did manage to get the coffee, having ducked out of sight as soon as he saw Reborn smirking at something his beautiful blonde date was saying).


                But even thinking about it now sends a foreign pang through Tsuna’s chest, a feeling he can’t quite place because he’s never felt it before.  It makes him bristle restlessly, makes him want to pull a Xanxus and throw his stapler across the room, which doesn't make any sense because Reborn is more than free to spend time with whoever he wants.  The man was clearly out on a date, and Tsuna should be cheering him on because the hitman is finally out and about again having reached twenty-eight-ish at last just a few months ago.  Prime of his youth and all that.


                For some reason though, Tsuna isn’t happy, and it burns in his chest, simmering like hot coal, and the more he thinks about it, the heavier it sits in his gut.  He doesn't even have paperwork to take his mind off of it because he finished all of it in an effort to wrangle some free time out of his schedule for his former tutor.


                It doesn't help that all of this makes him feel guilty too.  Tsuna may be Reborn’s boss but outside of work, he has no say in the hitman’s personal life so he has no right to feel... irritated over anything.  It isn’t as if Reborn’s brought his date into the mansion or something, and it’s not affecting his work.  There’s no problem, no reason to feel upset and almost... betrayed.


                No reason at all.


                Tsuna clicks his tongue in annoyance before getting to his feet and marching out of his office.  Maybe some time in one of the training rooms where he can beat things up indiscriminately will clear his head a bit.  And if that doesn't work, then he’s sure that Kyouya will be more than happy to spar with him.  Fights like the ones between himself and his Cloud Guardian never leave room for anything but instincts and adrenaline.


                A memory of Reborn chatting to that blonde lady flashes through Tsuna’s mind again, and Tsuna stomps off down the hallway.  He thinks he’ll skip the solo training and go straight on to requesting a spar from Kyouya.




                A muscle in Reborn’s jaw jumps as he watches yet another Mafioso – this one an average-looking sleaze ball of a man – sidle up to Tsuna and offer the Decimo a flute of champagne before engaging him in conversation.  Tsuna – the idiot – only blinks in surprise before offering a bright smile and turning his attention on the shady bastard.


                “Get that look off your face, Reborn, before security thinks that that guy is a safety risk to the Decimo.”  A dry voice reaches his ears from his left.


                Reborn tilts his fedora down further to shadow his eyes before aiming a glower at an entirely unaffected Lal at his side.  “I don’t have a look on my face.”


                Lal snorts in a rather unladylike manner before taking a sip from her own glass of wine.  Her gaze is split between Tsuna’s newest wannabe suitor and her own husband who is salivating over the buffet table.


                “Right,” Lal acknowledges sardonically.  “Well, Jealousy-Is-Thy-Name, a word to the wise: if looks could kill, your ‘non-look’ would've buried that guy ten feet under and then some three times over by now, so maybe you should consider switching to a different non-look.”


                Reborn scowls threateningly at her – something she dismisses with a coolly raised eyebrow – before glancing away, pointedly not looking at Tsuna again.


                “Jeez, Reborn, I hate to tell you this,” Lal doesn't look particularly regretful.  “But you have it bad, and I can’t believe I'm about to give this pep-talk to you of all people but it has to be said because this is getting pathetic – why don’t you grow some balls and do something about this?  It’s been years; it’s not just going to go away.  Trust me on this; I spent the first five years after meeting Colonello hoping for the exact same thing, then that damn Curse kicked in and I thought I’d never be able to do anything about it, but now the moron’s my husband. Now I know you're more stubborn than I could ever be but it’s been... what?  Six years?  Seven years?  Eight?  Tsuna’s twenty-four now.  I can understand your aversion to the whole idea when he was sixteen, seventeen, even eighteen, but he’s a big boy now, and you're only fooling yourself if you think you’ll be manipulating him or some shit if you decide to pursue him as a love interest.  And don’t even pull the age difference card.  If you two don’t care, I don’t see why it should matter to anyone else.  All this avoiding is only hurting yourself and him.  The entire mansion knows you've been brushing him off, and it’s stressing him out.  I heard from Mammon that even Xanxus is getting fed up with your bullshit and he’s been threatening to shoot you through the head if you don’t get your act together.”


                Reborn scoffs loudly, more uncomfortable with the topic at hand than he visibly shows.  “I’d like to see him try.  Goddamnit, it’s no one’s business but mine.”


                “It’s everybody’s business when you're upsetting our boss,” Lal counters calmly.  “Look, Reborn, for what it’s worth, I really don’t think Tsuna will turn you down.  You should’ve seen his face last week when you cancelled lunch plans with him for another date.  He looked ready to murder someone.  Even Mukuro was smart enough not to mock him about it that day.”


                “He knows?”  Reborn inwardly winces at how alarmed he sounds.


                Lal stares at him dubiously.  “Mukuro?  Of course he does!  Almost everyone knows.  There are running bets going on-”


                “Not Mukuro,” Reborn snaps impatiently.  He would actually be surprised if Mukuro doesn't know.  “Tsuna.”

                “Oh, Tsuna doesn't know,” Lal chortles.  “I think he’ll figure it out eventually, he’s close, but nobody’s actually told him for all that a few of them tease him about acting like a jealous boyfriend.  He hasn’t quite figured out how he feels either, though I suppose that’s just a matter of time too.  Man can be really dense when it comes to feelings between the two of you.  That intuition of his is useless when it comes to his love life, and I don’t know if that’s the most hilariously ironic thing I've ever come across, or the most annoying.”


                Reborn draws in a deep breath.  “Tsuna doesn't- He won’t feel that way.  He’s got suitors throwing themselves at him left and right, and I've stayed out of his way for the most part.”


                Lal rolls his eyes and drains the last of her wine.  “Oh my god, when you two finally work things out, I reserve the right to say ‘I told you so’.  I promise, I’ll scream it from the rooftops.  You're a stubborn fool, Reborn, and much too afraid of getting hurt.”  She ignores the blistering glare he sends her way.  “I'm just saying, it’d be a shame if you screwed this up because you've shut your heart away for too long.  You two... You two are good for each other.  If you can’t see that, then you're nowhere near as smart as you make people believe you are.”


She gives him one last shrewd look before shaking her head and moving off to join her husband.  Reborn scowls after her before his gaze involuntarily drifts back to Tsuna again.  The younger man does look a bit haggard around the edges but that could easily just be because the workload is getting to him.  This part-mafia, part-law-enforcement function has taken months to put together, if only because they needed to make sure that no one would shoot anyone or arrest anyone in a fit of pique.  Tsuna’s outdone himself by hashing out some ceasefires and tentative alliances with the Italian police force.


Reborn sighs and busies himself with taking an elegant gulp of his champagne.  He hasn’t bothered finding a date for this social gathering; his brain couldn't take pretending to be interested in the inane chatter of his long line of admirers for yet another five hours, especially with Tsuna in the vicinity.


His lip curls into a displeased sneer as he watches the bastard flirting with Tsuna reach out and place one hand on the Decimo’s forearm.  A flicker of subtle discomfort flits across Tsuna’s face, and without seeming to, he expertly shifts, forcing the hand to drop away.  The kind smile on his face however never falters.  Soon after, the flirting bastard slinks away, evidently disappointed.


Still, it ticks Reborn off as more and more people gravitate towards Tsuna like moths to a flame.  They can’t seem to leave the Decimo alone, some with greed in their eyes, others with marked lust, and only a sparse few with respectful interest in striking up an honest conversation.  Tsuna greets them all politely, charming them with genuine smiles and earnest words, and Reborn boils with possessive fury when a dark-haired Italian – from the Durante Famiglia – with a mischievous air about him stays for longer than the others and succeeds in making Tsuna laugh.


Reborn downs the rest of his drink and storms out of the gala; it isn’t as if he really needs to stay anyway.


He thinks that Lal must be mistaken; Tsuna hasn’t so much as looked at him all evening.


“I’ll take this mission,” Reborn says tersely the next morning, tapping a finger against the file on Tsuna’s desk.  Tsuna blinks at him, unreadable for once, and tired around the eyes.


Probably stayed up late for some great sex last night in one of the guestrooms, a voice in his head snarks nastily.  Reborn cheerfully tells it to shut the hell up.


“Reborn-” Tsuna starts, but Reborn effectively cuts him off by picking up the folder and turning for the door.


“This needs to be done,” Reborn points out, thankful to whatever higher power that this is actually true.  It’s a simple enough hit, especially with the two-person requirement, but the assassin who needs killing has been a thorn in Vongola’s side for three years now.  They've only just managed to find enough intel on this guy to locate his latest base of operations.


Tsuna sighs, resigned and weary, but nods at last.  “But Reborn, I- When you get back, I’d really like to talk about something with you, okay?”


Reborn grunts an affirmative and waves a hand in the air even as he slips out the door.  With any luck, Tsuna will have forgotten what he wants to talk about, or Reborn can come up with an excuse.


“Stay safe,” Tsuna calls after him, and Reborn endeavours not to let the warm concern in that voice touch him.


He fails.




                *Ring* *Ring* *Ring* *Ring* *Ring* *Ring* *Ring* *Ri-*


                “I’m in the middle of a job, Tsuna.  Is something wro-”


                “I fi’ured it out.”




                “I figured it out.”


                “Figured what out?”


                “Why you've been so angry with me.”


                “...I haven’t been angry with you.  Tsuna, now’s not a good time to-”


                “And why I’ve been kinda angry with you too.”




                “I fi’ured it all out.  And I jus’ wan’ed... to tell you that.  And that it’s okay.”


                “...That’s... good.  Tsuna, are you drunk?”


                From the cold concrete floor, Tsuna blinks hazily at a random point at the far end of the room.  Drunk?  Was he drunk?  No, no he wasn't drunk.  If he was drunk, his Flames would've flushed out the alcoholic side-effects, and then he wouldn't be drunk, which was why he rarely got drunk, and at the moment, his Flames weren’t-


                “No, ’m no’ drunk,” Tsuna tells the phone.  “Do I soun’ drunk?”


                “Yes, just a bit.  Your words are slurring together.”


                “Oh,” Tsuna considers this for a moment.  Without meaning to, his gaze drops to the dark tint staining the floor around him.  There was barely any light so even he couldn't make out the colour very well.  Still, somehow, he knows that it’s red.  How does he know it’s red?


                “’m not drunk,” He thinks he’s already said that but it never hurts to repeat it for good measure.  What were they talking about again?  “Hey Reborn, I usually like red cuz red is Haya’o’s colour, and Haya’o’s my bes’ friend.  So is Ta’eshi.  He’s blue though so he doesn’ coun’ righ’ now.  Haya’o won’ min’ if I s’op liking red for a while, will he?  Cuz I really don’ like red- at the mo-”


                He doesn't finish the sentence before he’s cut off with a series of wet coughs that splash the tang of copper on his tongue, coating the inside of his mouth.  His lungs seize and he struggles for air, body convulsing painfully.  When his breathing finally evens out back to a moderately constant tempo, he hears Reborn’s voice calling him urgently from somewhere on his right.  It’s a good thing he put the hitman on speaker because Tsuna doesn't think he has enough energy to pick up the phone.


                “-na!  Tsuna!  Are you injured?  Where are you?  What happened?  Colonello, book the next flight back to Italy.  I don’t care what it takes; get us on that plane.  Tsuna, answer me!”


                “I think ’m injured,” Tsuna mumbles, feeling something wet trickle out of the corner of his mouth.  “’m in a warehouse somewhere.  ’m sure someone’s got... a lock on my phone by now.  Was on my way... to the Varia mansion.  Stupid effing driver was a trai’or.  Kyouya will be pissed.  Stupid driver shot me.  Twice.  No, once.  I stopped the second one.”


                “Okay, that’s good, but the first one, Tsuna, is the bullet still inside you?  Where did it hit you?  Is there an exit wound?”


                “Yes,” Tsuna blinks rapidly for a second.  “No.”


                “It’s either a yes or a no, Tsuna, try and keep up.  I need you to concentrate.”


                “No exit wound,” Tsuna coughs again.  “It entered... through the front.  Think it nicked a lung.  But it’s not inside anymore.  Not really.  Think it dissolved.”




                “Mm.  Something’s- Something’s attac’ing my Flames.  From the inside.  But only when I use ’em.”


                “Okay.  Alright.  We’ll worry about that later.  Right now, you need to staunch the blood flow.  I'm assuming you're bleeding out?”


                Tsuna blinks again, drowsily.  “Yeah.  Tried to... staunch it.  Soaked ’rough my coat alrea’y.  ...There’s a lotta red, Reborn.  And it- it hurts.”


                There’s a long pause on the other end.  Tsuna thinks he can pick up Colonello swearing like a sailor in the background, along with a cacophony of honking traffic.  When Reborn speaks again, there’s an oddly strangled quality to his words underscoring the forced calm of his voice.  “...You’re going to be fine, Tsuna.  Do you have any other materials on hand to press against the injury?”


                Tsuna shakes his head numbly.  The hand he has pressed to his front, a little to the side of his solar plexus, is already slippery with flowing liquid.  The silver of his rings is streaked with crimson.


                “Tsuna?  I need you to answer me.”


                Tsuna frowns, trying to concentrate.  What was the question again?  He can’t remember.  His mind drifts.  Where is he?  What-


                “Dame-Tsuna, get your head together and focus.  Now!


                The sharpness of Reborn’s voice cuts through the fog in his head, and Tsuna rouses a little.  “...Reborn?”


                “That’s better.  I need you to keep talking to me, okay?  Colonello’s just phoned Lal, and she’s confirmed that they have a lock on your position.  You just need to sit tight until they arrive, understand?”


                Tsuna nods, and then remembers that Reborn got mad at him for not answering last time.  “Yes.  Yeah.”


                “Alright then, keep putting pressure on the wound.  Tell me how you escaped.”


                Tsuna’s brow scrunches.  “Mm... was knocked out for ’while af’er I killed the driver.  Then I woke up.  Someone else was carryin’ me but... he put me on the ground to make a call.  Idiot didn’ even... search me for a gun.  Only took my box weapons.  I shot ’im in the head.  He’s over there.”


                “Good.”  There’s something darkly satisfied in Reborn’s voice.  “What were you doing heading over to the Varia mansion anyway?”


                Tsuna doesn't respond right away this time either as shivers wrack his body.  For some reason though, his words slide off his tongue a little more clearly.  He’s cold though.  He thinks he’d rather take the slurred speech over the cold.  “...I- I needed a break.  There were- Mukuro was bein’ creepy again... and Kyouya was tryin’ to... pick a fight with him.  Hayato was... was angry at Takeshi again so the guest wing is... is gone... again... and Onii-san joined in and des- destroyed... half the medical wing so- so Shamal was pissed off too.  Chrome is- Chrome is mad at Ken for- for practically ignoring her for two weeks, and Ken is only ignoring her cuz he’s freaking out about- about what engagement ring he should buy for her, and Lambo wants me to- to pull some strings for him so he can- can get his full driver’s license early so that... he can take I-Pin out on a- on a proper date.  Like that’s gonna happen.  The car I mean, not- not the date.  They were drivin’ me crazy so- so I had to get- get outta there.  Xanxus took- took pity on me and said I could- could stay over there for a while if- if I brought a bottle of my best wine.”


                Tsuna stops there, searching his memory.  “Reborn?  I dunno what happened to the wine.  Xanxus will be mad.”


                “He won’t be, Tsuna,” Reborn’s voice is soothing.  “Don’t worry; he’ll understand.”


                Tsuna sputters out a laugh even though he’s not quite sure what the funny thing is.  “He’s not a very- a very understandin’ guy.”


                “Then I’ll help him understand,” Reborn promises in a light but oddly hollow tone.  “I’ll do a good job.  Make a lesson out of it.”


                Tsuna laughs again, and then coughs again, and then he doesn't say or do anything else again for a while even as Reborn’s voice – he can’t quite make out the words anymore – snap at him with increasing agitation.


                Reborn sounds panicked, Tsuna notes dimly.  Reborn never sounds panicked.  I wonder what’s wrong.


                Black spots swim into his vision even he tries to comprehend the... dread?  Fear? that colours Reborn’s voice.  Tsuna’s head lolls, and he lists to the side, slipping sideways along the wall at his back only to stop when he manages to brace himself against it once more.  He’s so tired, his whole body is heavy, but the chill in his bones doesn't bother him quite as much anymore.


                Reborn’s voice, while indistinct, still rings in his ears though, and the memory of something important, something he has to say, the entire reason for the phone call in the first place, suddenly blazes to the forefront of his deadened thoughts.  He can’t move, but he tries to project his voice as best he can.


                “Reborn?”  He rasps out doggedly, and he senses more than hears Reborn fall quiet.  “Reborn?  I- I don’t think I told you.  I don’t think I told you why I called.  I just wanted to say- to say that- that if you want to- if you want to-”


The words won’t come.  Tsuna feels his eyes sting, and he musters up the last dredges of his energy to force out, “I think- I think I love you.”  Again, he senses more than hears a shocked hush on the other end of the line.  “You- You’re always out with those women, and I was- I think I was jealous, but I didn't understand, but then- but then Lal told me to- to try ignoring you at that- at that function last week- and you got so angry, and then after you- after you left for the- the mission- I- I thought about it a lotand- and then I finally under- understood- in the car on my way to the Varia mansion, and- and I just- I love you, and I don’t even know when I- when I started to love you but I do- and I just wanted you to know...”


He trails off with a sigh that sounds like relief, and he lets himself slump onto the ground.  He’s said it now, said what he wanted to say when he first called, and that is enough.  He’s pretty sure, pretty sure that Reborn maybe-possibly-hopefully loves him back, and the thought makes him smile even as his eyes fall shut.  Something like his name echoes in his ears but he has nothing left in him to reply as sweet oblivion drags him under.




                “Hurry the fuck up!”  Reborn snarls for what has to be the sixth time since they got off the plane.  He wishes he is driving but Colonello refused, citing some preposterous reason about Reborn being too emotional.


                “What the hell does it look like I'm doing, kora?!”  Colonello barks back as he takes the car up onto the sidewalk, narrowly missing five pedestrians, a cyclist, and two dogs in the process.  Horns are blaring nonstop on all sides, including their own, and there’s at least three different wailing sirens in the background but Colonello doesn't so much as blink, flattening two bushes to bypass a Ferrari before cutting across five lanes to bully his way onto the freeway.


                Reborn grits his teeth and yanks on his fedora, the brim all but crushed in his hand as he glares murder out the window.  His other hand clutches his phone.  He doesn't think he’ll ever forget listening to Tsuna die even if he lives for the rest of eternity.


                But Tsuna won’t die, Reborn assures himself.  He received his fifth call from Hayato himself (sounding wrecked and hoarse with veiled terror) only an hour ago to confirm that Tsuna is still alive and fighting for his life on the operating table.  Shamal is doing all he can, Ryouhei and Lussuria are both lending their Flames, and Irie, Spanner, and Verde are working overtime to break down the substance in Tsuna’s bloodstream so that they’ll be able to create a cure.  Half the Family is already parked in the waiting room while the other half are out hunting.


                “Estraneo,” Hayato spat out over the phone during his second update.  “Apparently, they aren’t all dead, and they were interested in Jyuudaime’s Flames enough to go after him directly.  Mukuro’s flipped his shit.  He and his group are tearing up all of Sicily looking for them, and Kyouya’s helping.  Takeshi and Dino are dealing with the police while Squalo and Xanxus are doing crowd control with the Italian mafia.  Nobody outside Vongola and the Chiavarone will know that- that Jyuudaime might- that his life is in real danger.  They've gone with a semi-serious but non-life-threatening injury as the cover story.  Clipped by a sniper.”


                Reborn’s jaw tightens.  Outside his window, hundreds of feet away in the distance, he sees indigo and purple Flames leaping skyward in the middle of the city.  Tsuna’s problem children look to be taking vengeance to a whole new level.  Logically, politically, it’s a bad move to attack so openly, even if their targets are society’s scum.  Reborn can’t find it in himself to care.


                “Five minutes, kora,” Colonello reports shortly, features set in grim lines as they turn off the highway and the blond floors the gas pedal once more.  “Don’t worry, Reborn.  Tsuna’s strong.”


                Reborn closes his eyes.  He doesn't need Colonello to tell him that.  He doesn't need anyone to tell him that.  He knows Tsuna better than anyone, and because of that, he knows that Tsuna would never have blurted out all those things (I love you.) so candidly if he didn't think he might die.


                Reborn will never forgive Tsuna (himself) if that idiot doesn't live to let him say it back.


                “We’re here!” Colonello announces, practically crashing through the Vongola gates before the guards have them opened all the way.  “Go!”


                Reborn is out of the car before it even pulls to a stop, and a butler has the front doors open and waiting for him as he sprints by, down two hallways and past a bust of Knuckle, and then he’s flying into the waiting area of the medical wing where all eyes hone in on him and light up with hope a second later.


                “He’s in the ER?”  Reborn asks crisply, all business as he shucks his fedora and the outer coat of his suit, tossing them onto a nearby chair as Leon jumps onto a nearby counter.  He’s already rolling up his sleeves as he strides for the emergency room.


                “Ryouhei and Lussuria are running out of Flames,” Hayato reports tightly, matching his swift pace.  “The virus inside Jyuudaime is eating active Flames like no tomorrow, and now it’s moved on to eating his organs, but last I checked, Verde thinks they've almost got the cure.  And Byakuran just called three minutes ago offering to bring Daisy over; he probably wrangled this mess out of Irie.  I told him yes.”


                “Have Daisy on standby,” Reborn instructs curtly as he opens the ER doors.  “But I won’t need him.”


                He snaps the doors shut behind him, and his presence draws Ryouhei and Lussuria’s attention.  Shamal is the only one who doesn't look up, his expression set and focused as his mosquitoes buzz around him and his scalpels whirl between his fingers.  Reborn only takes cursory notice of all this.  Instead, his attention is wholly focused on the man on the operating table, eyes closed, oxygen mask over his mouth, splattered with crimson, and his torso cut open and practically disintegrating with each passing second, a mess of blood and guts.  All from one measly bullet.


                He closes his eyes, counts one, two, three heartbeats, centering himself, and then he opens his eyes again and shoulders his way past Ryouhei and Lussuria.  He digs deep and taps into the solar pulse of heat in his soul, summoning up his Flames even as he places his hands over the devastating injury on Tsuna’s body, and a moment later, Sun Flames explode form his hands, blinding the rest of the room as they come to life and pour into the mutilated damage.


                He can feel organs and muscles and tissue and skin knit together, only to fall apart again as something fights back, reopening everything, tearing everything apart as fast as Reborn can heal.  Reborn snarls wordlessly and pushes even harder.  Like hell.  He isn’t losing Tsuna, especially not to some fucked up virus.


                “Reborn-san!”  Ryouhei hollers about the sheer intensity of the bright yellow Flames flooding the room.  “You must slow down or you’ll run extremely dry!”


                Reborn pays him no mind and shoves even harder.


                He’s mine, Reborn growls, closing his eyes again and letting his senses do the work for him.  Part of him is talking to the Flame-eater, and part of him is talking to the Estraneo, but most of all, he’s probably talking to the universe at large at this point.  He’s mine and you can’t have him.  No one can have him but me.  Try to take him away and I will eviscerate you.  I'm a selfish man.  Now that I know he can be mine, I would burn this world to the ground to keep him.


                He reaches in, in, in, all the way in to Tsuna’s very core, soul-deep and pulsing, and he finds the poison spreading like barbs all throughout Tsuna’s body.  He reaches, he closes his Sun-filled hands around the source of the taint, and he shatters it.


                He thinks he hears a scream.  He ignores it.


                He knows he sees soft brown eyes flicker open.


And then everything tilts sideways, and he knows no more.




                Awareness comes in pieces.  Tsuna hears the faint buzz of worried voices first, followed by music or quiet laughter, and then finally more distinct conversations happening over his head.  However, he doesn't fully wake until two weeks after the kidnapping/assassination attempt.


                When he does manage to peel his eyelids open at last, it’s to a familiar mahogany ceiling, an open window letting in a cool summer breeze, blankets and a stack of clothes that unmistakeably belong to Reborn piled neatly in one corner by the couch, and an otherwise empty bedroom.  It takes him a few minutes to sort himself out, though his thoughts have been arranging themselves in intervals even while he was unconscious.  He doesn't know the details but he does know he came very close to death, and that it is largely thanks to Reborn that he isn’t dead at the moment.


                Tsuna also remembers his admission of love in the warehouse.  Just thinking about it turns his face to a fire engine red.  He groans softly, scrubbing a hand over his face.  He’s mortified, definitely, but he can’t bring himself to be sorry about it.  He’s not sorry he’s dead, but he’s also not sorry to have been able to get that confession off his chest in the face of his impending death.  It took him a damn long time to come to that conclusion (no wonder his friends have been laughing at him for years), and he’s pretty sure (hopefully) that Reborn-


                He swallows the nervousness and apprehension, and then makes a face when he registers the fact that his mouth feels like something has died in it.  Bathroom sounds like the best option at this point.


                Twenty minutes later, he’s toweling his hair dry and buttoning up his shirt as he meanders back into his bedroom.  He doesn't bother with footwear as he makes his way onto the balcony, releasing a content sigh as the breeze kiss his cheeks in welcome.


                “It is good to see you up and about,” A warm voice greets from beside him.  Tsuna smiles and glances briefly over at Giotto.  “You gave us all a scare.”


                “Yeah, sorry about that,” Tsuna sighs again and leans against the railing.  Giotto watches him with sombre blue eyes.


                “Did you know?”  The blond looks slightly pensive.  “The day you almost died two weeks ago was the same day you did die in that other future.  It’s funny how the universe works, don’t you think?”


                Tsuna’s eyes widened.  He doesn't know the exact date the other him died (and eventually came back to life) but to think it falls on the same day...


                Giotto smiles now, and rakes a gentle hand through Tsuna’s hair as if Tsuna’s still a child.  “Either way, I am glad you survived.  You are far too young to be joining our ranks.  You haven’t yet lived enough.”  A pause, and then an amused smile.  “You haven’t yet loved enough either.”


                Tsuna’s cheeks grow hot, and he swats a hand at Giotto who laughs and floats out of reach.  “I shall take my leave now, Tsuna.  You have company.”


                Giotto disappears, and a second later, Tsuna’s intuition spikes to tell him someone is coming.  The balcony isn’t immediately visible to someone coming in through the door so Tsuna isn’t surprised when said door swings open, cat-light footsteps pad inside only to stop, and then a voice sharp with controlled alarm, “Tsuna?”


                “Over here,” Tsuna calls out.  “Reborn.”


                The sound of the door clicking shut is followed by twelve brisk footsteps, and then Reborn is ducking outside, fedora still perched on his head but his suit foregone for the day, leaving only a white shirt and black slacks.  For a long second, they drink each other in, and to Tsuna’s horror, he feels his face heat up.  The tiniest hint of a very cocky smirk curls at the corners of Reborn’s lips, and something like hunger smoulders in his eyes, mixed with an emotion that makes Tsuna’s breath hitch in his lungs, but the hitman is feeling benevolent enough today to not comment on the whole issue first thing in the... afternoon.  Instead, he moves forward to join Tsuna at the railing.  Their arms don’t quite touch but the hitman is close enough for Tsuna to feel his body heat.


                “Who told you you could get out of bed?”  Reborn demands with an arched eyebrow.


                “Nobody said I couldn't,” Tsuna counters just as quickly, and Reborn snorts at the expected answer.


                “...How are you feeling?”  Reborn enquires after another short silence.


                “Fine,” Tsuna assures, huffing at Reborn’s blatantly skeptical expression. “Really.  I- You healed me really well.”


                “Hm,” Reborn shifts, seemingly weighing something, and then his left arm extends and snakes itself around Tsuna’s waist before pulling him roughly into the hitman’s side.  Tsuna makes a noise at the back of his throat that is most definitely not a squeak, and his face flames red once more.  Reborn doesn't let go.  “It wasn't just me.  From what I hear, Xanxus reached you first at the warehouse and brought you back to the mansion in record time.  Shamal, Ryouhei, and Lussuria kept you alive for over five hours until I got there, and when I... collapsed after healing you, Shamal and Daisy patched the rest of you up.  It was a joint effort.”


                Tsuna frowns, making a mental note to thank everyone, and also to visit the Millefiore headquarters to thank Daisy and Byakuran.  And to go see Yuni as well.  For Byakuran to voluntarily offer aid, Tsuna must've been very close to death.


                “You collapsed?”  Tsuna asks out loud.  Absently, his shoulders ease up, and he lets himself relax against Reborn.


“Yes,” Reborn gripes rather sourly, and Tsuna rolls his eyes.  “Exhaustion from Flame depletion. I was back on my feet in three days though.”


For Reborn of all people to take three days to recover is near unbelievable.


“Thanks,” Tsuna murmurs.  He doesn't make a fuss about it because he knows Reborn wouldn't like it.


The hitman hums in acknowledgement, and the hand clasped at Tsuna’s waist tightens.  “Try not to do that again.  Especially when I'm two countries away.”


Tsuna scowls a bit.  “As if I wanted to send you two countries away.”


Tension skyrockets.  Neither speaks for a long minute, and it’s Tsuna who breaks the silence eventually.  He chooses not to talk about the elephant between them, not yet.


“So what happened anyway?”  He says instead, striving for a buoyant tone.  “I'm going to guess it wasn't a random abduction attempt.”


Reborn scoffs a little, adjusting his grip on Tsuna to draw him even closer.  “It was the Estraneo.  Apparently, they weren’t all dead.”


“...Weren’t?”  Tsuna enquires warily.


Reborn’s mouth twists briefly into a vicious mockery of a smile.  “Weren’t.  They’re all gone now.  Mukuro and Kyouya tracked the last of them down.  Instant execution.”


Tsuna’s head drops forward, and he groans plaintively at this news.  “Damn, and I can’t even be mad at them about it.  Do I want to know the consequences of their killing spree?”


Reborn shrugs.  “The police say they’ll give us a pass.  It’s the Estraneo; they would've gotten a death sentence if they had been brought in anyway, and once the circumstances were made clear, they figured that this could all be water under the bridge.  Told us not to do it again though.”


The expression on the hitman’s face clearly broadcasts what he thinks about being ordered around by law enforcement.  Tsuna quirks a wry smile.  He’s not in the habit of obeying other people either.  He’ll listen, and he’ll compromise of course, but he’ll always put his friends’ wellbeing first.


“Is Mukuro okay?”  Tsuna asks next because the resurfacing of Mukuro’s hated childhood nightmare cannot be a good thing in any universe.


Reborn nods.  “He’s fine.  It gave him some peace of mind to actively wipe out the last of them.  And he was relieved when he heard that you would make a full recovery.  Visibly relieved.  For a few seconds.  Hayato said it was unsettling to watch.”


Tsuna chuckles but it’s a tired sound this time.  He can feel a comfortable sort of fatigue weighing on his limbs again, and he supposes that he still isn’t completely healed yet.  Reborn seems to sense this because the hitman turns him around and nudges him back into the bedroom.  The arm around Tsuna’s waist leaves, and he instantly misses it.


“Back to bed,” Reborn orders, ushering him inside.  “Are you hungry?”


Tsuna shakes his head.  “Not right now.”

“I’ll bring something up for you when you wake up again then,” Reborn promises as Tsuna shuffles across the room.


Tsuna halts a foot away from the bed, and suddenly, everything becomes awkward again.  He cranes his head around and peers up at Reborn who is watching him with perceptive onyx eyes, arms by his side, entire frame still as laidback as usual.


Tsuna clears his throat.  They really should talk about this.  Really.  But they've been avoiding the issue for so long.  “Um-”


That’s as far as he gets before Reborn is suddenly there, crowding into his space like he damn well belongs in it, and Tsuna would've tripped backwards onto his bed if one strong hand isn’t already pressed against his back, steadying him just before Reborn dives down and a mouth slants over his and-




Reborn kisses with the same single-minded intensity he puts into everything, and Tsuna feels like he’s being devoured as a tongue sweeps into his mouth and a hand cups the back of head, all heat and passion and mineminemine as fingers tangle in his hair to keep him in place.  Reborn tastes like coffee and danger and sunlight at dusk, and Tsuna barely notices the moan that forms in his throat as he returns the kiss with equal fervour, arms reaching up to twine around Reborn’s neck, because this is everything he has ever wanted, and it feels right, like he’s been waiting for this for forever, like he’s finally come home.  It’s addictive and a little desperate like they're trying to make up for lost time, and there’s nowhere else Tsuna would rather be at that moment.


When they finally pull back for air, Tsuna is gasping, lips undoubtedly red and swollen, and it doesn't help that Reborn simply stares down at him with unabashed satisfaction, smug and happy in a way that Tsuna hasn’t seen in a long while.  They've somehow manoeuvred themselves onto the bed, Reborn sitting on the edge while Tsuna is practically sprawled on his lap, and Reborn’s hands clearly have no intention of leaving him if the possessive arm slung around his waist and his other hand curled around the back of his neck are anything to go by.  Reborn’s eyes have always been as black as a raven’s feathers but they're even darker right now, like shards of a starless midnight sky.


“You're an idiot,” Reborn informs him, effectively ruining the mood.


Tsuna splutters.  “I’m the idiot?  Who’s the one who’s been avoiding me for years now?”


“To be fair,” Reborn grumbles at the reminder.  “I only started... distancing myself about three years ago.”


“When I was twenty-one, which makes zero sense!”  Tsuna accuses.  “It would've been more logical if you had avoided me when I was still- I don’t know, jailbait age!  Not when I was a legal adult!”


Reborn huffs but doesn't make any attempt to defend himself, yanking Tsuna closer instead, and hooking his chin over Tsuna’s left shoulder as his arms wind tighter around him.  Tsuna rolls his eyes, still feeling a little giddy and a little amazed at how easy this is, but he doesn't say anything, choosing to tuck himself against the hitman instead, squirming a little to get more comfortable before settling down again.


They stay like that for a long time, long enough for Tsuna to start dozing off, comfortable and warm and safe.  He only stirs a bit when Reborn shifts, rearranging them so that they could actually lie down on the bed.  Tsuna doesn't open his eyes even when the blankets are thrown over both of them.


He’s teetering on the brink of sleep when he feels more than hears the words, Reborn’s lips pressed against his temple as they're murmured into Tsuna’s dreams.


‘Love you too.’


Tsuna smiles.






                “You couldn't have waited a month?!  I had eighty euros riding on next month!”


                “You couldn't have done this last month?!  I had a hundred euros down for last month!”


                “You couldn't have waited six months, kora?!  Christmas is a nice holiday for love!  I had two hundred down for Christmas, fuck you very much!”


                Reborn’s left eye twitches.  He can’t believe he actually lives with these idiots.  He wonders if Tsuna would mind if he commits large-scale slaughter.  The blood will be hard to get out of the carpets but it’s for a good cause.


                “It’s okay, Reborn,” Lal spares a second to pat him cheerfully on the shoulder before resuming the job of gathering up her winnings.  There looks to be enough to buy her a small country.  Reborn feels his homicidal rage rise.  “It’s all in good fun.  You know we were all cheering you on.  This is just our way of showing we care.”


                Reborn gives her the exceedingly unimpressed look this deserves before stalking away.  Honestly, if they all knew, couldn't they have done something a little more obvious to clue Tsuna in earlier?  To think it took a brush with death on Tsuna’s part for everything to come out into the open.


                He grimaces at this.  He doesn't like thinking about it.  It was close, far too close, and if even one of them were a minute too slow, Tsuna wouldn't be here right now, Vongola would be in shambles, and all of Italy would probably go up in flames with the amount of retribution that all of Tsuna’s friends would mete out.


                And Reborn himself would-


                He doesn't let himself think about that.




                An unbidden smile quirks his lips as he turns to watch Tsuna hurrying towards him, shrugging on a sweater.  “Finished your paperwork?”


                Tsuna makes a face.  “Still have a few budget forms to fill out but those can wait.  Dinner?”


                “At Alberto’s?”  Reborn suggests as they exit the mansion and head out of Vongola grounds.  They both ignore the smiles coming from various butlers and chauffeurs.


                “And ice-cream afterwards!”  Tsuna announces enthusiastically.  Reborn’s smile widens just a touch.  He hasn’t seen Tsuna this lively in a long time.


                “I’ll pay today,” Reborn says offhandedly, inwardly snickering when Tsuna’s jaw drops.


                “Now there’s a first,” Tsuna recovers, shaking his head in amusement as they stroll down one street, the evening breeze frolicking around them.  “Don’t I usually pay?”


                “We can take turns from now on,” Reborn decides languidly, meeting laughing eyes with a smirk of his own.  “Wouldn't want you to go bankrupt.”


                “A real concern of mine,” Tsuna concurs magnanimously.  “Especially what with the mansion being blown up every other week.”


                “Oh, they won’t be doing that for a while,” Reborn smiles somewhat sadistically, earning himself an elbow to the gut.  “They deserved the training I put them through.  You wouldn't have been in that car if they weren’t still a bunch of overgrown children to the point where they chased you out of your own house.”


                Tsuna sighs, looking exasperated and thankful at the same time.  “Then I probably would've been caught some other time but I suppose less paperwork coming from my own Family can’t be anything but good news.”


                “Frees up some of your time too,” Reborn agrees with self-satisfaction dripping from his voice.  “For far more productive activities of course.”


                Tsuna snorts even as his cheeks tinge red but he only grabs Reborn’s hand, their fingers sliding together as if they've done this countless times, and drags him into Alberto’s.  “You're as subtle as a train wreck, Reborn.  And you're still not getting any until you take me out on a proper date.”


                “What do you call this then?”  Reborn protests sulkily, though he’ll never admit it on pain of death.


                “Our customary dinners,” Tsuna replies with a cheeky grin.  “Which we’ve been having for over a decade now, so unless you're trying to tell me that we’ve been dating since I was thirteen and you were two-”


                Tsuna dodges the cuff that Reborn aims at his head, bright laughter spilling out into the open and making even the strangers around them look around and smile.  Reborn just rolls his eyes, pulls Tsuna close again, and drags him after their waiter.


                “Stop laughing, Dame-Tsuna,” Reborn orders, but the words come out fond and amused instead of annoyed, and Tsuna just smiles up at him, bright like the sun with his heart in his eyes, and Reborn can’t bring himself to look away.




                Looking back, Tsuna knows that he’s come a long, long way from that scared little boy who couldn't even stand up for himself much less anyone else.


He remembers back when Takeshi was just Yamamoto, the popular boy in his class whose smiles and laughs were all cracked around the edges until he becomes more to Tsuna, and Tsuna becomes more to him.


He remembers Kyouya who used to be Hibari-san, one of Tsuna’s biggest fears, and now they go head to head in sparring matches at least once a month.


He remembers Onii-san who was plain weird in Tsuna’s book and whose extremeness was to be avoided at all costs, but has since become someone Tsuna wouldn't trade for the world.  He remembers Kyoko-chan who was the cutest girl ever and is now a beautiful woman and a sweet, level-headed sister to Tsuna even in times of strife.


He remembers Hayato, hotheaded and desperately afraid of being unable to prove his own worth, and now one of Tsuna’s closest friends and a trusted confidant.


He remembers Haru, who hasn’t changed much, calmer but still possessing her endless optimism and good cheer.


He remembers Lambo, a crybaby and still a crybaby but brave and steadfast when things get tough.


He remembers Mukuro, with his blank smiles and hollow anger, and Chrome, with her timidity and fear of never fitting in and getting hurt, and Ken and Chikusa as well, all less broken now that they have found a home and a family.


He remembers dozens of other people, dangerous and strange and outright scary, and all of them now important people in his life.


Most of all though, Tsuna remembers Reborn, the worst of the worst, forcing himself into Tsuna’s life and refusing to leave him alone.  Now, years later, the hitman is still a constant in his life, still the worst of the worst with his smirks and gun-waving and gleeful manipulations when he’s bored, still refusing to leave Tsuna alone, and Tsuna wouldn't have it any other way.


                ‘I'm lucky,’ He thinks as Reborn wanders into the kitchen, cracking a yawn before stealing Tsuna’s coffee.  The hitman looks endearingly sleep-rumpled as he presses a good-morning kiss on Tsuna’s mouth before dropping into an available seat and clutching at the coffee mug like it’s a lifeline.


                Tsuna smiles softly at the man, suddenly, momentarily, overwhelmed with love for his once-tutor, long-time-friend, now-lover, and if Tsuna could live his life again, he knows he wouldn't change a single thing.


                Perhaps sensing his reminiscing mood, Reborn glances up, eyes already clearer as he raises an enquiring eyebrow.


                Tsuna just shakes his head and leans down to draw Reborn into a slow, lingering kiss.  The hitman looks pleased when Tsuna pulls away, though somewhat bemused as well.


                Tsuna smiles again.  “It just occurred to me that I really love my life.”


                As always, Reborn understands without elaboration, and an answering smile curves Reborn’s lips.


                “You’re a sap, Tsuna,” Reborn tells him, but the hitman’s eyes are warm, and Tsuna knows, without words, that Reborn returns the sentiment.


                With a crazy, perilous, wonderful life like his, Tsuna is a lucky man.




                Once upon a time, there was a bar and a blond idiot and a hitman stuck in the body of a two-year-old.  There was also a picture of a tiny boy, small and doe-eyed and timid-looking, and the hitman dismissed the child at once as someone too unimportant and weak to ever amount to anything.


                A decade, two decades, three decades down the road, and Reborn is still being proven wrong every single day.


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