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The Menagerie

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Ever since he was a child Sawada Tsunayoshi had had the worst luck with animals.

     For some unidentifiable reason they just seemed to naturally hate him.

     Cats either ran or lashed out if he got close. Dogs leapt up barking, against gates and straining on leashes. Birds everywhere swooped at him, shrieking at the top of their angry little lungs. The one time he’d attempted to hold their class’ pet, a small and normally docile rabbit named Floppsy, it had squirmed like its life depended on it, kicking with its fuzzy little feet and leaving thin painful scratches all up and down his arms.

     That and other such incidents continued to happen all throughout his early life giving him a - justifiable - paranoia towards all animals big and small, as well as a wistfulness and jealousy towards people who got along with them.

     Tsuna had long ago resigned himself to the fact that he and animals were just not compatible.

     Thus their home would remain without the presence of pets of any kind, no matter how much he might have wanted a furry companion all of his own. It just wasn’t meant to be.

     At least, that’s what he’d thought.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

Tsuna’s father, Sawada Iemitsu, existed on the very periphery of his life. To say the man was hardly ever home would be a gross understatement. In fact, young Tsuna could probably count the number of occasions he’d seen his father in person on one hand, and probably have some fingers left over. Due to this absence, Iemitsu’s complete ignorance towards the state of his only son’s life was, quite frankly, astounding, though not exactly unexpected.

     There had thus been a number of inappropriate presents over the years, to the point where Tsuna had an entire corner of a spare room dedicated to a pile of things he’d never use and an expectation of adding to said pile every time a gift giving event rolled around. Even so, when Tsuna came downstairs early on the morning of his tenth birthday to find a suspiciously large, air-hole dotted box sitting on the floor in the living room he still found it within himself to be surprised. With a box like that there could only be one thing inside.

     Iemitsu himself was passed out on the couch next to said box, snoring away in nothing but his boxers and undershirt with a whole hoard of empty beer cans scattered around him on the floor and coffee table.

     First Tsuna froze, then he sighed, then he continued to tiptoe towards the kitchen for the glass of water he’d come down for.

     Standing in the doorway, he sipped slowly, putting off the inevitable as he eyed both Iemitsu and the box with equal amounts of trepidation.

     Once done with his drink Tsuna returned the cup and carefully edged back into the living room.

     He crouched down next to the present. A light tap of his finger near one of the box’s open holes resulted in the scuffle of tiny nails on cardboard and the appearance of a small black nose. Tsuna jerked his hand back and turned a baleful look on his snoring pro-creator.

     With a roll of his eyes heavenward and a silent pray for mercy, Tsuna wedged his fingers under the box’s edges and, with a heave, brought it up with him. It tilted, and Tsuna could feel the animal within slide and bump into the side that rested against his front. He gave a small grunt at the weight and adjusted his grip. His arms were already starting to strain.

     Leaning backwards as he walked so that the weight of the parcel remained securely pressed against his thin chest, Tsuna slowly crept back upstairs.

     The present was carefully lowered onto his bed, and the door closed behind him.

     Tsuna proceeded to have a long stare off with the innocuous and oddly silent box, the contents of which were unmistakably an animal. And not just any animal. A puppy. A birthday gift of a puppy from his wayward drunkard of a father. Out of all the animals he was hated by dogs were almost undoubtedly the top offenders. So he didn’t particularly want to face the thing - and all of its little teeth and claws - but it couldn’t stay in that box. Who knew how long it had already been in there.

     Tsuna sighed wearily for the second time that morning and joined the parcel on the bed. Kneeling and settling on his haunches with a slight squeal of mattress springs, he began plucking at the securely tied yellow bow keeping the lid down.

     All the while the parcel stayed still and quiet, almost unnervingly so. Tsuna thought puppies were meant to be more rambunctious than this.

     Finally, the ribbon came loose and fluttered down onto the mattress.

     With a fortifying breath Tsuna lifted the lid away and, holding it to his chest like a shield, warily peered in. A pair of fathomless black puppy eyes stared back out at him.

     It was adorable.

     Tsuna tensed.

     Any moment now things could turn nasty. All animals - no matter how cute - had the possibility to turn vicious when provoked, and Tsuna didn’t know of any bigger provocation than his existence itself.

     A few long, tense moments trickled by... and nothing happened.

     Tsuna blinked at the docile black puppy in confusion and tilted his head.

     The puppy mirrored him.

     Then, it seemed to decide it had had enough of the stare off since it went up on its hind legs and tilted the box forwards, deliberately spilling itself onto the bed.

     Tsuna jumped and scrambled back with a squeak of alarm, dropping the lid to the floor as the puppy made for him. His feet slipped on the sheets and he sprawled back, hitting the headboard with a thump and a surprised gasp.

     With nowhere left to move, he could only hold his breath as the small bundle of black stepped in between his legs. The puppy placed its furry, worryingly oversized front feet on his abdomen and stretched up, nose twitching as it sniffed at him, seemingly curious and not the least bit hostile. Yet.

     Tsuna kept his hands firmly to himself and let the puppy go about its business while trying with all his might to be as still and least provoking as possible.

     The puppy, apparently done with its observations, scrambled further up his torso and Tsuna, though feeling baffled and a little scared still, brought his legs together under its behind to give it some support. The puppy squirmed around until it was comfortably sprawled across him, small head resting against his front as it seemed to settle down for a nap, content.

     Tsuna was absolutely stumped. Not once in the ten short years of his life had an animal taken to him like this. Heck, the last time he had even been this close to one would probably be the Floppsy incident and he’d learned his lesson that time. Surely this was too good to be true?

     He stayed absolutely still, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

     The moment stretched out in silence.

     Early morning birds chirped in the distance.

     Tsuna swallowed.

     With baited breath he cautiously brought a hand up and laid it across the puppy’s gently rising and falling side. The puppy… turned its head and burrowed further into the folds of his pyjama top. Nothing else happened. No growling. No biting. No kicking or clawing.

     Tsuna’s lips parted in wonder as he gazed down at the small animal. And in that moment, he was lost.

     That was the beginning.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

Nana, his mother, was ecstatic. It seemed like the puppy was there to stay.

     “Reborn”, his father announced with a grin over breakfast later that morning.

     Tsuna scrunched his face at the naming but they stuck with it. If he was being honest he probably couldn’t have thought of anything better anyway.

     Two years later, Iemitsu had long since returned to his work (whatever it was), and the small black puppy had finally finished growing into those worryingly large paws.

     As they had thought he might, more so even, Reborn turned out to be an absolute giant of a dog, standing with his shoulders about level with twelve year old Tsuna’s waist.

     He was slim and long-legged, pitch black from nose to tail tip, with upright triangular ears, a long pointed snout, straight bushy tail, and dense medium length fur; a very handsome specimen, and an excellent guard dog. Just the sight of the massive black shadow sitting absolutely still in the night and staring out with glinting, watchful eyes was enough to have any potential robbers run screaming for the hills.

     The dog was also weirdly intelligent. Even without any proper training he turned out well behaved and listened to commands readily; when he felt like it anyway. He seemed to understand their words with an unsettling amount of clarity and Tsuna could swear up and down that he’d seen him nodding to something they’d said on more than one occasion.

     Another odd thing about Reborn was his composure. For his size they had expected him to have hard to manage levels of energy, but he was very low key. Just a short daily walk and a weekly trip to the park seemed to be more than enough exercise for him.

     He wasn’t a lapdog either though, not by any stretch of the imagination. He was actually rather independent. The only time he seemed to deliberately seek attention for himself was at night when he slept together with Tsuna. That had become the norm after the first day they’d met, when Tsuna had slumped down with the newly un-boxed puppy cradled in his arms and newfound adoration blooming in his chest.

     The rather large dog now insisted on squeezing into the single bed together every night and had in fact gone into fits of uncharacteristic - what could only be called – sulking, on the few occasions when Tsuna had denied him. He also had an annoying habit of waiting until Tsuna was just falling asleep to yank the covers off of him in retribution and would persistently continue to do so until Tsuna let him onto the bed with him. So he had gotten used to sleeping with the massive black lump half on top of him during the night, and more than half during colder months.

     Despite Reborn’s apparent aloofness the two of them were still practically attached at the hip and had been since day one. Reborn shadowed Tsuna everywhere, especially in the first few months. He’d trailed after him from room to room and sat silently with him no matter what he was doing, head cocked and eyes trained on his young owner.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

Later that same year, the year Reborn finished growing and middle school started, was also the year Tsuna made his very first friends.

     He’d been in the same school as these people since elementary, so in a way he already knew them. He’d never really been in a situation where he’d had to talk to them though, and so, being the socially shy person that he was, never did.

     Then, one Sunday while taking Reborn on his morning walk, he ran into Sasagawa Kyoko.

     Tsuna got the feeling that most people found Reborn to be a rather intimidating presence, evident in the way they tended to avoid him, not so subtly edging out of the way wherever they passed. Kyoko however took one look at the dog and her entire face lit up. She walked straight up to them and crouched down with a cry of, “What a cute dog!”

     Tsuna blinked, shifting an incredulous gaze to his giant of a dog and back.

     “Thanks?” he said. He'd never been in this kind of situation before so he honestly wasn’t quite sure how to react.

     Reborn’s tail waved. He seemed happy with the praise regardless and gave her a soft wuff in reply.

     Kyoko grinned at him before turning the expression up at Tsuna.

     “What’s their name?” she asked.

     “He’s called Reborn”, Tsuna replied dumbly. This was possibly the longest conversation he’d had with any girl his age. Or more like, the only conversation ever, come to think of it.

     “Reborn-chan”, she decided. “That’s a cute name too. Is it okay to pet him?” she asked with a tilt of her head.

     Tsuna nodded slowly.

     Kyoko used both hands to give the back of the dog’s neck a firm scratch before moving up and rubbing the base of his ears.

     Reborn tilted his head forwards and his tail gave a few move lazy waves.

     “So soft”, Kyoko cooed.

     Tsuna shifted from one foot to the other and fiddled with the end of the leash.

     With a last content pat Kyoko stood back up, smoothing the wrinkles out of her long skirt.

     “How old is he?” she asked, shifting her hold on her bag.

     “Uhh… ” Tsuna had to pause for a moment and squinted one eye at his dog with a thoughtful frown. “Two…? No. Close to three, maybe?” he said uncertainly. “I got him when I was ten, so not last year but the year before, but we’re not sure how old he already was at the time… ”, he trailed off, shifting in place and feeling awkward. Had he not said more than he needed to?

     He glanced shyly at Kyoko as she gave a small giggle and felt the tips of his ears heat up.

     “Maybe two and a half then?” she smiled kindly.

     Tsuna quirked a sheepish smile back at her, and then jumped when she gave a sudden loud gasp.

     “Oh!” she fluttered. “I’m Kyoko, by the way”, she said apologetically. “You’re… Tsunayoshi-kun, right?”

     Tsuna nodded. “Yeah.”

     “Didn’t we go to the same elementary school?”, Kyoko asked.

     “I think so”, Tsuna said, nodding again. He knew they had.

     Kyoko nodded along.

     “I remember you”, she said. “Sorry we never talked before now.”

     Tsuna blinked in surprise before his expression softened.

     “Me too”, he concurred. “I don’t know if I would have said much though”, he laughed self-deprecatingly, rubbing the back of his neck.

     Kyoko gave a hum.

     “That’s okay though. I mean, it shouldn’t matter how much or little you have to say. Tsunayoshi-kun seems like a kind person”, she said thoughtfully, trailing off.

     Tsuna could feel his cheeks heat slightly and he shyly dropped his gaze to the ground.

     “Thank you, and uh, just Tsuna is fine”, he mumbled.

     “Tsuna-kun, then”, Kyoko deferred happily before glancing down at her wrist watch. “Umm, I should be going now but, I’ll talk to you at school tomorrow?” she asked with a hopeful look.

     “Oh”, Tsuna said. “Yeah, sure”, he smiled and nodded.

     A lovely answering smile broke out and Kyoko made a pleased sound, nodding back.

     “Tomorrow, then”, she said as she began walking past him. “Bye for now, Tsuna-kun! Bye, Reborn-chan!” She pivoted, waving cheerfully.

     Tsuna gave a small wave back, hand close to his chest.

     “Bye”, he called in reply, still smiling slightly as he watched her leave.

     He stood there silently for a moment as she disappeared down another street.

     “So, that happened”, he said to himself and glanced at Reborn.

     His dog gave him an amused look and a meaningful jerk on the leash.

     Tsuna huffed.

     “Yeah”, he said, “let’s go.”

     The pair resumed their walk.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

     The next day at school, Kyoko greeted him with a bright, “Good morning, Tsuna-kun!”, and a radiant smile as he sat as his desk. It was an impressive level of cheerfulness and energy for this time in the morning.

     “Good morning”, he could only reply dumbly, slightly blinded.

     Kurokawa Hana, who was standing near Kyoko’s desk, raised a curious eyebrow at the pair. They hadn’t been on speaking terms the previous week after all. She was probably wondering how they could have possibly gotten acquainted over the weekend.

     “How’s Reborn-chan today?” Kyoko asked, oblivious to the look her friend was giving them.

     Tsuna smiled slightly. “He’s fine, I think. Same as usual.”

     “'Reborn-chan'?” Kurokawa parroted.

     “Tsuna-kun’s dog”, Kyoko explained merrily for her friend. “We met during his walk yesterday. He’s very cute.”

     Kurokawa blinked.

     “You have a dog?” she asked dubiously, in a tone that said she possibly recalled the Floppsy incident, among others. His bad luck with animals had been witnessed by a large number of people and become slightly infamous over the years after all.

     Tsuna gave a small nervous laugh. “Yeah…He was a, uh, tenth birthday gift from my dad.”

     Kurokawa’s eyebrow rose back up again.

     Before anything else could be said however, the bell chimed out and the rest of the classroom’s occupants, along with Kurokawa, drifted back to their own seats.

     At lunch time Kyoko asked if he’d like to join them, to which Tsuna tentatively agreed. So Kyoko, Kurokawa - “if I’m calling you Tsuna, just call me Hana” - and he ate together.

     The same thing happened the next day, and the next, and for the rest of the week, and then the following. It had soon become routine and Tsuna realised, perhaps somewhat belatedly, that he’d finally made his very first friends.

     Hana, appalled by the state of his grades, started to tutor him.

     Kyoko came over and taught him how to make cookies while his mother hovered, giggling in the background. As they waited for the goods to bake she showed him pictures of her own puppy, a Kishu called Ryohei, with a promise to let them meet sometime.

     One weekend, the girls introduced him to their favourite café. Tsuna tried coffee for the first time in his life and grimaced his way through the whole cup, the other two laughing at his expressions. He ordered it again the next time.

     School was still school but it had become…fun. And Tsuna, dare he say it, now looked forwards to going.