Tsuna fails his first test ever when he’s six years old. He sits in his room, fingers trembling as they clutch the paper. He hasn’t gotten the courage to tell his mom yet. She would be so disappointed and he wouldn’t be able to stand that. It was just one test, he tells himself. He’ll do better next time, and his mother will never have to know.
He doesn’t know that this will be the start of a long pattern.
Tsuna looks up, eyebrows furrowed. His head swivels frantically as he tries to pinpoint the source of the voice he just heard. “What do you mean this is the start of a pattern?” he squeaks. “Who are you? Where are you?”
This is an unprecedented occurrence. The world is made up of narrative voices, but never before have they been heard. Whatever this is—it’s not supposed to happen. Tsuna is supposed to go about his life, useless and weak, until he’s thirteen years old and the real story begins.
“That’s mean!” Tsuna cries.
It’s true, corrects the narrator.
“No! You can’t just call someone useless and weak. Mama says to always be kind, so it’s not nice to call me useless! Or weak! You need to say sorry!”
In the years to come, Tsuna will eventually stop trying. He’ll come to think it’s impossible and instead of trying to study and become stronger, he’ll only grow more and more comfortable ruining himself before anyone can have any expectations of him. He’ll start to be called Dame-Tsuna.
“No!” Tsuna yells. Face flushed a furious red, he stomps to his desk, yanks out his books, and begins reading.
He passes the next test. It’s not a perfect pass, or even a stellar one, but it’s a good, average grade that makes his teacher smile and praise him for trying after the last one. Tsuna grins, thinking to himself, Take that.
He can’t keep it up forever.
Tsuna glares up at the ceiling, not really sure where else to look. Watch me.
The next problem comes in the form of gym class. Tsuna has been studying every day, searching studying tips when he realizes how easily his attention wanes, but he’s never been the athletic sort. He’s too clumsy, and he knows it, and all his classmates know it, so he’s always picked last for teams and more often than not, encouraged to stay out of all the games. Despite his recent rise in grades, he’s still useless with anything physical.
Tsuna stills in the middle of the street. Luckily, his surroundings are empty, so there’s no one to witness as he shouts to the sky, “I’ll just start training then!” With renewed vigor after the disastrous gym class earlier that day—where he was chosen last, then immediately and continuously tagged out of the game—he begins sprinting towards his home.
As soon as Tsuna arrives at home, he finds his mother in the living room and says, “I want to start training!”
“Training in what, Tsu-kun?” Nana asks, smiling indulgently.
“To be strong!” He raises an arm and flexes his pathetically skinny bicep. Why are you always so mean? he whines, eye twitching just slightly.
Nana laughs and rubs his hair. “In that case, how about I sign you up for classes at the local dojo?”
Tsuna beams and thrusts a fist in the air. “Yes!”
How are you doing this? the narrator despairs. How?
The next week, Tsuna is at the dojo, groaning as his new sensei scolds him for his incredibly weak and inflexible body. Unfortunately, he doesn’t complain. He lets Tsukuda-sensei guide him through stretches that pull and burn at his barely-used muscles, and he grins innocently all the while.
Although, perhaps this isn’t as surprising as it might seem. Main characters always have to be the ones who break the mold—even if this one is a brand new way of doing it.
Tsuna blinks. “Eh?”
“I don’t see you stretching, Sawada-kun,” Tsukuda-sensei says dangerously and pushes him harder into his stretch.
Tsuna shakes his head frantically, dispelling any curiosity about what he might have just heard. “Hiee! I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Oh god it hurts.
It’s been over six months since Tsuna started hearing the voice. He’s seven now and has reached a daily routine of jogging in the mornings, studying after school, and going to the dojo on Wednesdays and during the weekend. Even when studying frustrates him and his body is often sore, he pushes through it with absolute determination and willpower. He still doesn’t really understand what’s going on, but he refuses to let some mean voice tell him that he’s always going to be useless.
Tsuna closes his workbook and sets it aside, done with his review for the day. Studying all day is ineffective, he’s found, so Nana set up a designated start and end homework/studying period so he can spend the rest of the day relaxing. He turns on the TV to an anime rerun and settles down to enjoy it.
Ten minutes into the episode, he gasps loudly. “Am I an anime character?” he breathes. His eyes shine with excitement. It all makes sense now—the voice, the ‘narrative’, as its often said, and all that stuff about what Tsuna is supposed to do.
He’s not an anime character, of course. He’s a real, flesh-and-blood human being, who just so happens to be able to do the wrong kind of impossible things before the impossible has even started.
Tsuna furrows his eyebrows, confused by the sentence. But, to be fair, almost everything the narrator says tends to confuse him. He huffs. It’s easier to ignore most of what they say and stick to willfully continuing to go directly against what he’s meant to be doing—namely, nothing at all.
“Don’t call me useless.” He sticks his tongue out in some vague direction. “So I’m not an anime character.”
Months ago, he heard the words main character, but Tsukuda-sensei distracted him before he could latch on to the words. It’s for the best, really.
“So I am in an anime!” Tsuna exclaims triumphantly.
You’re human, the narrator explains hurriedly. It’s true—this is reality. This is and has always been Tsuna’s reality. He’s flesh and blood and organs and heartbeat and veins and brains and emotions and willpower and everything that makes him real. It just so happens that reality is full of narratives.
“I don’t know what narratives means,” Tsuna says pointedly. “Make sense for once!” The sentence comes out like a brat’s whining. His face twists in offense at the jab.
A narrative is a story, the narrator explains. If they could sigh, they would. Honestly, children.
“So… I’m not an anime character,” Tsuna clarifies slowly, “but I am a main character?”
“…Is that why I have to do stuff like this? Can I not be the main character anymore? That sounds hard.”
And as always, Tsuna rejects what the world has in store for him.
“What kind of anime am I in?”
It hasn’t quite set in that he’s not in an anime yet.
Tsuna rolls his eyes. “Fine. What story am I in? I think I’d know if I was in something like Pokemon, so… magical girl? Magical boy?”
This isn’t a magical girl or boy story.
“Okay, uh, daily life? No, I’m too boring.” What does it say about him that he considers his life spent ignoring the very call of the universe ‘boring?’ “I mean, you don’t really do much other than complain at me.” Maybe Tsuna is the rude one. “You’re ruder! What about… Oh, I hope it’s not horror.” From a certain point of view, it will certainly become horrific. For Tsuna. “I don’t like that. Don’t say things like that. What about a detective anime? My dad’s dead or something, right? That could be it.”
Not long ago, Nana told Tsuna that Iemitsu had left to become a star, and that kind of thing doesn’t exactly have any good implications. It’s impossible to know what the man was thinking when he told her to say that.
Tsuna frowns. “I can’t tell if that’s a yes or a no. You’re so, uh, what’s the word…? Unhelpful!”
“Tsu-kun?” Nana knocks on his bedroom door. “I hear voices. You should be asleep! It’s time for bed!”
“Yes Mama!” Looking upwards, he adds, I’ll figure it out.
He doesn’t figure it out.
Tsuna walks past a specific, insignificant corner of Namimori. It’s not an empty street, but there’s a little shop tucked away to the side that no one seems to enter or exit. It’s not interesting until Tsuna realizes he’s very obviously supposed to be avoiding this corner, and then he has no choice but to start walking towards it.
As he gets closer, though, something tugs at him. It’s not fate pulling at him this time. He recognizes this feeling as the one that tells him to run away just before he walks past a scary dog sitting behind a gate, and the one that told him where to go when he got lost. Intuition, or so he overheard from the narrative once. He wasn’t supposed to know about that yet.
You’re not very good at keeping secrets, Tsuna points out, as though he isn’t exactly the same. It’s probably because Namimori is already weird and his mother accepts everything he does that he hasn’t been called out yet.
Tsuna stops in front of the shop’s doors, peeking inside. It’s empty, unsurprisingly, but it fills him with unease. Something about it is just fundamentally wrong, and his intuition and the narrator are in agreement about that.
A tall figure steps into his vision, the man smiling down at him pleasantly. “Hello there,” he says. “Are you lost?”
Leave now, the narrator urges. He’s not supposed to meet this man, but more than that, he’s not safe. Tsuna can feel it, too.
“U-uh, sorry!” Tsuna squeaks, backpedaling away. He almost trips over his feet, but rights himself before he can fall flat on his butt. Tsukuda-sensei has long since taught him how to walk with grace, or at least find his balance when he starts to trip. “Um, excuse me!” He bows and then darts away until the unease fades and he’s closer to home than he is to the shop.
“Okay,” he says out loud, slowing into a walk. “Maybe I should listen to you. Sometimes.”
Tsuna is afraid of a lot of things—dogs, bugs, his classmates, Yamamoto’s dad, the future, horror movies. He’s never felt a fear like this; a fear that was matched by his often tired and strict narrator. He never thought they could feel fear, but the truth is that everything feels fear. There are things that are meant to happen, but that doesn’t mean the narrator has to like it.
I don’t like that man, the narrator tells him honestly. He should stay far, far away until there’s no other option—which, hopefully, won’t happen for a few years yet. Tsuna nods in agreement and drags his feet back home.
“So I have to have friends at some point, right?” Tsuna wonders not for the first time. He’s been asking about this for a year, ever since he realized he was a main character. “A story isn’t just the main character. Are any of my future friends in Namimori?” He should stop talking out loud, but he reasons that no one is around to hear him anyway. It’s early morning and he’s on his morning jog, so very few people are out and about at this time.
Though he asks, he doesn’t expect an answer, and indeed, he doesn’t get one.
As it should be.
An upperclassman rounds the corner with absolutely terrible timing. He would be easy enough to ignore, were it not for his very literal loud energy and the fact that he was ‘jogging’ faster than any ten-year-old had any right to.
“GOOD MORNING!” he booms as he catches sight of Tsuna. He skids to a stop, sending dust flying behind him as he attempts to match Tsuna’s comparatively slower pace.
“Good morning, Senpai!” Tsuna says, stupidly, smiling at the older boy. “Are you doing a morning jog too?”
“Yes! I’m extremely glad to see that I’m not the only one! And what’s your name?”
“I’m Sawada Tsuna. You can just call me Tsuna.”
“It’s extremely nice to meet you! My name is Sasagawa Ryouhei!”
Sasagawa? He recognizes that name. If he squints, he can even catch a little bit of a resemblance. Maybe. Their smiles are kind of similar. “Ah, Kyouko-chan’s brother?”
Sasagawa’s eyes brighten. Everything about him is so bright that Tsuna thinks he might actually go blind looking at him. “You know my sister?”
“We’re classmates! She’s really nice.” Because he so determinedly threw away his ‘dame’ status before it even began and spends most of his time refusing to digress to that point, there aren’t a lot of people who really pay attention to him. No one is outright malicious, but they’re all acquaintances at best. Kyouko, being the friendly girl that she is, always takes the time to have a short conversation with him when the opportunity comes up, which is more than he can say for most of their classmates. He likes her.
“EXTREME!” Sasagawa roars. “In that case, you can call me ‘Onii-san’!”
“E-eh?” Tsuna’s eyes widen. “I can’t do that, Sasagawa-senpai!”
Sasagawa laughs and slams a hand down on his back. It’s probably meant to be a reassuring pat, but his strength is far more than the average child’s. Tsuna stumbles forward, even choking a little bit at the force of his palm. Sasagawa doesn’t notice.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” he declares. “You’re Kyouko’s friend, and you jog, to the extreme! Don’t be shy!”
Tsuna should continue arguing. It’s inappropriate, and he doesn’t really know this boy other than the fact that he jogs, looks friendly, and is Kyouko’s brother.
“Alright!” Tsuna says, smiling. Obviously, he figures, his new Onii-san is meant to be one of his future friends. There’s nothing to tell him he shouldn’t get a head start on this—except of course for the voice he has no intention of listening to. At this point, it’s more habit than real upset driving his actions, but he has no intention of stopping. “Let’s be jogging buddies, then!”
Ryouhei’s eyes sparkle. “EXTREME!”
Stop doing that, the narrator hisses.
No, Tsuna shoots back, warm at the thought that he’s made a real friend.
When he sees Kyouko at school that day, she declares that they’re now siblings because they share a brother, and all he can think is that Ryouhei told her awfully fast. He isn’t complaining—having a sibling sounds like fun.
(It’s kind of weird, considering he’s supposed to have a crush on her when they become teenagers.
Tsuna shudders at that revelation, gaining the attention of Kyouko and Hana. Gross, he thinks fervently. Never ever. She’s my sister now.
He’s changed so much of the plot that he’s probably changed that too.
“Are you okay, Tsuna-kun?” Kyouko asks worriedly.
Tsuna smiles. “I’m fine!”)
In lots of anime, the class idols were important to the main character’s story. Tsuna ignores the voice that reminds him this still isn’t an anime as he looks at Yamamoto, the most popular boy in class known for being friendly and really good at baseball. Tsuna admires him too, and thinks that he’d really like to be friends with him. He’s gotta be one of his future friends, right?
Don’t do it, the narrator warns. At this age, there’s no way Yamamoto is ready for him.
Tsuna doesn’t know what that means, so he walks up to him anyway. “Good morning, Yamamoto-kun,” he says brightly. “Do you want to be friends?”
Yamamoto blinks down at him, then laughs. Tsuna feels his stomach start to fall. “Uhh, yeah, sure!” And he’s smiling, but his eyes—
Oh. Yamamoto doesn’t even know his name.
Bad idea, the narrator whispers, as much as a disembodied voice with no real voice can whisper.
Yeah, Tsuna agrees. It really wasn’t time, he supposes.
He doesn’t try talking to Yamamoto again, and by the next day, it looks like Yamamoto doesn’t even remember the encounter.
For a few blissful years, all is quiet. With Ryouhei’s help and his advanced training methods, his strength and stamina is, perhaps, a bit more than any other child would be able to handle. Tsukuda-sensei praises his growth and dedication, and then becomes an even harsher teacher. Now that Tsuna is friends with Kyouko and Hana—very reluctantly, Hana adds when it comes up, but she doesn’t sound mad about it so he takes it for a win—he’s able to get even more help with studying. It turns out learning is easier when you’re in a group. Who knew?
No need to be mean, Tsuna thinks idly, as he has for the past five years.
He’s eleven now. In two years, the story will begin, and at this point he’s derailed everything so far off-course that there’s really no fixing anything.
I prefer this to being useless. Tsuna huffs. He thinks he would have been very sad if he hadn’t heard the voice when he was six. He hasn’t forgotten—‘everyone will know him as Dame-Tsuna.’ He doesn’t like to wonder about what he should have been. It’s an awful thing to know that his present wasn’t originally meant to be.
Fortunately, he doesn’t have to think about it anymore, because Ryouhei is running his way. Tsuna raises a hand to start waving, only to see someone at Ryouhei’s heels. That person is somehow managing to actually keep up with him, and he looks angry.
“AN EXTREME AFTERNOON TO YOU, TSUNA!” Ryouhei yells as he rushes past him. He looks a little bruised and possibly bleeding, but it’s hard to tell with his speed. “SAVE YOURSELF! I’LL SEE YOU AT MY PLACE, TO THE EXTREEEME!”
“Uh, okay?” Tsuna calls, staring after him worriedly.
“For disrupting the peace of Namimori, I’ll bite you to death!” the other boy snarls after Ryouhei. He doesn’t spare a glance as he passes, but Tsuna has to bite back a shriek anyway. He shuffles backward to avoid him, almost tripping over his own feet. The boy, who can’t be much older than Ryouhei, has actual weapons in his hands. He looks like a delinquent.
Tsuna watches them run farther and farther away, a bit dazed by the experience. “That was one of my future friends, wasn’t it?” The eccentric ones are always the important ones. “I think… haha, yeah, uh, I’mjustgonnaavoidthatonethanks.” At least that won’t change.
Tsuna doesn’t even have it in him to try and befriend the scary boy out of spite.
“Mecha? Uh, one of those card game ones? Oh, god, what if this is an apocalypse anime? Hibari-san looks exactly like someone I’d find in an apocalypse! I don’t want to live through the apocalypse!”
No matter how many times he’s told otherwise, Tsuna still categorizes his reality by anime genres.
On the day—the day, the day he’s been waiting for, the day that’s been coming for years, the day that makes him wake up every morning since his thirteenth birthday in a panicked frenzy—
“Shut up, it’s too early,” Tsuna mumbles into his pillow and pulls it closer. He’s late to school. “I’m what?” He shoots out of bed, looking at the clock and finding that he is, in fact, about to be late to school. He doesn’t do morning jogs on Mondays—Mondays are rest days—so it’s usually Mondays that he ends up late to school. It’s a miracle Hana hasn’t taken to showing up at his house to make sure he’s on time.
After tugging on his uniform, he hurries downstairs and meets his mother in the kitchen. He presses a kiss to her cheek, which she accepts happily, before quickly scarfing down his breakfast. He doesn’t choke when she tells him she called a tutor for him, unsurprised that something would be the catalyst for today, but he does protest. He didn’t put all that effort into studying to not become dame for nothing. “I don’t need a tutor!” he argues. “Kyouko-chan and Hana-chan help me just fine! I’ve already got good study habits!”
“He came highly recommended!” Nana says, smiling brightly.
The baby that shows up and claims to be his tutor is even less surprising than the fact that his mother called a clearly scam number for a tutor.
When the baby tells him that his real purpose is to train him to become a mafia boss, Tsuna sets his fist in his palm and says, eyes bright with realization, “Oh, this is a crime anime with magical elements! Onii-san and Hibari-san make so much more sense now!”
The miniature hitman stares.