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Tsuna isn’t even entirely sure what happened.

One moment he had been hectically scrambling to collect all of his things where they had scattered on the floor, trying not to think about the sudden push to his back that had made him stumble in the school hallway and made him drop his bag in the first place, surrounded by the usual group of kids promptly heckling him for being clumsy, even the other kids who weren’t watching him gather his stuff still snickering at him as they passed by, tears in his eyes as much as he had been trying not to let them fall…

And then suddenly, there had been this girl he has never seen before, maybe his age but slim and even smaller than Tsuna himself, all anger and righteous fury in her form as she stepped in between him and the other kids, and somehow managing to make the entire group of them scamper down the corridor without ever really raising her voice as she told them off for picking on Tsuna.

Tsuna is just blinking at her.

It’s been a while since anyone bothered to speak up on his behalf, far longer than he likes to remember most days.

She must be new, he thinks dazedly as he watches her. She is also really pretty, with short-ish light brown hair and soft features. And really, really kind eyes.

The other kids had clearly been just as surprised by her sudden appearance as he was, clearly uncertain what to do with her, a girl even smaller than Tsuna, but so fierce in her anger at what she had seen of the bullying she had somehow succeeded in driving them away.

Then again, that might also have something to do with her threat to call for a teacher if they didn’t leave.

And, while no one at this school is going to bother with helping out Tsuna, a group of boys picking on a pretty little girl is going to get a very different reaction from the teachers than them ‘just’ bullying Dame-Tsuna. As usual.

So, of course Tsuna is grateful for her defense, he really is. But he also knows that it won’t last, knows that the bullies will be back tomorrow at the latest, might even try their luck again today, and their next bout of picking on him is likely going to be even harsher than usual for having missed their chance right now.

Not to even mention…

„You need to be careful,“ Tsuna murmurs to the girl, even as she continues to help him pick up his stuff from the floor and stuff it back into his bag.

She looks at him in question, a soft prettyprettypretty smile on her face, eyes kind. “What do you mean?” she asks, even as she hands him the last of his pencils that had gone rolling across the hallway floor.

“You-,” he swallows nervously, but makes himself continue. “You’re really nice. But the other kids might not… like it if you’re nice to me.” Which is an understatement.

People are never nice to him for long. Either they get annoyed by Tsuna general Dame-ness or they get driven off by the bullying that follows him everywhere. Tsuna even understands. As much as he wishes things were different.

But the fact of the matter is, friends never stick around long for Tsuna. The bullies see to that.

So, it’s only fair he warns her.

The girl, however, just smiles at him. “Don’t worry,” she returns cheerfully. “No one will say anything to me.”

Tsuna blinks, then frowns. Clearly she isn’t getting what he is trying to say.

“I’m serious,” he tries to impress on her. As much as he’d like a friend – desperately, desperately wants a friend – especially someone like Yuzu, who is nice and cheerful and so bright it almost hurts a little to look at her. “The other kids might… do something if they see you being friends with me.”

“They won’t do anything,” she contradicts just as cheerfully, smile happy and perfectly certain of her own words.

“How can you be so sure?” he asks almost desperately. Because there is a sort of certainty in her voice that he has never once felt about anything in his own life.

“Because,” she explains, still smiling but voice serious, “Ichi-nii is picking me up from school later.”

It’s said as though she were imparting a simple fact of life to him. ‘Ichi-nii’ is picking her up, so no one will bully her.

Tsuna doesn’t understand how the first thing could possibly have an effect on the second.

He really doesn’t get it.

He doesn’t get it right until the moment school lets out. And all throughout the day, Yuzu-chan stuck with him, still undeterred by the other kids’ sniggering and pointing and somehow her disregard of the constant teasing makes Tsuna stand up a little straighter as well, a little reassured that just this once, he might really have found a friend who’ll stick with him, who won’t care that he is dame. Who’ll like Tsuna for him.

He still doesn’t get her certainty that no one will do or say anything to her for being friends with him. He doesn’t get it until they reach the school gates after the last bell rung and he sees Yuzu-chan smile the brightest smile he has ever seen, not only on her but quite likely ever.

A smile clearly directed at the orange-haired, severely scowling teenager waiting right there, hands in his pockets as he leans next to the school gate, tall and imposing and so fucking scary, his mere aura rather terrifying, just his vague scowl directed at nothing in particular already having Tsuna want to freeze in his tracks.

Well, he would have frozen. If it weren’t for the fact that Yuzu-chan is making a beeline for the guy, practically skipping as she heads for the scowling teenager, dragging Tsuna along by his sleeve.

“Ichi-nii,” she greets brightly, as though entirely unaware of this guy’s angry expression.

Although, the moment the teenager sees her approaching, something seems to soften in his eyes, his lips quirking upwards the slightest bit at their corners. Tsuna breathes in relief, hopeful he might not be turned into mincemeat quite yet.

“Hey Yuzu,” he greets, reaching out to gently ruffle her hair, somehow without really disturbing it from its orderly style. “How was school?” And as he asks, he proceeds to throw a casual, unimpressed, glance around all the kids milling around them, most of the school having come to a terrified halt at the mere sight of him.

And, yeah, Tsuna thinks as he watches the entire school stare back fearfully. Suddenly he gets why she is so perfectly unconcerned by the idea of ever finding herself faced with bullies of any kind. There is no way anyone anywhere is ever going to dare picking on her. Not if doing so would also mean having to deal with this older brother of hers.

He isn’t even doing anything and he is already terrifying, Tsuna thinks in fascinated horror.

And as the guy’s eyes find Tsuna’s, a quick glance across him, assessing, but – to Tsuna's utter surprise, for once, for the very first time that he can recall – somehow not seeming to find him wanting just on sight.

“Who is this?” he asks, the scowl still present – for all that it has softened a little with Yuzu-chan’s presence – but his voice calm, utterly unconfrontational. Like the scowl is maybe more of a general state of being rather than an expression of his actual mood.

“This is my friend, Sawada Tsunayoshi,” she declares brightly, like being Tsuna’s friend is something to be proud of. “He likes cooking, just like me.”

The teenager’s eyes run over him assessingly once more. Finally, a nod.

And that’s apparently it. As though Tsuna is accepted for no other reason than by value of Yuzu-chan calling him a friend.

Huh.

“Hm,” the guy – who Tsuna is just going to call Kurosaki-san, for lack of any other name given – hums even as he reaches out to take Yuzu-chan's bag from her shoulder, a perfect sort of ease about the gesture as though carrying his sister’s things is just natural to him. However, his eyes remain sharp on the other kids milling about, likely seeing not only the fearful glances being thrown his own way but also the less-than-genial ones directed at Tsuna. “Where do you live, kid?” he asks. “We might as well walk you home.”

Like Kurosaki-san can somehow tell that it’s been years since Tsuna was able to walk home without being harassed by one of his schoolmates in some way or other.

Tsuna blinks a little dazedly even as he gives his reply almost automatically, watches the teenager turn in the correct direction towards his home, apparently familiar enough with Namimori to know where to go, even as he then asks his sister about how her classes went, quiet and calm as he listens to her chatter away brightly about classes and teachers and several clubs she thinks sounds interesting and she might just want to try some of them.

Tsuna ignores the stares from the other kids, instead moving to dazedly trail alongside the sibling pair towards his own home.

And as Kurosaki-san reaches out at the next crossroads to casually take Tsuna’s bag from him as well, there is something so easy about the gesture that Tsuna forgets to protest until his bag has already joined Yuzu-chan’s over the teenager’s shoulder.

Tsuna blinks. And he can’t help but think to himself that Yuzu-chan really is lucky to have an older brother like this.

If anything, he thinks wistfully, how nice it would be to have an ‘Ichi-nii’ of my own.

+++

It’s not for a several weeks – months even – until Tsuna realizes that that particular wish of his already came true the very moment Yuzu decided to stop the bullies from picking on him, from the moment she decided they were going to be friends and then declared as much to her older brother.

Because Ichigo has never been the sort to let go of the bonds he forges throughout life, whether directly or by proxy, fierce and unwavering in his loyalty to those he calls his.

Same as Tsuna.

 

And maybe that should have been Reborn’s first clue when he appears in Namimori several months later, not particularly enthused about the idea of having to train a complete civilian into becoming the next heir to the Vongola throne but vindicitvely gleeful in his determination all the same. Only to find that none – literally none – of the information he has been provided with by CEDEF and that idiot Sawada is even remotely close to the reality of things.

If he’d had so much as an inkling about the sort of people that have by then taken up residence in Namimori, he might have invested a little more time into gathering some information of his own, might have been a little more careful about picking fights with seeming civilians who then reveal themselves to be anything but.

Then again, if Reborn is being honest, maybe that knowledge wouldn’t have changed anything at all. He so likes stirring the pot and, looking around Namimori, at the people who have taken up residence in the town, the sheer impossibility of them all…

Reborn grins, can’t wait to see Vongola’s reaction to all of this, anticipation running through him.

The chaos will be glorious.