Satou Nana was only 19, still a little girl, barely out of high-school with her entire life before her eyes. A girl that still believed in knights and princesses. When Sawada Iemitsu, tall, handsome and exotic, swept her off her feet with grand stories and castles in the air she thought herself the protagonist of a fairytale.
A year later he disappeared, leaving Nana heartbroken, scorned by her proper family and very pregnant.
“Fairytales are not real.” She told herself as she cradled her newborn son, brown haired and brown eyed, he didn’t look a thing like the father that had refused to meet him. She named him Tsunayoshi, hoping that he would be lucky where she wasn’t and the bonds he created throughout his life were everlasting.
The college funds that her grandparents had willed to her could only last her for so long and she soon found herself sharing the fate of many other single mothers, working dawn to dusk to make ends meet, living in a tiny apartment with her son. Luckily her old neighbour had taken pity on her and offered to watch over Tsunayoshi while she was at work. Nana almost cried in relief, any yen she could save up was a gift of heaven.
Soon Tsuna entered school and he struggled. A shy child that rarely spoke up and startled easily, he was subject to scorn and laughter from his classmates and while he loved learning new things, it took him a lot of work to go through the simplest lessons. The teachers were overworked and had little patience to deal with a struggling child, some even thought he was only trying to attract attention and thus elected to ignore him. Nana came home too tired to be of much help. She spent the weekends working through writing, math and history, walking Tsuna through the lessons he was supposed to have learned at school.
But it wasn’t enough, Tsuna was steadily and inevitably falling behind his classmates, who were quick to latch into the new ammunition, mocking him as he failed time and time again to answer the teachers’ questions.
Tsuna would come to dislike school, seeing it as a special kind of torture, crying whenever his mother left him there to go to work. It broke Nana’s heart, to see her sweet child crying in sheer desperation, but she didn’t know what to do.
It wasn’t until the summer of Tsuna’s second year that a stroke of good luck would fall on the small family.
Renato Sinclair was a math teacher at Sakura Technological University in Tokyo. Once upon a time, he had been a hitman associated with the underworld, becoming renowned under the name Reborn. Those in the known would whisper his name and call him the greatest hitman in the world.
He drank a lot, slept with many and killed even more.
All of that before he had even hit 20.
But eventually the excitement that came with dangerous situations faded, his work stopped being an adventure and became a chore, those that once looked at him with respect started to look at him with fear.
Renato knew that it would only take so long before someone put a hit on him. And while he was confident in his own abilities to survive the efforts of lesser men, he also knew that once he was deemed a threat it would only take one lucky shot, only one mistake on his part, and he would be done for.
So he took his money, painstakingly gathered through a ten year long career as a criminal, from petty pickpocket to star hitman, and disappeared, not a trace left. He hadn’t been called the best hitman in the world for no reason after all.
A new name and a new life. He went to college, breezing through the coursework until he gained his doctorate in mathematics, he was only 24.
He had taken the academic world by storm, gathering a few prices after solving previous “unsolvable” problems. Becoming a guest lecturer at prestigious universities around the world. It was a much slower life than he was used to, but he found he didn’t mind. The change of pace had invited quite a bit of self-reflection, he recognized that he had been self-destructing and that having long term commitments could only help in keeping him from such a path.
Thus he accepted a permanent position at the prestigious Sakura Technological University, located in Tokyo. But he got bored, especially during the summer when his workload decreased dramatically. There was also that really hot professor at the Chemistry department with a passion for causes and helping the less fortunate. A professor that he had spent the better part of a month trying to seduce. Which is why he got himself talked into volunteering his time to tutor some kids in the community center of a less affluent part of Tokyo.
He was smiling and nodding along to some mother that thought her little hellion was the best thing since sliced bread, bored out of his mind and hoping that this particular student didn’t come back. The boy had very clearly been forced to come and Renato knew that there was little he could do to help someone who didn’t want to be helped.
Then the door opened and he turned, his breath catching at the pretty woman that entered the room, a little boy holding her hand. She had the quiet, reliable air of someone that was used to making the best of a bad situation and a gentle smile that made one feel welcomed and accepted.
He politely excused himself and made a beeline for the new addition, who was chatting with that professor Renato had been interested in.
“I’m Satou Nana and this is my son Tsunayoshi, we are pleased to meet you.” She greeted him, open and friendly. Renato bowed his head, wishing he had thought of bringing his fedora to greet her in a proper fashion.
“I’m Sinclair Renato, I teach in the Mathematics department at Sakura Tech.” he answered easily and looked down at the boy hiding behind his mother’s skirt.
“How do you do Tsunayoshi?” he asked, taking notice of the hesitant and guarded body language. Such a child would have been eaten alive by the world Renato had left behind. It was a good thing he wasn’t a part of it.
“I’m good sir, thank you for asking.”
“Well aren’t you polite.” Cooed that attractive professor that Renato had completely lost interest in. He had found something much more interesting than a quick romp in the sheets.
“Thank you for your kind words, Tsu-kun is a good child.” Said Satou Nana with a soft smile as she ran her fingers through her son’s messy hair. “Unfortunately he has some troubles with his school work, I was hoping you could help him a bit?”
She sounded hopeful and just a little bit desperate. Renato nodded with a smile.
“That’s why we are here, would you and Tsunayoshi like to sit down? Or will you be leaving?” he questioned lightly as he steered the young mother and her son towards a more quiet corner of the room.
“Don’t go, mama.” The little pleading voice made Renato’s heart lurch painfully, he ignored it with the ease of years of practice.
“Oh, don’t worry Tsu-kun, I will stay with you, at least for today. I got a friend to cover my shift at work.” She added with a sheepish smile in Renato’s direction and it wasn’t hard at all to smile back at her.
“Why don’t we all sit down and have a little chat about Tsunayoshi’s work?”
“Thank you so much Sinclair-sensei.” Nana bowed deeply and Renato imitated her a bit awkwardly.
“Not at all Satou-san. I am glad to help. I will see you tomorrow, Tsunayoshi.” The boy nodded eagerly throwing Renato a bright smile, which Renato found himself returning with ease. Being around such warm and welcoming people was doing wonders for his temper.
Once they had left Renato curled his finger around his sideburn and tugged absentmindedly at it. That hadn’t been so bad. Yes, Tsunayoshi had some troubles with his schoolwork, but from what he had seen so far it wasn’t that he had troubles with the work itself, but that his fear of failure and his certainty that he would fail worked against him.
He needed a bit of one on one time, and Renato thought that building Tsunayoshi’s confidence would be more than enough to see a steady improve in his work.
He didn’t see Satou-san the next day, but Tsunayoshi had timidly stepped into the room with a tight hold on his backpack and Renato had firmly steered him to their table.
Renato relaxed as over the course of the two hours they had slotted together Tsunayoshi opened up to him. The boy flinched away at even the slightest censure and positively thrived under positive reinforcement. Renato had to patiently walk him through his work, but once an example had been completed, Tsunayoshi had no trouble applying what he had learnt to the following questions. He was slow on the uptake but quick on the applications.
Over the course of a few more sessions Renato learnt that Tsunayoshi was scared of his classmates and his teachers alike, of their laughter and their scorn, but that his greatest fear was to be a burden and a disappointment for his mother.
He learnt that he enjoyed video games but that he only owned a couple and that he would like to have a cat, but the landlady didn’t allow pets.
He learnt that Tsuna didn’t have a father and that he never met his mother’s parents.
Over the course of the summer he received dinner invitations from the bright little boy, he rejected the first one after seeing the strained look in his mother’s eyes. But accepted the following week when she raised her chin and almost dared him to say no again.
Soon it became a routine, Tsuna was the last student of the afternoon, and every Friday when his mother came to pick him up, Renato would be invited to accompany them home and enjoy the best home cooked dinner he had had in his life. It was simple fare more often than not, but filling and absolutely delicious.
He made sure to effusively compliment Satou-san and patted himself on the back at her bright red cheeks. It appeared Tsuna wasn’t the only one in dire need of kind words.
The summer was soon over, but Renato remained a welcomed guest in the Satou household, Friday nights they would have dinner and then sit down to watch TV until Tsuna nodded off and Renato carried him to the bedroom before taking his leave with a charming smile and a tilt of his fedora.
On Saturdays he would drop by with a stack of grading he had to do and watch Tsuna with half an eye, helping him stay on top of his schoolwork while Nana went off to work.
Sundays he would invite Nana and Tsuna to his own apartment, where he showed off his own culinary skills, which were sadly limited to pasta based foods, though they assured him that it was a welcomed treat.
Nana had been a bit self-conscious the first couple of times, Renato was clearly better off than they were, the apartment was on a nicer part of the city, near the university Renato taught at. Though with the sheer number of knickknacks and odds and ends that cluttered the place, it had a bit of a rustic feel to it.
But Tsuna had loved it, exclaiming excitedly over the balcony and the view from it and continuously asking Renato about the exotic souvenirs that lithered the shelves.
Before they knew it, Tsuna’s birthday came around, which merited a trip to an amusement park and led both Nana and Renato to discover that Tsuna on a sugar high was exhausting to deal with and something to avoid at all costs.
The next day Tsuna thanked Renato and asked when his birthday was, the older man admitted sheepishly that it had been the day before Tsuna’s. Tsuna had immediately insisted in sharing the leftover cake with him and Renato caved in with a laugh under the combined frowns and crossed arms of Tsuna and Nana.
Christmas led to a bit of an argument when Renato appeared with a video game console and half a dozen games. Nana had been very disapproving of such an expensive gift and Renato had been unapologetic about spoiling his favorite little boy.
The argument was put aside as Tsuna’s unbridled enthusiasm got the better of them both. Still, once Tsuna had been put to bed Renato apologized and promised to ask Nana’s opinion before buying a gift and Nana thanked him for the care he showed her son and for all of his help throughout the year.
When Nana’s birthday came around, Renato hired one of his students to keep an eye on Tsuna while he took Nana to a little known restaurant for dinner and a couple of drinks. It was a comfortable, out of the way place, with a jazz band playing in the corner, low lights, small tables and artwork covering the walls.
They talked, Renato of his students and the ridiculous things they invented to get out of homework and Nana of her more eccentric customers and co-workers. Once they were full and had had a couple of wine cups he dragged her to the dancing floor and twirled her around under the smooth voice of a saxophone.
They both pretended that their hearts weren’t beating wildly and that they hadn’t danced closer than what was strictly appropriate.
Satou Nana was too old for fairytales. She had a young son to take care of, she didn’t have time for daydreams and tales of romance anymore.
Her customers at the restaurant sometimes flirted with her, she smiled and flirted back, she had learnt early on that she got better tips if she did so. But she never gave her phone number and the numbers she accepted she quickly got rid of.
Fairytales were not real.
Still, within a year of their first meeting and despite her best efforts she found herself slowly but steadily falling for her son’s tutor. Tall, handsome and exotic. So very like that man long ago and yet so different.
Where Iemitsu had been rugged, Renato was elegant.
Where Iemitsu preferred jeans and t-shirts that showed off his muscles, Renato favored dark tailored suits that streamlined his lean frame.
Where Iemitsu wrote her poetry and took her to the movies, Renato balanced her house budget and sat down to laugh at bad TV shows with her.
Where Iemitsu promised her far off adventures and a romance for the ages, Renato fixed her broken plumbing, replaced the window blinds and helped her paint the walls.
Where Iemitsu had turned his back to them, Renato smiled proudly at Tsu-kun’s steadily increasing grades and complimented her cooking with a boyish smile.
So when Renato timidly asked her for a date, a real date, not the sort-of-date they had for her birthday, she said yes.
And when half a year later they settled themselves in her worn couch and he spoke softly of a lost street child picking tourists' pockets in Rome and misspent years working for the wrong sort of people, she held his hand and didn’t judge.
“My sins are many and I will not burden you with them, but if you will have me, I vow to never let you worry about your next meal or the roof over your head, I love Tsunayoshi like the son I never had and I would like us to be a family.”
She said yes.