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Something Small (with Teeth)

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No one is really sure when it starts. It’s a slow progression, no one incident or event big enough to pinpoint what began it all. One day Dame-Tsuna is as useless as always, and then the next day when the boys in class C try to push him into buying their drinks, he’s not. He actually glares up at the boy in charge and says no. Of course he then immediately runs screaming and trips on his laces, so all together not that much of a change. Just enough of one for the group to stand in shock instead of chase after him.

And then the next day, he’s actually able to answer the teacher’s question correctly. A fluke more than likely, the class whispers. He was bound to get something right eventually. This is proven right after, when the teacher in furious disbelief starts lobbing question after question at him, Tsuna stutters through incorrect answer after incorrect answer.

A day later he makes it through a full class of gym without tripping once or getting the ball smashed in his face.

The week after that, his English homework comes back with a respectable 72%.

It’s not long after that that people start getting suspicious.

“Tsuna-kun?” Kyoko asks as they walk to school. Somehow in the past couple months she’s found herself in his company more and more on the route to Namimori Middle School. The day is nice and sunny, and both of them got up early enough that they won’t have to worry about being tardy and running into Hibari. She should have no reason for the knot of apprehension in her gut.

“Hmm?” Tsuna hums, distracted. He’s fumbling in his backpack for today’s history homework. Kyoko can just make out his stressed murmurs about forgetting it at home.

She shakes her head. She must be imagining things. She’s worrying for nothing.

“No, never mind. Oh! Me and Hana are going to get cakes after school if you want to join us. There’s a new chocolate mousse!” She says, doubt already firmly routed as she watches him struggle with the backpack.

“Oh!” Tsuna stares at her, blushing a bit. “Uh, sure, that’d be great!” he bites his lip as if he wants to say more. He trips on a loose stone.

She doesn’t have the time to respond before a shout grabs her attention to where a group of students from another school are hanging out, eyes following them as they pass. A few of them have cigarettes out and the smell has her shrinking back a little.

Strangely, Tsuna’s fumbling straightens out along with his spine, and he spends the entire walk pass them with a weird, blank look on his face. He seems very intent on the group, but oddly, not apprehensive.

Strange.

Hibari knows who Tsunayoshi is of course. Even without his self-inflicted duty to Namimori he would know. That’s the thing. Everyone knows who Dame-Tsuna is. Knowing who he is doesn’t mean he really registers as anything but another faceless herbivore. Not until the whispers about Dame-Tsuna start to change.

And even then, he mostly wouldn’t pay any attention if it weren’t for how things start…not lining up.

It’s a Monday at 12:03 when a group of upperclassmen corner Tsuna and ask him not-so-politely to hand over his allowance. It’s 12:05 when Hibari leans through the window above them prepared to bite them to death. It’s 12:06 when Tsuna tries to very politely convince the boys to not hit his face. When that doesn’t work, it’s 12:07 and Tsuna has knocked one boy down and staggered another. He’s halfway across the field before it ticks towards 12:08.

Hibari takes care of the stragglers and prepares to change his mental assessment of Tsunayoshi Sawada.

 

(He’s not convinced, not yet. But he will be.)

So things have changed at Namimori. Small things of course, but to those in-tune with the social hierarchy of Namimori Middle School, it’s just enough to knock things off-course.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Three months after it starts Nezu-Sensei is fired for fraud and they get a frail old woman as a math teacher instead. She’s mostly blind but her handwriting is impeccable, and she grades the students fairly. Those who were struggling suddenly find themselves with passing grades. The school issues an apology.

When the news is released, the only one in class not surprised is the class scapegoat.

A week after that Takeshi Yamamoto starts eating lunch with Tsuna. This creates a mild upheaval in the social rankings, although less so when Kyoko and Hana join him.

When asked about it, Takeshi just says that “he seems like an interesting guy”.

The confusion slowly settles.

A month after that, when Ryohei is running before school, he sees a small figure along his route. He quickly catches up to it and is only mildly surprised when it turns out to be Sawada. He yells a greeting, compliments the other boy’s running form and then asks if he has ever tried boxing.

He doesn’t get an answer because the bell rings and they both have to run from Hibari.

He sees him the next few days, gradually running faster and farther, a determined look on Sawada’s face. He sees him walking with his sister, but it takes a few times to connect the dots and realise that the running boy is the same boy that his sister worries about.

The perfect solution comes to him.

A week after that three figures can be seen running through town.

It feels a little bit like some great change. Something monumental.

Nana finds a gun in her closet and screams. It fell out of a box of her husband’s things as she was putting away laundry, and it sits on her bedroom floor like it belongs.

Goosebumps rise along her arms.

She sets the rest of the clothing aside and tears up the back of the closet like the gun is pressing against her heart. She finds knives, bullets, money.

She finds a passport for a man who looks like her husband but who doesn’t have his name.

She moves from her bedroom to the rest of the house and finds other things, less obvious things.

There’s a stain in the living room she thinks might be blood.

Her son comes home and watches as she frantically scrubs at it with a wire brush. He leaves for a bit, but when he comes back it’s with gloves and a jug of bleach. He gets down besides her and holds her shaking hands for a couple seconds, before taking over and scrubbing besides her.

The questions want to rise in her throat, but she’s so used to turning that part of her off they get stuck in the back of her throat.

She looks at her son and doesn’t recognise him.

That night she flips through a disused phone book and calls a number she once swore never to call again.

“…Papa?”

Tsuna sits on his bed after his mother has calmed down and wishes he could feel some guilt for her pain. He doesn’t though, because the shock will fade, and at least this way she will have the time to process.

She didn’t before.

She didn’t before and it almost killed her.

His father deserves it anyway, for leaving a single mother with a child and never explaining what things that child will bring to her life.

He flips open a scuffed notebook and cross off something on his list.

The list is a bullet point of nonsensical words, written in such a way that it could mean something but is almost impossible to understand.

It’s not in another language, or in some sort of cypher. It is a code, but not one you would be able to crack without knowing what he does.

That is, without knowing the future.

The plane touches down onto solid ground and a killer steps out. Clutched in the small figure’s hands is a thin folder, already open. The page that stares back is sparse, showing school records and an old school photo. There’s a note attached in cramped handwriting.

Reborn clenches his teeth and tips his hat down.

“...Idiot Iemitsu can’t even write a proper target report.”

He watches the house for three days, gradually wearing his teeth down as the enormity of his task becomes apparent.

It was obvious from the get-go that he was working with subpar information, since Iemitsu had some sort of complex for his family and had only vague knowledge they even existed most of the time. There’s also very limited surveillance in town, partly because Japan is supposed to be off limits and partly because it was never needed before.

Because of this, what he knows about his student fills a couple pages of sparse text. A failing school life, no significant friends, a weak and spineless personality.

Iemitsu seems to be under the impression that Tsunayoshi is still five years old. There’s doodles of tuna in the margins of his notes.

The only real information comes from an incident report years ago when the Ninth sealed the boy’s Flames off after being frightened by a chihuahua.

Such high potential in Flames and maybe the Primo’s heritage, but very little else.

It takes a few days, but slowly that statement is proven false. The first indication is that it’s easily apparent that the boy does have friends, quite a few of them too for someone who’s supposed to be useless. And the quality of them is strangely high, as if he picked them himself for being mafia material.

Somehow, despite being at the bottom of the school rankings, he is seen most often with it’s idols.

He doesn’t appear to be doing terrible in school either. Not great at academics, but not failing, and a talent for foreign languages and history. It comes up that his math grades had been purposefully sabotaged by a fraudulent teacher, so he’s even passing his worst class.

He’s not even useless in gym, mostly because he’s quick and agile. He’s also filled to the brim with the sort of stamina and determination you don’t see in men twice his size.

This becomes evident when Reborn has to follow him and two others on a three hour run that crosses into thick forests and crowded markets. If he didn’t know any better he would think Tsunayoshi was purposefully waking up insanely early to drag his friends on the worst running routes to spite Reborn.

It’s a sound technique, and one he had been planning on inflicting on his student himself, so he can profess a certain amount of annoyance on having that taken away.

It’s not just the boy that’s different from his reports, either.

Sawada Nana was supposed to be the clueless housewife, naïve and innocent of the mafia life. A bright personality but a not-so-bright intelligence.

And yet just in the three days he’s been here he has witnessed two screaming matches on the phone during the day, one breakdown during the night, and a pile of self-defence pamphlets on the counter. The number she calls the most turns up unlisted, but she frequently calls the voice on the other end “Papa”, and a few times “Mama”.

Odd, since her parents are noted as deceased.

The way she holds the knives while making dinner also makes him nervous. He makes a mental note to step very carefully around her, since his instructions were very explicit in keeping her safe, and more importantly, ignorant.

“Tch. Idiot Iemitsu, can’t even make a proper civilian family.”

His neck itches.

He can’t see Reborn, but he knows he’s there. It’s a prickling along his senses, an awareness that somewhere out there a predator is watching him.

He gets the same feeling with Hibari, but to a different extent. He figures it is partly because of a lack of interest on Hibari’s part and partly the large, large gap of experience between both of them.

He thinks Hibari will get there though, and it won’t take much more either. A few real battles under his belt, and some sort of obvious showcase of skill on Tsuna’s part.

He’s almost looking forward to it.

The thought catches him mid-stride and he almost trips. It is quickly disguised as he, Kyoko-chan, and Ryohei stumble across the threshold of the school. They have forty minutes to shower, change, and get to class. A much better time than last week, when they barely made it before the start of classes.

Sometimes the speed of growth of his friends makes his chest hurt.

“Ah! Ouch. I think I might have pulled something on that last block,” Kyoko says, panting. Her brother pulls her up and forces her to walk her cramps away.

“We should check that out. Muscle injuries are EXTREMELY dangerous,” he says solemnly.

It’s weird seeing them interact. Before they never had the time, or the desire. Even though Kyoko-chan was involved, especially at the end, the years of exclusion hurt whatever sibling bond they had to start with. Ryohei was always blinded by his need to protect her, and Kyoko by her desire to not see him hurt.

He’s glad he can see them like this.

“Let’s check it out then, and maybe tomorrow we can take a break. It feels like we’re at a point that a day to relax won’t hurt,” he says, lagging behind a tad so he can watch them.

Kyoko-chan turns a little so she can look him in the eye.

“I’m sure that’s not necessary! It’s probably nothing.” She looks embarrassed to be the cause of them slowing down, but also a little touched.

Ryohei, who at first looked mulish at not continuing their insane runs tomorrow, now looks more concerned for his sister’s health than his own.

“What if it’s EXTREMELY not?” he asks, frantic. “What if you can never run again because you overworked yourself?”

Tsuna laughs.

“There you go, now we have to have a day to relax,” he says.

They walk into the school, and he pauses to look one more time at the happy picture they make.

He can’t help but think that this is what family looks like.

They soon split off, since Ryohei is in a grade higher than them. That leaves Kyoko-chan and Tsuna to wander off to change and to meet up again at lunch.

Hana Kurokawa is by nature a suspicious person. It comes with the territory of having the school idol as a best friend.

When Kyoko starts eating lunch with the class loser, she has doubts. Tsunayoshi is only slightly less of a monkey than the rest of their classmates, and that’s mostly because he happens to look and act more like a scared kitten.

Or a rabbit.

But it gives her the perfect opportunity to get some inside dirt on what’s going on. Because something is going on, and it obviously starts with Dame-Tsuna.

She’s proven right when it becomes apparent that Tsuna is not Dame, or at least not enough to warrant a nickname for it. And he knows too much. About school subjects, about people, about the teachers.

Oh, people might say that Nezu was sacked because of an anonymous tip, but she knows better.

So when Kyoko turns up one day to say her brother wants her to start running with him, and who happens to join them but Tsunayoshi?

Well, it’s suspicious.

Suspicious enough that she might be tempted to join them, just as a precaution, if it weren’t for the fact that running makes her break out in hives.

She narrows her eyes out the window of the classroom.

That just means she has to be more proactive in her information gathering.

And she thinks she knows just where to start, considering there’s been a black shadow stalking Tsunayoshi for three days now, and it’s obvious he knows even if he doesn’t confront it.

She would think it a coincidence, or nothing of note, but Hana Kurokawa is by nature a suspicious person.

It comes with the territory of being Hana Kurokawa.

Nana is at the kitchen table with a cup of tea when the doorbell rings. This is strange, since it’s much too early for one of Tsuna’s friends, and she hasn’t had any of her own for quite a few years.

She’s expecting some sort of salesperson, or maybe a delivery from her absent husband.

Instead she opens the door to a baby in a suit.

They stare at each other for a second, one in confusion and one in determination before she crouches down and settles for a vague smile.

“Yes? Are you lost?” She tries for something that sounds warm and inviting and ends up somewhere between there and bemused. The suit looks cute, but it’s not very child-friendly.

“Ciao, I’m the home tutor Reborn.” He says in perfect Japanese, although she thinks ciao is Italian.

“Oh my, a home tutor? Aren’t you a little young?” She murmurs, distracted as she begins scanning the street. Something feels off.

“I am perfectly certified, and have been hired by your husband’s company to mould your son into a leader of the future generation.” He tips his little hat down once before looking back into her eyes.

“I have the papers here, as well as a letter from your husband.” He holds out a few glossy pamphlets as well as a white envelope. She blinks before accepting them.

For a second Nana thinks about not opening the letter, telling the strange baby to find some other house to tutor. She’s not feeling very confident in her husband right now, not after the things she’s found in the dark corners of the house, or after the long conversations with her estranged family. She has the strange urge to close the door in his face and lock it.

Those thoughts fly right out of her head as soon as her hand touches the papers, a fog covering her eyes for a second as she crouches there, arm still outstretched.

“Yes of course,” she murmurs, standing up. “Come on in Reborn, I’ll set you up in Tsuna’s room.”

She listlessly pads into the house, door ajar behind her.

The shadowed eyes of the man-turned-child follow her.

That was a rather extreme reaction towards a very mild compulsion illusion, Reborn notes. Although it might explain her rather ditzy-appearing past behaviour. It’s a dangerous weakness though, for the Vongola’s future boss’s mother to be so susceptible to manipulation. And it does raise the question as to why. Is it a trait that runs through her side of the family? Is Tsunayoshi in danger of inheriting it? Is it the result of trauma?

He closes the door and follows the woman as she gives up halfway through setting up a futon in her son’s room, and instead starts dragging her feet around the kitchen. Her steps are quiet, her eyes still fogged and glassy. She does the circuit three times before stopping in front of a cabinet.

“Tea?” she says vaguely in his direction, fingers already running through a collection of colourful boxes. A few of them appear to be brand-name blends, but a few are labelled with handwritten names. There’s even one with Tsuna written across it in large letters.

“Please, whatever you are having,” he says, hopping from the floor to a chair. He would prefer espresso, but he would also rather not make any more requests while the woman is so suggestible. He’ll have to be very careful with his words.

Nana hums, before pushing all the boxes in the cupboard away and reaching into the very back. The tin that she takes out is old and dented.

When she opens it Reborn has to force himself into stillness. It’s a loose blend of what smells like ginger and Lung Ching, with a note of what might be jasmine.

It’s a blend he’s tasted before, and it wasn’t at a housewife’s kitchen table. His eyes narrow, and he stares at her back as if he can split open her ribs and read her story etched inside.

It’s about high time someone looked into the history of Sawada Nana.

Tsuna opens the door to his house and hears the soft chatter of his mother’s voice. For a second he thinks she might be on the phone, as she has for the past few days, but another voice answers her and his heart suddenly jumps into his throat.

Gooseflesh runs down his arms and he has to close his eyes for a second before he settles himself.

“I’m home!” he calls, kicking his shoes off and heading towards to kitchen where he already knows Reborn will be waiting.

Sure enough he turns the corner and has to make himself stop.

He blinks in apparent confusion, pushing his fear and grief and joy down, and takes a quick look at his mother for support. This is extremely off-script, and he doesn’t really know why. Some small thrill of excitement runs through his veins. He doesn’t know how this is going to go.

His mother seems a little lost, but when he turns his eyes towards her she smiles and nods to the baby at the table.

“This here is Reborn-sensei, he’s here from your father’s company to tutor you,” she says. And suddenly warning bells are ringing and he’s frowning, because something is wrong here.

“Um. But, my grades are good now?” he asks, almost by reflex.

“And I’m proud of you for pushing through like that, but a little help can go a long way. Not to mention who knows what sort of damage that math teacher did to your education, I would really feel better if someone qualified fixed up any gaps for you.” Nana smiles at him, but it’s weirdly tense, as if she’s doing it by muscle memory.

Tsuna blinks at her.

“I’ll let you two get to know each other then.” She says, getting up and returning her empty cup to the sink.

“I need to get a few groceries for dinner, so I’ll be out for a little bit. Play nice.” It’s said almost robotically. Tsuna is starting to get really worried when she brushes past him and drops a kiss on his head. She hasn’t done that since he was eight.

He turns panicked eyes towards Reborn, who’s been strangely quiet during all of this.

The click of the front door is deathly loud in the tense atmosphere that she leaves in her wake.

Nana turns down towards the shops, steps in between two arguing shoppers and then disappears down a convenient alley in the cover they provide.

Her hands shake as she scrambles to find her cellphone in her purse. She has to fight with a bunch of receipts and forgotten club cards before she finds the rarely used machine.

The number takes a few tries to get dialled, and she has to hold her breath as the ringing starts. She’s suddenly paranoid that the relative safety of the alley is an illusion, that there are eyes from the street watching her dressed in black suits and with shadowed faces. She feels the sniper scope crawl across her back.

She lets the brick of one side of the alley hold her up.

“…Allo?” She hears distantly through the receiver.

“Code 0-6-0-1-1-8,” she says, barely making her mouth move.

A pause.

“Nana?” a panicked voice asks, sharp and distinct before a deeper one takes over.

“Are you in danger?” It asks. Nana takes a great gulp of breath and presses back into the brick wall.

“I don’t know. But my son...” She forces out, heart trying to crawl into her throat and die there. There was a reason she hasn’t talked to her family in years.

There’s a pause on the line, before the voice answers.

“We’ll be there in twenty-four hours, contact the usual place for more information. I’ll tell your father that you won’t be able to call tonight.” And then the call goes quiet, the dial tone fading into the evening air.

She slips the cellphone into her purse again, straightens her knocking knees, and walks back into the traffic.

She has dinner to make.

Reborn sips his tea and watches the boy fidget. Tsunayoshi up close looks even more harmless than from the view of his binoculars. It’s a deceiving appearance, and he can maybe start to see why Iemitsu wrote the boy off as weak.

There’s an honesty to Tsunayoshi’s appearance that you just don’t see in mafia men.

He slowly puts the cup down when it becomes obvious that the boy won’t be the one to speak first. He does take a seat though, the same place his mother vacated, and slides his eyes so that he’s staring vaguely in the direction of Reborn’s left shoulder.

“What do you know of your father’s company, Tsunayoshi-kun?” He says finally. He had been planning on going straight to the jugular, using the humiliating nickname that the children had already bestowed the boy, and bullying him into compliance.

It’s a tactic that works well in mafia families, but now he finds himself retreating a little. It shouldn’t matter that the boy is a civilian, because Vongola will have its blood and he’s doomed younger and more civilian children to worse fates.

And yet.

“Um,” Tsunayoshi says, blinking wide eyes his way. “You can call me Tsuna?”

What starts as a statement falls into a questioning tone halfway there, as the boy takes a second to realise what Reborn asked.

“You don’t actually think he’s an oil miner,” Reborn continues, ignoring the correction.

Tsunayoshi taps a rhythm on the table, eyes flickering around. He mumbles into the wood.

“I mostly thought he was dead. Mom told me he went and became a star for two years. I figured it was her nice way of saying he got crushed under an oil rig and we were surviving off of his insurance money.”

Reborn feels a tick developing in his eye. The sarcasm is a good sign, but it doesn’t help his rising desire to strangle Iemitsu. How can a mafia head be so stupid?

“He’s not. Dead or an oil miner.” Here Reborn pauses to take out the doctored family tree he had prepared for this meeting.

“Your father works for Vongola, the largest and strongest mafia family in the world.” Here he pauses to watch the boy’s reaction. There’s a stillness in the air, but Tsunayoshi isn’t jumping up and yelling denials either.

“I am here because as the world’s strongest hitman, I have the knowledge and ability to make you the strongest mafia boss.” He rolls the family tree out and points to the boy’s name on the bottom.

“You are the only current eligible heir.” He doesn’t take his eyes off of the boy as he reluctantly tugs the document closer.

There’s a blink, and then he looks back up at Reborn.

“That’s an interesting game for a baby to choose.” The boy’s voice is flat. There’s maybe something amused in the corners of his eyes.

Reborn doesn’t slap a hand on his face, but he dearly wants to. Leon jumps into his hands and turns into a gun.

Looks like the soft approach won’t work after all.

Tsuna cackles inwardly while running from bullets. He suddenly sees why Takeshi always needles Gokudera. He doesn’t feel all that guilty of stealing the catchphrase either, since Reborn really couldn’t have expected him to believe his story in the first place.

After all, a baby showing up to say his father is in the mafia and he’s the next boss? If he hadn’t lived it already he would never consider it.

He’s got to wonder why Reborn didn’t start with his original introduction though. Has things changed that much? Not to mention hearing him call him Tsunayoshi is just weird. He would almost prefer Dame-Tsuna. Somehow hearing Reborn use -kun makes him think he’s mocking him.

“Ok!” He yells after jumping behind the couch. “I believe you! Please stop trying to kill me.”

There’s silence for a second before a voice behind him says:

“If I was trying to kill you, you would be dead.”

He whirls around and makes a dying cat noise at seeing his tutor there. Reborn has picked up his teacup sometime during the whole ordeal and seems to be having a tea party with Leon and a few of Tsuna’s old stuffed animals.

Red colours his face and he can almost feel the steam escaping his ears.

Reborn smirks his way, hat obscuring most of his face and legs crossed.

“Well? Have a seat Tsunayoshi-kun. We have a lot to talk about.”

Nana comes home to a gleaming house. There are walls that look freshly painted, and she suspects the counter in the kitchen has been replaced.

She doesn’t even blink at the dishevelled appearance of her son, and simply starts putting the groceries away. She gets her pans out and lines up the ingredients like soldiers on the brand new counter.

Tsuna is sitting at the table, head in his arms and homework strewn about. Reborn sits on his head like some guardian devil.

“Ah, did you boys have a good study session?” she asks as she starts cutting vegetables.

“Acceptable,” Reborn says, and Tsuna just groans pathetically. Dark eyes watch her work.

“Did you have any trouble with the groceries, Sawada-san?” He asks, attention caught on the dirty sleeves of her shirt.

“Oh my, just call me Mama!” Nana titters, not turning around. Her grip on her knife is white knuckled.

“I had a little accident carrying all the bags across the market, but a nice young man helped me when I stumbled.” She hums. The sound of metal on wood is loud. A steady clack as more and more food piles up in a sizzling pan.

“I think it was one of Tsuna’s classmates. The really energetic one.” She pauses in her cutting to turn a little so she can see her son.

“It’s so nice to see him with friends. I worried he would be lonely forever,” she says.

Reborn nods his head. It makes him appear a little like a bobble head toy

“That’s only a recent development right? Do you know what caused it?”

A voice from under him interrupts Nana from replying.

“S’not recent. Couple a months now,” Tsuna says, yawning. He moves his head only slightly so his face is visible under his mane of hair.

Reborn’s attention switches and he looks down.

“That is recent, Tsunayoshi-kun. Especially for someone who had no friends before that.” He jumps off her son’s head and waddles to his own seat.

Tsuna stretches, gathering papers and homework to put away in her bag. He smiles at Nana before answering.

“I figured if I had my own friends, maybe Mom would have time for finding her own.” His smile makes her giggle.

She flaps her hand a few times, blushing.

“Oh you shouldn’t worry so much. That’s my job! Besides, I’m much too old for close friends.” Here she pauses. “That’s what your father was supposed to be for.”

Her smile doesn’t waver. Doesn’t tighten. Her son looks worried anyways.

Hayato gets the call while he’s stocking up on his dynamite materials. He fumbles with the phone and a couple bundles of wicks before simply stuffing them in his jean pockets and hitting the accept call button with his elbow.

“Yeah?” He mumbles, one hand on the phone and the other in his pocket, trying to act nonchalant as a couple people pass him by.

“Gokudera Hayato. Vongola needs you in Japan. I’m sending over the details of your target now, do not disappoint.” The voice on the other end is strangely high pitched for a mafia contact.

He feels sweat run down his brow and he rushes out of the store without paying, wicks hanging half out of his pockets and all.

“I’ll be there, I won’t disappoint –” He gets cut off by the dial tone and bites his tongue. He then has to hiss through clenched teeth because he can taste blood now and that’s just gross.

“Fuck. How does fucking Reborn even know who I am?”

So it turns out Hana doesn’t even have to try and find out on her own who is stalking Tsunayoshi, because the next day he comes to school with a baby on his shoulder. A baby in a suit. It’s ridiculous.

This brings about quite a bit of staring on the part of the other students, and Hana can already see the chaos. Hibari is going to oppose to having a baby on campus, Tsuna is going to run from Hibari like he always does, Hibari is going to catch Tsuna like he always does, and then someone is going to get murdered.

Which is bad for Hana, because then she won’t ever find out the truth about what’s going on.

Although it does bring up the question of why a baby is stalking him and who let it anywhere near the disaster that is Tsunayoshi. He can barely take care of himself most days, never mind a child. And Hana hates children, so this means she’s going to have to convince Kyoko to eat with someone else, and that’s going to be a pain.

Who lets a student bring a baby to school anyways?

She’s already reorganising her day, and it really pisses her off because this always happens when Tsunayoshi goes ahead and does something. Who does he think he is that he can just barge in and –

And something. She’s not actually all that sure what he’s after. And that frustrates her the most, because it’s obvious he’s not after popularity, no matter his sudden friendship with Kyoko.

She narrows his eyes his way and vows violent murder on him should it turn out he wants to date Kyoko or something.

The baby disappears before class and Tsunayoshi doesn’t get murdered by Hibari, which is a pity.

There’s a lot of paperwork involved in running a semi-official junior police group. Even when it’s populated mostly by reformed and not-so reformed delinquents.

Hibari usually has someone else deal with the stacks of forms and incident reports and budget sheets, but some things he has to take care of himself. This includes stolen reports from the actual police.

This is why, when Sawada Tsunayoshi walks into the school with a baby on his shoulder, Hibari isn’t waiting around a corner to bite him to death.

He’s too busy with a stack of paper detailing the budding weapons industry that’s trickled into Namimori through the (mostly) disbanded Yakuza. Tetsuya has been telling him for a while that they need a better information network, and this is just emphasised by the really weird reports he keeps getting.

Somehow, although the guns are getting into the town before the Discipline Committee can take care of them, they suddenly disappear before they can actually get into anyone’s hands.

And then there’s the fact that more and more suspicious individuals have crept into the town and surroundings. The police are working double time for a series of incidents where tourists have been stripped and tied to the front doors of the station.

A few of them have turned out to having warrants out for their arrest. Sometimes there’s a note with a smiley face written on it.

Which all points in the direction of someone encroaching on his territory. The desire to chase the offending animal out of his town competes with the rage that they are finding his prey before he is.

He crumples the papers in his hands and calls for his right hand man. It’s time to go hunting.

The Namimori Police supervisor pokes his head into the break room where a group of detectives are sitting and smoking.

“Those brats broke into the report system again, so be prepared for some more assault cases and broken property reports in the next couple days,” he says.

There’s a loud moan as a few of them start passing around money and complaining.

“Maybe Hibari will find whoever’s got a hard-on for foreigners and shut them down,” one of them says, folding a stack of bills into her pocket.

“Pfft. You’re horrible Masaki. I’m more interested in what they do with the weapon reports,” another says.

The supervisor frowns at them and snags a seat himself.

“Maybe if you guys actually did your job this wouldn’t happen,” he says.

There’s a few catcalls from the rest of the room.

“You’re just angry because you bet it would take longer for them to crack the encryption,” Masaki says, smiling around her cigarette. He smirks and reaches into his wallet to pull out the owed money.

“Brat’s getting good.”

Tsuna goes through the day ignoring Hana’s suspicious looks, the curious questions of his classmates, the really creepy smile of Takeshi’s, and very deliberately ignores his own worries about Reborn.

There was no Dying Will this morning to confess to Kyoko. No embarrassing moment of standing in his underwear in front of the school idol.

Which just means Reborn has something worse planned.

Which he can deal with, and has even planned for to some extent.

What he’s really worried about has more to do with the fact that he has no clue how his flames will react to being shot with a Dying Will bullet. Going back in time didn’t unlock the seal on them, but it did change them.

Flames are part mentality after all, and he suddenly has a lot more in his brain than before.

It’s possible that being shot with a Dying Will bullet will jump start him straight into Hyper Dying Will mode, which would be dangerous with his body in the state it’s in currently.

He cringes and very carefully prods at the empty feeling where the seal is.

It’s too bad that he knows his tutor well enough to know that Reborn’s always going to find an excuse to shoot him, even if it’s just with Dying Will bullets.

He takes a few notes in class, doodles a giant cow eating a city in the margins, crosses off a few points on his list (as well as adds a few) and quietly despairs for his life expectancy.

He’s never dying again, or at least not before finding Byakuran and strangling him. People complain about one lifetime not being enough, but he would disagree, especially when it means sadistic tutors and crazy Mafioso and magic flame powers.

The first life is fraught with screaming, tears, and a revolving door of enemies. He likes to think it was a good life, and that he did all he could for his friends and family. He felt accomplished at the end, watching the expanding reach of the semi-reformed Mafia. It was finally peaceful. He felt like he could leave with no regrets.

His family felt differently.

He’s the first to go, swept along a flood of blood that even they couldn’t protect him from. He spent so many years protecting them, so many years fighting for them, it isn’t until he stops fighting that they realise something is wrong.

He never wanted to be a mafia boss.

He’s told the funeral is visited by the strangest group of once-enemies. The Varia, Mukuro and his gang, the Shimon family and on and on. A parade of the people he’s changed with his fist and his words. Not a single fight breaks out among the variety of allies and enemies. Reborn stands in the back, aged somewhere in his late teens, and keeps one hand on a gun even as his eyes burn into the back of everyone’s heads.

Hayato is a silent piano string beside him.

After the service is over, after his family has said their goodbyes and their promises and their apologies, after the sun has set and the only sound is the wind through the hundreds of white lilies, he wakes.

He sits up on his grave and looks up into Byakuran’s smiling face.

“Oh Tsunayoshi-kun, you didn’t think the story was over did you?”

Just because you have rehabilitated a god doesn’t mean you have stopped him from playing with people’s lives.

Tsuna finds this out first hand.

Byakuran refuses to let go of his best toy, and he might not have the ring anymore but that doesn’t mean he is without power. It’s a simple thing to nudge all that is Sawada Tsunayoshi back into existence.

“What are you doing this for?” Tsuna asks, fading in and out of reality. His features slide around on his face like water, and he has the rather inane thought that he probably looks like the Cheshire cat.

Byakuran’s eyes squint up as he smiles, and the laugh lines on his face deepen. He’s older now, they all are, but there’s also something ageless in his face. Something otherworldly.

Tsuna has always wondered how much Byakuran kept of that other future, how much he remembered. He suddenly thinks it’s probably a lot more than anyone previously thought.

How do you compress an infinite amount of world experiences into one being?

Badly.

The transition from old future to new past is slow. A long slide into an old body. Nights filled with surreal fever dreams and days spent forgetting where he is.

No one really notices if he is suddenly a little quieter, a little more sleepy. Who he is mixes with who he was, and neither of them knows who is losing the most in the exchange.

His hands start writing out answers to test questions without his input. Muscle memory has him taking strange shortcuts to school. He slowly finds his spine straightening and his mind clearing.

The first time he wakes up after his death, and truly feels like himself, even if it is just a version of himself, he instinctively reaches for his flames and ends up throwing up for an hour afterward at the slimy, empty feeling inside of himself.

This body still has the seal, still has months before the mafia will intrude upon his life, still has a Dame nickname.

Still doesn’t have friends.

Well, at least one of those things he can fix.

He doesn’t really have a plan. It’s more of a promise. The beginning of a vow.

He’s not going to let the mafia step all over him, he’s going to gather his family close and never ever let them go. He’s going to make sure they aren’t fated to a life of blood and fixing old grudges.

The problem is a lot of his family is already mixed in with the mafia and nothing he does will get them out. Mukuro, Gokudera, Reborn, the Varia, all his allies and sometimes enemies, they’re already involved.

The mafia is inescapable.

So he has to destroy the mafia. From the inside.

Kensuke Mochida stands by the school gates and waits for Sasagawa Kyoko to arrive. He’s popular, and she’s popular, and by order of the school hierarchy gods they should be perfect together.

She comes running up to gates sweaty, limping and gasping, not gliding in perfect composure like she should be. Behind her runs her brother and Dame-Tsuna.

Mochida’s eyes narrow at the three of them and he silently curses the other boys’ existence. He can’t ask Kyoko out with her brother there, and he knows it’s Dame-Tsuna’s fault the three of them have been together so often. He grinds his teeth.

This is the fifth day he’s had to turn away without getting the prize he wants, and it’s wearing his patience thin. To make it worse, his perfect girlfriend is starting to become not so perfect. Running around with idiots like some sort of tomgirl.

He can’t do anything about the school’s champion boxer, but he can definitively fix whatever made the social pariah try and climb up the social ladder.

Sawada Tsunayoshi will pay for standing in Mochida’s way.

Takeshi breaks his arm practicing after school. He didn’t mean to, was told by Tsuna and Hana and even Kyoko not to go too hard. Not to push himself too much.

It’s not so much that he doesn’t listen so much as he, well, doesn’t listen.

Tsuna and Kyoko have their insane running, and even Hana has her archery. He has always had baseball, but lately it seems like baseball hasn’t had him. He keeps slowing down.

With friends who are progressing more and more, how can he let himself get worse?

The sick crunch of his bone echoes his own through his mind like funeral bells. What is he without baseball?

He sits there with his arm cradled to his chest in shock and feels a hand on his shoulder.

He blinks tears back and looks up at the blurry form of Tsuna. He’s panting a little, obviously having run from the opening of the baseball fence, and he has such a scared look on his face that at first Takeshi thinks something must have happened. Tsuna’s mom must be sick, or something must have happened to Kyoko.

It isn’t until he registers Tsuna’s panicked cries that it seeps in.

Oh.

The answer is that without baseball Takeshi is still Takeshi. He’s still Tsuna’s friend.

Hana watches as Takeshi and Tsuna talk in the classroom and narrows her eyes in thought. They seem closer somehow, even cheerful, despite the fact that Takeshi walked in with a cast on his arm and excuses to his baseball friends.

Takeshi leans against Tsuna’s desk like some overprotective gargoyle, providing a screen against the rest of the class even though he should be the one needing protection right now.

It’s suspicious.

She ignores Kyoko’s quiet laughter beside her and silently adds another mark in the “Shit that’s weird about Sawada” list.

That night when Tsuna is done with his homework and Nana has put away the evening snack, Reborn hops onto his bed and takes out a well-remembered booklet.

“The Mafia’s guide to Healthy and Responsible Relationships? Really?” he asks, laughing. He gets the book chucked at his head in answer.

“Read it, you’ll need it with how fast you seem to be gathering guardians already. Which you really shouldn’t be without unlocking your flames.” Here Reborn glares at Tsuna suspiciously.

Tsuna pretends confusion.

“Flames?” he asks, nose scrunched up and head tilted.

“I’m so happy you asked.” Reborn smirks, bringing up his gun.

Tsuna doesn’t even have time to dodge.

Reborn watches Tsunayoshi lay on the ground, still and silent. Some might say that he’s playing with fire by risking the boy having no regrets in that split second he recognised the gun, but Reborn is smarter.

He’s had to watch Tsuna dodge bullet after bullet, always conveniently somewhere else when Reborn tries and orchestrates a Dying Will rebirth.

The look in his eyes isn’t so much someone fearing for his life, so much as what comes later.

Reborn doesn’t have to worry about Tsunayoshi not having regrets. For some reason the boy is carrying his regrets like a lover’s locket, always constant and close to his heart.

Sure enough, a small flame sprouts on the boy’s forehead, swaying in a non-existent wind. It’s a bright and pure sky flame, but Reborn narrows his eyes anyways.

It’s slow, syrupy. For a second it looks like it’s fighting itself. There’s slight refraction visible in the edges.

The body takes a breath and an inferno blazes, sudden. Reborn flinches back as the pure sky flames suddenly break with the chime of a bell. His heart tries to crawl up into his soft palate, and he actually lets shock creep up his face.

Like a gaping wound the boy’s flames are cracked down the middle, and from the gash purple mist flames bleed out.

Tsuna opens his bleeding eyes.

Reborn stands there and for a second, for a long second, he thinks he’s going to have to actually shoot the last living Vongolan heir. But the bleeding stops, the laceration in the flames slowly stitch up, and the orange comes back. There’s a slow mix of colour before the mist flames are reintegrated, but the finished product is almost all sky.

He holds his breath as Tsunayoshi stands up; clothing burned up, and walks out the bedroom door. The boy is unnerving in the silence. There’s no yelling of regret into the sky, no furious running.

He tips his hat down and follows.

There’s a pounding in his blood, screaming for something. There’s a haze in his eyes and a quietness to his thoughts.

A film of purple sweeps everything away as that a raging inferno keeps him going.

He is purpose defined, determination personified. He won’t stop, he won’t rest, he will march towards the sunset until he can finally, finally –

Wrap his hands around Byakuran’s skinny neck and shake him.

The boy walks out of the city, pointing northwest. He walks and walks until his feet bleed and Reborn’s mouth twists.

Eventually they hit a body of water that can’t be crossed, that’s too large to go around, and he watches Tsunayoshi stay at the edge of the shore and stare out as if it was an ocean he was calculating how to swim.

The flames started sputtering a while ago, halfway across town, but it is only until the boy stops to look to where he’s going that they truly die.

There’s a deathly silence in the air before Tsunayoshi starts laughing, hysterically. He spins around, sees Reborn standing there, and trails off.

“Wow, that was one extreme sleepwalking episode,” Tsuna says, still grinning.

The sound of Reborn’s grinding teeth follow him as he runs the whole way back home, dodging bullets.

When Ryohei and Kyoko show up the next day for their run, they are subjected to the worrying sight of Tsuna limping to the gate covered in bruises.

“Tsuna-kun!” Kyoko yelps, anxiously. Her hands hover over his aching skin. He flashes a tired smile her way and simply yawns.

Ryohei on the other hand pauses to take in his whole figure and frowns.

“Very un-EXTREME, Sawada-san! Kyoko JUST got better, and now you follow her example!” he yells, waving his hands.

Tsuna snorts while Kyoko sputters out denials, but he answers anyways.

“Trust me, it was worth it.” He pats his chest, where an inferno awaits, and smiles at his friends.

“Maybe one day I’ll show you. Besides, it’s not that bad.” He showcases that by bending down to stretch out his legs.

Ryohei laughs, not really understanding but happy that it’s nothing serious and that they can continue their routine.

The two siblings stand there in relief, bookends to the center that is Tsuna. In the early morning light the thin glow of them could be mistaken for the sunrise.

Hayato stands on the hot tar of the airport’s arrival area and desperately smokes the only cigarette he’s had for twenty-four hours. His flight was delayed three times, and the nicotine withdrawal hasn’t helped his stress headache in the least.

He’s got a beat-up backpack at his feet and the remaining of his savings in his pocket. His dynamite is locked up back in Italy, and the feeling of being unarmed slips down his back.

All in all he is in the worst mood possible to meet with a baby Sky. He has to stock up on his explosives again, has to find someplace to get some more cash, has to find someplace to sleep this night and the next, and he has to do all this while going to middle school.

His nose twitches, and he snarls at the ground.

Fucking Sawada Tsunayoshi. Who the fuck does he think he is, becoming the boss for something as great as Vongola without even going to mafia school. He’s a civilian, a middle schooler, he’s never had to claw his way up from the very underbelly of the world’s underworld.

In other words, unworthy.

Oh, he has no misconceptions that Vongola would actually let him kill its heir, but that doesn’t mean he can’t seriously try.

If nothing else he can put “killed the worst heir in the history of Vongola” on his grave.

Tsuna is walking home, alone for once. The siblings had a family gathering they need to go to, and Hana never walks with him anyways. Takeshi stays behind to talk with the baseball coach.

He walks slowly, carefree. The day is nice, and he has nothing to do besides go home and get stared at by Reborn.

He very deliberately ignores the dark form following him and ducks down a side street.

Two boys go into an alley.

One continues on to the next street, but the other stays for a while, stunned.

“People aren’t things, Mochida. You can’t win them as prizes.”

Kensuke Mochida doesn’t show up the next day and his parents call to say he’s recuperating from a broken wrist.

Hibari narrows his eyes at the report and drags his gaze back up at Tetsuya in silent question.

“It’s a legitimate absence, we checked,” Tetsuya says in answer, and his eyes just narrow some more.

“Then I don’t see why I’m wasting my time with this,” Hibari says, leaning back. His right hand man nods.

“Kensuke Mochida was flagged for an increase in aggression in the past few weeks. We believe he got the injury while fighting another student,” Tetsuya reports.

Hibari snorts.

“You brought this to me over a broken wrist?” Although he looks bored, there’s a glint in Hibari’s eyes at the answer. Tetsuya knows better than to bother him with small stuff, so there has to be something bigger at play.

“More about who we think might have broken it. You flagged Sawada Tsunayoshi as a person of interest, and we have reasonable suspicion that he was the one to do it. Considering Mochida is much larger, not to mention trained, I thought you would like to know.” And sure enough, Hibari leans forward, suddenly interested.

Tetsuya smiles.

“Considering Sawada has had issues with bullying before, and has never physically retaliated, you have to wonder where he got his skills and nerve,” he finishes, smug.

Hibari is already out the door.

Tsuna feels a shiver run down his spine and smartly decides to not go out after school like he had planned. Letting Reborn lecture him about the mafia command structure suddenly feels like the best use of his time.

It’s not a lie either, after years as a mafia boss it’s actually really interesting to see what bullshit Reborn considers important to share. This way he doesn’t have to worry about Reborn shooting him in frustration when he takes too long to get home, and he gets a good night’s entertainment.

He very deliberately ignores the waves of interest he can practically feel from the direction of the reception room. He gathers his things together as the last bell rings, says a quick goodbye to his friends, and unlatches the window.

Hibari opens the door to the sight of Tsuna jumping out the window, the sound of the class’ yells. Kyoko rushes forward, a step behind Takeshi and watches as Tsuna lands and rolls forward, only to start a quick run towards the gate.

“Wait! Tsuna!” Takeshi yells, clambering on the windowsill.

“Yamamoto-kun!” Kyoko yelps, latching onto his shirt. Both of them go tumbling out of the window. It’s only a second story luckily, and they pick themselves up with some minor scratches. They run laughing after him.

The rest of the classroom crowds around the window in shock, before a dark figure unlatches the other window and jumps through.

Hibari lands on the balls of his feet and takes off in pursuit.

Tsuna, Kyoko, and Takeshi enter the house gasping. They had to take a few unusual shortcuts, including one that took them over and through a few yards, but they made it without Hibari catching them.

It’s a good thing Tsuna and Kyoko have been running the past weeks, and that Takeshi is so athletic to start with.

They knock off their shoes and Tsuna yells a greeting into the hallway as they go tumbling against each other.

“In the kitchen Tsu-kun! Bring your friends,” his mother calls back, and he stops suddenly, forcing Kyoko and Takeshi to back peddle a little. His intuition is suddenly screaming at him and he takes the next few steps slowly.

It’s not the same feeling as when Reborn is lying in wait for him, but it’s kinda similar. A sudden heaviness on his lungs.

“Tsuna-kun?” Kyoko asks, worried.

He simply pushes open the door to the kitchen.

His mother is sitting at the table, drinking tea from the beat up old tin she keeps for special occasions. She’s smiling slightly, and for once it looks genuine. She’s wearing the type of clothing she tends to reserve for going out.

Across from her is an older Japanese woman in a beat up leather jacket. It’s obvious right off the bat that they are related, the same nose, the same eyes, the same light brown hair. She has hers swept up in a low ponytail, slightly longer than his mother’s.

Side by side they could pass for sisters.

“Um.” He blinks at them, for once legitimately confused. His mother jumps up and beams at him.

“Tsu-kun! Let me introduce you to your aunt Moriko.”