Puberty – one must remember – is kind to nobody.
Tsuna reminds himself of this at least three times a day, usually right after teenage Colonello blows something up in a fit of pique, or teenage Fon passive-aggressively plays pranks on everyone whenever someone annoys him (which is often because apparently, Fon’s eye-of-the-storm calm is near nonexistent in his current something-teen-year-old body), or teenage Skull gets caught spying on schoolgirls in their too-short uniforms, all because their hormones aren’t doing their emotional balance any favours. Granted, even when they were babies with adult minds, they still tended to cause trouble and spread their crazy everywhere, but at least it was – for the most part – contained in battles and training and smack talk, and their maturity levels thankfully weren’t in the negatives.
Now? Well. Tsuna’s just grateful that the illusionist and the scientist of the lot have left Namimori and are therefore No Longer His Problem. Hibari – in between his attempts to bite absolutely everyone to death – is already on his case about the ex-Arcobaleno that are still in town. Tsuna has nightmares about random robots shooting up the streets and – even worse considering the prefect’s abhorrence for everything Mukuro – too-real illusions terrorizing the citizens in Hibari’s precious territory.
As it is, Tsuna already has his work cut out for him trying to pacify Hibari’s ire and keep an eye on the former Arcobaleno at the same time. And that’s on top of making sure his other Guardians behaved themselves (sort of, as much as they’re physically capable of behaving), which – let’s be honest – is always a touch and go issue in and of itself.
Still, if it was just that, Tsuna could’ve handled it. With a lot of complaining and panicking and general resigned why me tolerance, but compared to all the death-defying insanity they’ve gone through, well, he could’ve handled it.
What he can’t handle is Reborn. Because the World’s Number One Hitman simply can’t do anything by halves.
If the others could be said to act up in their crusade of teenage rebellion, Reborn acts down. Very down, and maybe that’s why Tsuna doesn’t make the connection at first. The first time he goes home to a twelve-year-old tutor, Reborn is in so foul a mood that he fires off a shot at Tsuna before he even has both feet through the front door.
“Stop breathing so loudly!” Reborn snarls as Tsuna gapes at him from the floor where he fell after dodging the bullet. “What kind of mafia boss enters a building wheezing like he has asthma? If there was a trap, every enemy inside would know you were coming from a mile away!”
Tsuna sort of stares, because yes, Reborn is quite possibly one of the harshest taskmasters in the world, and he’s nothing short of sadistic when it comes to training Tsuna, but the ex-Arcobaleno has also never called Tsuna out on such a… ridiculous matter either, and with such a sudden drastic measure. It isn’t as if Tsuna was even breathing all that differently from usual. He wasn’t even running beforehand so he isn’t out of breath.
But Reborn is scowling furiously at him in a way that’s reminiscent of the look the hitman once aimed at Checkerface, and Tsuna has no idea what he did to deserve it but he figures he’d best placate Reborn before his tutor’s mood plummets any further.
It doesn’t really make things better, after Tsuna stammers out an apology and assures the hitman he’ll work on it, but at least it doesn’t make things worse either. Reborn slouches off, still glowering, and Tsuna doesn’t see him again until the next day, and by then, Reborn’s back to normal. For their given value of normal.
So Tsuna brushes it off as a one-off. Everyone has bad days, and even though Reborn’s never shown it before, always maintaining the same degree of unruffled, the-whole-world-is-my-personal-in-joke composure, perhaps the hitman’s finally opening up a little, and that can only be a good thing, right?
In retrospect, Tsuna should’ve known better.
Because it wasn’t a one-off. And no matter how masochistically pleased Tsuna is that Reborn is freer with his emotions, when those emotions are almost always negative ones, even Tsuna’s patience can’t last.
The second time Reborn snaps, it’s the following Friday, when Tsuna leaves his schoolbag by his bedroom door, the way he always does, and Reborn – a few minutes later – comes in and trips over it.
The tripping is startling enough. Tsuna didn’t think his tutor even knew the meaning of the word.
However, the ensuing blistering rant about Tsuna’s carelessness and subpar intellect leaves Tsuna frozen long after Reborn’s stormed back out, down the stairs, and out of the house.
He doesn’t come back until morning, and while he neither apologizes nor mentions what happened, he does give Tsuna a pass on his usual morning run.
Tsuna goes anyway. Believe it or not, his morning run is part of his daily routine by now. Also, it’s preferable when the only other option is to remain in the same room as the metaphorical dark cloud hovering above Reborn’s head.
And it happens again and again and again. Not all the time, and there are periods of relative normality between them, but Reborn practically picks fights over anything and everything these days, and it isn’t until Tsuna catches the hitman rubbing at his joints one day that he finally puts two and two together.
Reborn is going through growing pains. Couple that with the blender of hormonal turmoil in all teenagers, and apparently, you have Reborn in an overblown snit.
Which is an experience that is both hilarious and terrifying because Tsuna almost bursts into incredulous laughter when he realizes that it’s something so mundane bothering his seemingly indestructible and demonic tutor, yet at the same time, Tsuna is pretty much at the end of his tether when it comes to Reborn and his mood swings.
He needs them to stop. Or at least find a way to defuse the hitman’s temper to more manageable quantities before someone really gets hurt, physically or emotionally, because while Tsuna is used to verbal abuse and – to an extent – physical abuse, not to mention he understands why Reborn is being more of a bastard than usual, others don’t, or if they do, they’re not as immune to it as Tsuna is.
When Reborn makes Lambo cry, and not the dramatic attention-seeking tears either but actual hurt tears, Tsuna does damage control by sitting Lambo down to explain their resident hitman as best he can before treating the kid to whatever dessert he wants.
When Reborn’s rubber bullets during training results in a sprained ankle for Gokudera, bruised fingers for Yamamoto to the point where he can’t grip his sword properly for what will probably amount to the next couple days, and an ominious edge to Mukuro’s smirk because Chrome gets nailed in the forehead with one, Tsuna purposefully fails the obstacle course Reborn ordered him to run, which turns the hitman’s wrath on him and lets Tsuna subtly make shooing motions at his friends to disappear for the rest of the day.
However, when Reborn gets uppity with Tsuna’s mom, not outright spiteful because even teenage Reborn won’t do that to a woman, but acting bratty all the same in a way that makes Nana’s expression crumple with bewildered dismay, that’s where Tsuna draws the line.
(His mom has enough on her plate dealing with the revelation of her good-for-nothing husband’s lies. She’s still coming to terms with the fact that everything she knew about the love of her life was basically one big sham, and a marriage built on nothing but deception is bound to fall apart. The only reason Tsuna cares is because his mom cares; otherwise he wouldn’t even let Iemitsu into Namimori, much less the house. Hibari would help; his Cloud Guardian considers Iemitsu a disruptive herbivore at best.)
The thing with Reborn though is that if anyone can achieve any kind of success at deflecting or lessening his bad moods, it’s going to have to be Tsuna. When Colonello goes on a rampage, Tsuna just points Lal Mirch at him, and that’s that. Skull is easiest, if only because Hibari can scare the stuntman into obeying Namimori’s inherent laws for short but frequent periods of time. And Fon’s pranks are often more amusing and/or humiliating than truly harmful, and since it has the dual effect of soothing the martial artist’s sullen dispositions, Tsuna is all for it.
Reborn on the other hand turns fourteen-ish and Tsuna loses all desperate hope of old Reborn making a comeback because the hitman just continues acting even angstier than an actual fourteen-year-old. Tsuna has the gloomy suspicion that that Reborn won’t be returning until teenage Reborn is no longer teenage Reborn, which – if Tsuna’s observations are anything to go by – won’t be for at least another year, possibly two.
Tsuna can’t wait that long. For everyone’s peace of mind (and continued wellbeing), he needs to do something.
He offers a massage first. Skull likes them, Fon too, and after Tsuna learned how from Ryouhei (of all people), he’s actually pretty good at it.
But Reborn brushes him off with a nasty glare and stalks off, apparently still not too keen to show any vulnerability in front of others, even Tsuna, despite how much closer they’ve become ever since the Arcobaleno battles debacle.
Tsuna can’t say he didn’t see that coming.
So next, he tries asking Colonello to taunt Reborn into a spar. Maybe if his tutor lets off some steam, he won’t be as prone to taking his grievances out on everyone else.
Colonello is all for it; Reborn, not so much.
Because when it comes down to it, Reborn is stronger than Colonello, and Colonello goes an insult too far when Reborn manages to irritate him in return. Fortunately, Tsuna has the foresight to have Chrome on standby, and she throws up an illusion that lasts just long enough for them to grab a faintly smoking, somewhat battered Colonello before legging it out of there and leaving a fuming Reborn behind.
Spars with other people don’t work. That just ticks the hitman off. Showing Reborn how nice Tsuna’s massages can be for his growing body by bringing Fon over and demonstrating on the former Storm Arcobaleno doesn’t work either; Reborn just goes off to sulk in a corner like a proper emo adolescent.
Even Tsuna suggesting a trip to the hot springs doesn’t work. Reborn accuses him of wanting to slack off, and when Tsuna tells him he can always go alone and leave Lal in charge for a while, Reborn refuses on the grounds that he loathes hot springs, which is certainly news to Tsuna.
It later occurs to him that maybe Reborn is refusing because he doesn’t like showing weakness. Even more than that, he doesn’t like being weak, and to the world’s greatest hitman, perhaps succumbing to the necessity for anything just to alleviate the ache in his joints and the mood swings and all the other issues that come with going through puberty a second time means exactly that.
If nothing else, Reborn’s pride won’t accept it.
It’s weeks later – when Tsuna is basically out of ideas – that he comes to the realization that maybe he should try for amusing rather than practical. Practical means that it works, and therefore will be rejected because Reborn is never going to admit he’s fallen prey to the same hormonal challenges as every other teenager on the planet.
But amusing, making Reborn smile, entertaining him perhaps, or just surprising him (in a good way) – that might work. Even better, Tsuna is even cautiously optimistic about his skills in that area.
So he goes back to the basics, to what he knows about Reborn, about what he knows Reborn likes. Top of the list – coffee.
Tsuna can work with that.
On Sunday morning, Reborn wakes in his usual abrupt manner, grimacing when he immediately feels how sore his knees are, but it isn’t quite as bad as usual.
Now if only Tsuna will quit hovering like Reborn’s some kind of invalid, he’ll be peachy.
(He ignores the niggling guilt that wells up inside him upon remembering how short-tempered he’s been lately.)
He’s halfway out of bed before he registers the delicious scent of coffee in the air, and within minutes, reluctant curiosity and hunger draws him downstairs.
He stops dead in the living room, staring.
There, spread out across the floor, is a selection of everything from hot cappuccinos – no doubt just the way he likes them – to chocolate espresso pots de crème to tiny tiramisu cakes, freshly baked judging by the smell and painstakingly perfected from long hours of trial and error, and all of them have been arranged to form and fill the outline of an achingly familiar chameleon.
Reborn doesn’t move for a long moment, and when he finally speaks, it’s to the anxious presence he senses just behind him by the kitchen doorway.
“Dame-Tsuna, how exactly do you think I’ll be able to drink and eat all of this?”
The words come out as sardonically condescending as always, but even as he says them, something in Reborn loosens and folds in fond defeat as he turns to look at Tsuna, who’s already beaming because he can differentiate Reborn’s moods like no other, to a degree that Reborn should regret. Should hate.
But if anyone has that right, it would be this boy, who hasn’t stopped nagging and worrying and working around Reborn’s undeniably disagreeable temperament as best he could for the past several months.
“We can call the others and make a picnic out of it,” Tsuna suggests now. “Everything except the coffee’s easy enough to pack.”
Reborn sniffs and tells himself that it’s only because Tsuna looks so hopeful that he can’t quite prevent the ensuing (and inevitable) capitulation.
“Fine, but I get first choice of everything. This is for me, after all.”
This doesn’t solve anything. Reborn’s knees still twinge with every bend, there’s a buildup of stress at the base of his neck, and he’s probably going to trip over the doorstep again today because apparently shooting up like a weed and then stopping and then starting again every few weeks is hell on his disgustingly lanky limbs and his motor skills.
But an unbidden smile tugs at the corners of his mouth anyway as he picks up a mug of coffee and inhales appreciatively, and for the first time in months, thinking about how long Tsuna’s been planning this little present and how much longer than that he’s been practicing baking all these treats, the hard curl of resentment in his gut relaxes at last, replaced by a contentment that – while probably temporary – makes the strain on his developing body fade into the background.
He doesn’t say thank you. But he knows Tsuna understands anyway.