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It Takes Two || You Can't Abandon Me

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It takes a while for Tsuna to accept consciously, all said and done.

It shouldn’t have taken him so long, in retrospect. Feeling the world fade out, almost as though he’s falling asleep, at random moments of the day and then coming back to himself in the aftermath of something ridiculous? And having no recollection of what his friends claimed had happened? Should have been enough of an indication that something strange was going on.

He doesn’t feel the need to really question it, though. It feels weak to admit it but, honestly? He didn’t want to admit that something strange was going on. And it doesn’t even seem strange, in the beginning. Not when Reborn’s weird bullets somehow ratcheted up his adrenaline and made him lose enough inhibitions to run about near starkers doing things that he would have actually needed to be on his death bed to confess to wanting to do, before. Oh, it’s strange, no doubt about that. But it’s strange in the way Reborn’s strange, leaving an oddly sweet aftertaste in his mouth. Because even if he feels like he’s going crazy at times, Reborn and those bullets of his have brought a weird kind of freedom and joy into his life, something he’s never felt before.

And he somehow managed to get friends, just as weird and sweet as the strange powers Reborn was offering him freely at the cost of a bullet that dissolved somewhere between the skin on his forehead and the inside of his skull cavity, somehow not leaving a mess of ruptured flesh and blood behind no matter how many times he was shot in the head. He’d been alone nearly his entire life before Reborn and his bullets had entered his life, why in the world would he have wanted to question any of the side-effects?

Even if the more he was shot, the more he felt the world melting around his ears and his eyes. At some point, Tsuna stopped being able to consciously sense anything at all, feeling as though he was drifting, and all of the world and the people in it weren’t any more than a bottomless pool of water and driftwood floating around him. And after the Kokuyo amusement park debacle? And Mukuro, and his lackeys?

Yeah, that was when he actually started losing time.

*

It was terrifying, to accept that. To accept that there was something wrong.

The world darkens at the corners of his vision, at random moments. And as the daysweeksmonths go by, and they’re subject to the weirdest shit reality can offer up, even if what counts as reality for him is entirely subjective, Tsuna slowly starts to realize that, not only is he regularly losing time, but he’s also starting to hear voices.

He spends most of the battles against the Varia in a haze, with absolutely no clear recollection of what’s been happening. The events register as a distant montage in his head, as though there is something in him that recognizes that something had been happening, even if he can’t remember what exactly it was that brought him to those moments of action.

The worst is his interaction with the odd, scarred man that apparently led the Varia. Tsuna had no say in any of what happened, actually found out what had happened only when his friends mentioned it in passing when they were sitting in the hospital or when they were recovering from the sheer violence of what was apparently the battle for the Sky Ring that now dangled from a chain that was strung around his neck. Much like a hangman’s noose slung loose around his throat, just waiting to be pulled tight. The scattered memories he received of that fight had him cringing back from the careless cruelty in the words they had shared.

For some reason, that thought and feeling just makes the voices titter, distantly amused. And when Tsuna leans back, and actively tries to understand why, for once, he realizes it’s because they weren’t amused at their interaction with Xanxus, no, they were laughing at Tsuna’s reaction to it.

Not carelessly cruel. Just blunt, to a fault. Because they had no time to waste on being kind or soft. Not when facing off against someone like Xanxus, who couldn’t be soft even if his life depended on it.

It left Tsuna feeling sick, because not only was he losing time, he was slowly starting to agree with the thoughts of whatever it was, whoever it was, that was making him lose it.

*

The voices eventually merge into a single voice that Tsuna belatedly realizes sounds exactly like his own sometime in the midst of the insanity that is apparently the future they should all be resigned to unless they can defeat the white haired psychopath that had managed to take over multiple worlds and realities across the board.

Though it’s a bit rich, calling someone else a psychopath when it’s Tsuna who’s hearing voices, when it’s Tsuna who can feel the touch of a formless hand pressed hard between his shoulder blades when he listens to the training regimen that Lal and Reborn came up with. When it’s Tsuna who can feel the weight of invisible forearms, wrapped tightly around his torso, with the chin of something discorporate resting on his shoulder, listening in and holding him steady while they were bombarded with the memories of all the misery that the Vongola had brought down on their enemies over the years.

He’s all alone, with no one to turn to, slowly going crazy all on his lonesome and not nearly as alone as he would like to be, inside his head.

He learns to let it go, because there are more important things to worry about than his flagging sanity.

And, anyway, after a certain point it, isn’t like he’s the one at the helm, anyway. It’s both easier and harder to stop thinking about the issue when all he has to deal with is a reel of memories that feel like they were experienced by somebody else.

*

They get back to their own time, a hopeless future apparently averted, from what he can make out, but his situation doesn’t get any better.

The next few months prove to be just as ridiculous, what with the Shimon, and Enma, the closest thing he has to a kindred spirit that he’s managed to come across before the voice abruptly takes control and he completely loses the world in the oncoming battles that take place. Somehow, for once, he doesn’t completely lose time. Instead, it’s like he’s sitting in the backseat of the controls to his own life, and he’s actually able to see it in real time, for once.

Daemon terrified him for more reasons than finding out that even friendship could begin to rot when not tended to properly.  Since it’s a confirmation that spirits could somehow influence the real world, that the supernatural wasn’t confined to whatever it was that allowed the shades of the former Dons of the Vongola to reside in that other plane he’d ascended to, before. When they’d been locked in Byakuran’s farce of a verging-on-apocalyptic future.

It makes him wonder if the voice he heard, whispering in his ear, almost preternaturally calm no matter what came their way, was some kind of spirit, haunting him and taking over his life whether he consented to the possession or not.

The thought made the arms that he felt at nearly every waking moment these days close tighter around him. He could nearly feel a whole, physical form, now, standing behindaroundwithin him, somehow standing exactly where he was and yet wrapped around him. The whisper in his ear insisted that it was no spirit, but then, what else could it be?

Tsuna’s going crazy, and even when he wants to say something, he finds himself staying silent, watching as Yamamoto-kun and Gokudera-kun laughed and yelled, squabbling with each other, throwing arms around his shoulders, sharing food with him during lunch hours and ices with him on their way home after school. He feels like he’s simultaneously shrinking and becoming larger than himself, but he smiles faintly and cautiously laughs along with his friends because this is what he’d wanted, right?

This has always been what he wanted. Friends who were amazing, and loyal, freely giving him all the affection and care he could want, adding to a family that was no longer confined to a mother who loved him without any real understanding of what he was going through and a father that never seemed to care and then turned out to care even less than Tsuna had originally hopedassumed he did.

So, he keeps smiling, and takes things as they come, offering up a token protest whenever Reborn brings up the issue of him becoming the next Vongola Boss, but paying careful attention to everything his mentor has to say or teach. Except when it’s to do with how to defend himself, because really, he isn’t the one who handles that side of things, is he.

*

It gets worse. Oh, how it gets worse. There are times when Tsuna doesn’t even know who he is anymore, days when the memories he receives make zero sense to him. The Arcobaleno affair was particularly messed up, and he’s terrified that not only will he lose the closest thing to a mentor and a real father figure he’s ever had but he’ll actually, literally, lose the world in the process and it won’t just be because the other is occupying more and more of histheir waking hours.

What’s worse is that it’s getting worse only because of how terrified Tsuna feels at times, because there’s so much they have to do, there are so many people they need to watch over, that it feels impossible to deal with all of it on his own.

And he is on his own. He doesn’t know whom to speak to. He has no one to speak to. He knows he should’ve broached the subject before, back when it wasn’t as dire, but he’d been too complacent. Possibly too scared. Or grimly fatalistic. And he didn’t want to face the fact that, whatever it was that was making him lose time, whoever it was that he became when he lost time, was the entire reason he was living the life he was leading, now. Friends. Family. People that loved him and looked up to him. And a mentor whom he loved and hated in equal measure because, for all the tough love and omniscience that Reborn showered on him since they’d met, he’d never indicated that he’d noticed that Tsuna was losing the world and his life by degrees with each day that sped by.

So he grits his teeth, and begs the voice that he hears at the edge of his hearing to have some patience, and dedicates himself to learning how to be the best friendbrothercaretakerleader he can be, paying attention to Yamamoto and Gokudera and the girls, to Lambo and I-Pin and Fuuta and giving then all the time their Families, by blood or otherwise, never did, squaring his shoulders and paying attention to all that Don Nono had to share with him about the Vongola Famiglia when they met in Italy during Tsuna’s school breaks. Even quietly asking Reborn what classes he should take up in college to be a better Boss, a better Don, once they’ve graduated high school, since becoming the next Don of the Vongola seems to be where the voice at his ear wants to go. He still doesn’t ask any questions on how to be a better fighter, or how to be more observant, or even how to defend himself when his friends aren’t around to help.

He doesn’t need to. He’s never been the one who handles that part of their life, after all.

Reborn goes sharp eyed, when he asks the question. Because it’s the first time that Tsuna’s actually made the effort to be the Boss that the whisper at his ear seems to want him to be. He has no idea how that other person he becomes reacts when he interacts with Reborn, but the fact that Tsuna’s made the effort to ask how to be better, by himself, without losing time or memory, seems to make something in Reborn sit up and take notice.

Reborn still looks like a child, no older than eight or nine where he’d looked like he was somewhere between three and five, before, when the curse was still in effect. It’s been broken, and his mentor isn’t chained to infancy and an inevitably painful death any longer, but the lack of that curse seemed to have upped his paranoia. Tsuna hadn’t realized how much better it was to have Reborn completely oblivious to whatever it was that he was going through. Because, now? With the sharpened edge of his mentor’s focus directed unerringly at him, with all his years of experience abruptly making an appearance in that intense, searching gaze? He had no room left to manoeuver without giving up more clues than he would like.

Especially not when the other was quite content with not sharing the reality of its presence with anyone else. Even Reborn.

Maybe especially Reborn.

He could feel the world and everything in it dying, sound and color entirely fading out, and felt the press of strong, intangible fingers closing over his shoulders. He could feel his heartbeat slow down, and then speed up, heat slipping through his veins, blistering, white-hot in the line of his spine and dripping like magma into his gut. He closed his eyes, begging the voice, the other, to give him more time, to let him speak. Just this once. Even if it meant that Reborn could figure out that there was something off. He had the right to handle this side of their affairs, right?

Right?

But the eyes he closed weren’t actually closing. He could still see, could still breathe, could feel his mouth open and words spill out, and it was him speaking, except he wasn’t. He could feel himself shivering, coldandhot and wanting, and not even sure what it was he wanted anymore. Except that he wanted to have some amount of control over himself and it just wasn’t. Fair.

He could feel cool, alien amusement flooding his senses, though he could tell that Reborn wouldn’t be able to sense it. Could hear that whisper of laughter at the edge of his hearing, a word, a breath, and someone with a voice that sounded exactly like his own, saying go to sleep, Tsunayoshi.

And he blinked, and he was curled up in his bed, under the sheets. Not sure what time it was. Not sure what day it was. Or how long it had been since he’d tried to speak to Reborn, in the kitchen of his house.

Tokyo. College. Political Science, International Relations, Languages. Murmured the voice, and Tsuna shut his eyes tightly.

“You could have let me handle it,” he muttered, and felt that sensation of heat and the world dying rush through him before it faded again.

Small mercies. At least he hadn’t lost time and memory in one fell swoop before returning to himself, this time. At least, not all at once, entirely, with no recollection of why he’d lost anything in the first place.

He ignored the fact that it felt like he was being cradled against a slim, wiry body that didn’t feel any larger or smaller than him, that still felt like something there yet not, and he knew just like all those times before that if he opened his eyes or reached a hand behind him to hold on to whatever it was that held him safe, to check and see just whose lap it was that his head lay in, there would be no one there.

*

You are mine, and mine alone, the voice insisted, and Tsuna didn’t reply, smiling through whatever it was that Don Nono was bleating about valuable connections, alliances and territory in Calabria. It didn’t help that his father was standing silently to the right and back of the older man. Looking like he was in perfect agreement with what the old man was proposing.

Xanxus, he was irritated to note, had a smile that looked a whole lot more vindictively amused on his face. And he was doing absolutely nothing to hide just how amused he was at Tsuna’s expense.

“You could have warned me,” he grumbled later, once they’d gotten out of the Don’s office.

It hadn’t been easy, shaking his father off. Latching onto Xanxus worked, but only to a certain extent. About the only reason Tsuna managed to get away with it was because of just how much the Varia Boss despised his father.

“Warned you? Why the fuck would I want to warn you. I spent enough years dealing with this shit back when everyone thought I was a contender for the seat of Don Decimo; suck it up and deal, brat.” Xanxus said snidely, not making any effort to slow down for him.

Tsuna made a face and hurried along beside him because, honestly? He didn’t think there was anyone else who’d be sympathetic to this particular issue. Except, possibly, for Dino. Or Enma. But Xanxus was more easily accessible, at the moment, and he’d never managed to connect with the older man on any other issue.

At least this was common ground, now.

He could feel coldhot fire spreading through him and he wrestled it back with no small amount of effort. He didn’t need the help right now. It wasn’t like they were fighting for their lives, right?

Not that he had any real say in the matter. But, thankfully, the other was willing to let this one go. Maybe because his other was just as disgusted about the issue as he was.

Possessiveness aside. Tsuna was trying very hard not to remember just how coldly determined the voice had been, when he’d been sitting in Timoteo’s office.

“Isn’t there any way to avoid it?” he asked desperately, and then found himself coming to a sudden, jerking stop right before he could crash into Xanxus’ back. Well, at least there were some benefits to having his other so close. He felt himself losing focus right after, though, everything going colorless and distant as he lost control.

Xanxus’ eyes, he realized, were just as sharp as Reborn’s had been. And far more discerning.

Fuck, he thought, felt it resonate with his other, and his lips slowly split into a sharp, slanted smile that must have looked positively alien on his face.

Xanxus stared at himthem some more, head tilting just a slightest bit to the side, and he abruptly looked away, breath rushing out of him in a crude snort of laughter.

“About the only way you’ll succeed in making him avoid it is if you find someone else to tie yourselves to. Choose wisely, because whichever lamb you corral will have to defend herself against all the daughters of the Families that’ll get spurned by your choice.” He said, the humor in his voice about as sharp as the other’s smile was on Tsuna’s face.

“Noted,” hethey drawled, and Xanxus gave another harsh laugh, walking away without another word, his piece said.

When Squalo silently glided out of the shadows in Xanxus’ wake, Tsuna felt his neck bend ever-so-slightly, just enough to make it a polite nod. Squalo offered himthem a smile with teeth, eyes gleaming with unholy amusement and too knowing for comfort before he whirled away to stalk after his Boss, not a word spent between them.

“Think Mukuro would let me get married to Chrome? She would be more than capable of ripping the competition to shreds,” Tsuna said whimsically, when they were back in his rooms, and felt strong arms lock around his torso in a vice-like grip, bowing under how crushing their strength was.

When he looked down, bent under the weight of the form at his back, a chin resting on the top of his head and arms wrapped around him, one around his shoulders and another low around his waist, even feeling the press of legs on his either side, as though he were being dragged up close to rest against someone’s chest while they sat up behind him, he was alarmed to realize that those arms were actually partially visible.

Still no color to speak of, mostly washed out, but they looked exactly like his. Exactly. Down to the shape of the forearms, and the cut of the sleeves. Still straightened out, not rolled up to the elbows like he’d rolled his up the moment he got himself out of his suit jacket, vest and tie. Tsuna could see terrifyingly familiar thin, silvery scars crossed over the knuckles of the other’s hands, even as he raised his own, scarred knuckles to tentatively close around one of the other’s wrists.

He couldn’t find it in himself to be surprised when his fingers managed to pass straight through what felt like solid flesh, supporting him as it always had, even when completely indiscernible visibly from the empty air surrounding him.

No, the other said, bland, and Tsuna blinked, not sure if his other was talking about the tangibility of his form or about Mukuro agreeing to let them court Chrome.

No Chrome. No courting. No, his other bit out, and Tsuna felt his breath catch in his throat, more than a little alarmed. Because the voice in his ear rarely found reason to communicate this directly with him, even if he’d slowly gotten used to having the other curled around him at random moments. Or all the time.

Even if it did communicate directly with him, it usually sounded blank. Detached. Disinterested, and cold, or a coldhot sensation burning through his flesh and senses, eating him alive and leaving him numb, out of control of his own body.

Not like this.

Mine, it repeated, and Tsuna closed his eyes, more frightened than he’d been in years.

*

Tsuna wasn’t really surprised when he began to lose far more time than before. Nearly every lost moment seemed to take place in direct correlation to this new debacle that he’d managed to find himself in. The memories started trickling in again, and at least then he figured out why everyone was watching him with such a wary look in the eyes.

“Did you have to smash the old man’s desk to bits? And his windows, besides?” he muttered under his breath, and felt no remorse from the other curled up around him.

He ignored the alarmed look his words attracted from one of the maids he was walking past. They were well past the point where he could afford to show discomfort in a situation like this. He did, however, manage to keep the rest of his words to himself until he reached his rooms.

“No, really, did you have to do that? What sense did it make to do any of that?” he demanded, of empty air, as soon as he got the door shut behind himself. And stiffened, because it didn’t even take a sharp intake of breath on his other’s part, or the lance of heat down his spine, to realize that they weren’t alone.

…and it just had to be Yamamoto and Gokudera, right.

Gokudera just looked confused, and concerned for him, but Yamamoto’s eyes gleamed with just as much heightened interest as Xanxus’ eyes had, a week or so before.

It made him wonder in retrospect if Yamamoto had actually been quite as unobservant as he’d thought, when they’d still been at Nami-chuu. He’d realized, in the years after, that his friend could be an unnervingly good actor and a practiced liar if the situation called for it. It was one of the (very many) reasons Gokudera abhorred him.

Or claimed to, at any rate. The other had always seemed amused whenever Tsuna spent any amount of time trying to figure out what made his closest friends tick.

“Everything okay? Tsuna?” Yamamoto asked cheerfully, teeth bared in a sharp grin, and Tsuna smiled weakly back. And begged his other to back off; they really didn’t need any more people finding out about them.

Not that his request seemed to help at all. Yamamoto was still staring at him.

…so was Gokudera, for that matter. He’d lost the concerned expression, and looked more bewildered than not, eyes focused unerringly behind Tsuna. Tsuna blinked, and stiffened, because he didn’t need to turn around to know whose arms were curled around his shoulders.

He whirled around anyway, because of all inconvenient times for the lack of corporeality to wear out on them-!

There was no one there, though. Not even the partially visible form he’d seen, days ago now.

He could still feel his forehead pressed right up against the other’s, though. And even if he couldn’t see him, he could tell that they were perfectly aligned, chest to chest, shoulder to shoulder, hips and legs set perfectly against hips and legs. The arms had let go the moment he’d spun around, though strong, steady fingers closed around his shoulders again, and breath whispered against his ear.

They played us, his other murmured, voice hard, and Tsuna could feel his shoulders go tense beneath his other’s fingers.

“Tsuna-” Yamamoto started, sounding worried, and it made Tsuna’s fingers clench tight, because he didn’t need this.

Close to a decade now, six years at the least, and no one had noticed. Why was it changing now? Why was it-

He felt his throat close, eyes rolling up in his head, felt fingers sliding up to cradle the back of his neck and the line of his back, easily supporting him even as the world slowed and died around him, colors fading, going monochrome, darkening at the edges and finally blackening all the way through and taking the sound of Gokudera’s terrified yell and the snick of Yamamoto’s sword loosening in its sheathe with it.

*

When he woke, he was back in his old room in Namimori, far away from his apartment in Tokyo and his suite of rooms at the Vongola Estate situated somewhere in the Sicilian countryside outside of Palermo.

There was no rush of memory to tell him what had happened, however distant. But when he tried to speak, to reach out and touch the world around him, he found that he couldn’t move.

Sleep, the voice at the edge of his hearing whispered, nearly begged, and Tsuna could feel tears beading at the edge of his eyes.

You need to sleep, Tsuna, don’t be awake for thi-

And the world blacked out again, just as he saw Reborn step into the room, closely followed by Mammon, Mukuro, Chrome and Fran.

*

“It isn’t an illusion, I’ve dug deep enough to be able to tell if there’s anything in there that shouldn’t be there-”

Kufufufu, is that so? You’ll keep your grimy paws to yourself if you know what’s good for you, Vari-”

Mukuro-sama-”

“-ey. He’s waking up again.”

Shamal, he realized, just as dazed coherency lit his brain up. Tsuna felt his eyelids fall and rise, slow, a blink that didn’t seem to be caused by either himself or his other in his flesh. He felt oddly disconnected, discorporate in a way he’d hardly felt before even when the voice in his ear and the hand at his back were flooding his senses and pushing him to the backseat.

Not for long, though. He felt his other curl tight inside him, around him, protectively, possessively, and felt the world black out again, right as Reborn cursed viciously.

*

When the world blinked back in for the third time, he was alone, except for Xanxus’ broad form indolently sprawled in the chair by his desk. Tsuna blinked up at the ceiling blearily, and felt far more in control than he’d felt in a while.

He couldn’t sense his other anywhere.

“What the fuck happened?” he rasped out, feeling cold. Whether it was dread or an actual, physical sensation because of a temperature drop, Tsuna couldn’t say.

Xanxus turned a bored glance on him, and looked away with a roll of his eyes.

“Your shitty guardians and the old man decided you were possessed.”

Tsuna stared at him.

“…what?” he asked, after a beat.

When Xanxus didn’t reply, didn’t even bother to look at him, Tsuna winced, and looked down into the sheets, the cold feeling getting worse.

He couldn’t feel his other.

There was nothing there.

He was alo-

“What did they think I was possessed by? An illusionist? That could beat Mukuro’s markers?”

Tsuna’s voice came out harder and more incredulous than he thought it would. Tsuna usually didn’t have any reason to speak like this. His other was the one who handled this side of their affairs. He was going to be so angry when he woke up. He didn’t like it when Tsuna stretched his neck out like this.

“Maybe, yeah. Not like I fucking care.” Xanxus replied lazily.

 Not like I was in the fucking know, when they jumped you, Tsuna found himself translating automatically, and shivered, because that was something else his other handled. He didn’t read people. He didn’t need to.

He licked his lips. They felt too dry.

“Did they find-” Because it was an answer. One that was far too convenient for anyone’s purposes, but…

“No. No foreign tampering.”

Tsuna sagged in relief, and then went stiff again almost immediately.

“If- if it wasn’t foreign-” he started, a sudden, terrible suspicion dragging itself out of his head. Again something that his other usually sensed. Tsuna didn’t need to.

Tsuna didn’t need to handle any of these things.

It wasn’t his role.

Judging from the look Xanxus was directing at him, though, Tsuna didn’t even need to ask him to know what that meant.

Self-sabotage. It had to be. He’d somehow managed to convince himself that he was hearing voices. For six fucking years. Though Tsuna wasn’t sure how he’d been capable of knowing or doing any of what his other had done in his stead. Because that was how it worked, right. If the voice was supposed to be him, if it was just his mind playing tricks on him, then everything the voice had done should have been something he was capable of too.

But he wasn’t. He isn’t. He couldn’t be capable of any of that, of the blistering, blunt clarity that his other always brought to the table, of the crazy fights that his other had been forced to fight in his stead, of any of it. Tsuna was nothing. Tsuna was- he was worthless, and would always be worthless.

Except he wasn’t anymore, was he. He was taking control of his life, or at least, the sections of it that didn’t require him to be the cutthroat, dead-eyed Mafioso that burned the people who dared to hurt what belonged to him to little more than ash.

Tsuna was handling the side of their affairs that didn’t require him to become whatever he was in the grip of his Dying Will Flames. Or his Intuition, as he vaguely remembered Reborn call it, years and years ago.

Xanxus was still watching him, eyes steady. Not pitying, though. Something in Tsuna was weakly relieved about that.

It was probably why Reborn had left him by Tsuna’s bedside to watch over him. Nearly anyone else Tsuna knew would have been watching him with pity right now.

He shivered, and dropped back into bed, pulling the sheets over his head. Because this would have been the moment he would have felt that coldhot strength flow through him, ripping the world and time away with every beat of his heart. The lack of it, the lack of hands and fingers and arms holding on to him solidly and giving him something to focus on in the midst of insanity-

He was alone.

*

Chrome was the first person to approach him, after Xanxus left, no longer interested in watching over him like a glorified guard dog. Tsuna supposed he should be grateful that the man had been willing to offer him even that much steadiness in a world that felt like it had dropped completely out of sync.

He kept thinking that it would stop. And die. That the colors would fade, that the sounds would get muffled, that he would begin to drift with nothing to anchor him except for the weight of discarnate fingers resting heavily on his shoulders, ready to draw him back when the time was right. He wasn’t losing time any more, but if this is what life was like without his other standing at his side, he didn’t want it.

(He was alo-)

“Boss,” Chrome said, whisper soft as she gracefully lowered herself down to sit beside him.

Tsuna winced, and ducked his head down, pressing his face into his drawn up knees. Because he didn’t want to hear it. He already knew what Chrome would have to say. She didn’t actually say anything, though.

Not that she really needed to.

It was probably kindness that made her hold her tongue, even when she wrapped one of her tooslimtoothinnothim arms around his shoulders.

*

There were very few people who could understand willing codependency and loyalty to a formless voice in your head the way Chrome could, after all. Even if Mukuro was an actual living person. He’d been discorporate and formless, fading, for the entirety of Chrome’s initial acquaintance with him. And she’d had no choice but to trust that he would take care of her even when she couldn’t take care of herself, even when she didn’t have any proof that she wasn’t going crazy while lying senseless and under the influence of too many pain relieving drugs.

All alone in a hospital with no one to care if she would live or die, except for a voice whispering in her ear and dreams that could very well have been hallucinations on her death bed with no one the wiser.

*

He didn’t want to hear what she had to say, even if she understood. At least Mukuro had been real.

*

It takes time, but they slowly start slinking back. Each and every one of his friends. He’s distantly grateful that he hadn’t lost them along with his other, that the bonds formed by the bullets and the strength and the Flames, at the cost of his time, memory and sanity, had actually been worth the price.

All of them are initially awkward. Poor Gokudera looks like he’s caught between tears and helpless indignation, wanting to fight something that doesn’t actually exist in a physical plane. Yamamoto’s just still and watchful, oddly understanding in a way that Tsuna had never really expected him to ever be. Ryohei is explosively overprotective, smothering him in hardheaded affection that reduces Tsuna to watery laughter, while Hibari keeps eying him cautiously from a distance.

Tsuna isn’t too surprised when he’s met with a tonfa slamming into his face the next morning when he opens his window to let in some fresh air.

Hibari’s about as insistent as the rest of them that the strength within him is all Tsuna’s. Just because his other was the one who wielded it for him, it didn’t mean that their strength vanished when he did.

Both Haru and Kyoko are oddly distressed and furious on his behalf, but that particular emotion just makes him uncomfortable.

He wasn’t being hurt, after all. Not really. He might have been losing time, and it might have been terrifying, but that didn’t mean that his other hadn’t been caring, in his own, coldly possessive way.

Shamal and Mammon had both warned him to not consciously dissociate himself from the ‘voice’ that he’d once heard constantly. They were both familiar with Flame Intuition, either due to case studies and patients, as in the case of Shamal, or due to personal interest and research, as in the case of Mammon. But they’d been insistent that the issue could get worse before it got better, if he kept recognizing his intuition as a separate person.

He wasn’t quite sure how he was supposed to explain that it wasn’t his intuition that spoke to him. Or his dying will flame. Or whatever other explanation they came up with, to try and explain why what seemed like a fully sentient, formless entity had shared a body with him for nearly the entire time that he’d been learning how to access his Flame.

Ten Years Later Lambo, on one of the rarer and rarer instances that Lambo switched with him, had looked oddly somber when he’d realized what time period he’d stepped into. He’d pressed their foreheads together, ignoring the way Gokudera sputtered beside them, and insisted that everything would be fine eventually.

Tsuna had stared back at him blankly. Because, what could you say to that, really.

‘Fine’ had become about as subjective as reality had been for him, once.

*

At least the old man had quit pestering him about those dratted proposals. Maybe the territories in Calabria had been grabbed by someone else who’d been faster to forge alliances, through marriage or otherwise. Maybe Don Nono had just decided to let Tsuna be.

That, or Reborn had shoved a pistol between the old man’s eyes and told him to let it go. And pointed another one at Iemitsu’s stupid face to shut him up. Somehow, Tsuna suspected that the latter was a more like possibility than the former.

*

It’s roughly an year before he starts hearing the voices again.

*

They sound like tortured screams, faint, and from a great distance, like someone’s calling from a deep, dark void, begging for him to hear them, please.

*

He doesn’t say anything to anyone. And keeps on moving, finishing his senior thesis and graduating firmly entrenched in the average section of his class. Attends meetings with the Don, getting to know the people who will be working for him one day, grudgingly agreeing to learn how to defend himself without another, stronger will overlaying his own.

Has fun with his friends without constantly feeling as though he’s living on borrowed time, without feeling as though his life is something he’s being allowed by the indulgence of some otherworldly entity. He’ll never feel that way again, not when he knows.

He grows older, if not necessarily wiser, and faces up to newer challenges that are just as ridiculous as the old. Whoever made him think that donning the mantle of the Vongola Decimo, the Neo Vongola Primo as some put it, would make the sheer insanity filling his life go down was clearly soft in the head.

And if, at some point, he feels spectral fingers slip between his, holding him steady through the deluge, well.

Maybe he won’t have to be alone anymore.

*

…he knows that he isn’t really alone. He knows. The voice, his other, had ensured that Tsuna would never be alone again, not if any of his friends or family had anything to say about it. But. But.

Tsuna. Tsuna. Tsun- the voice whispered, chillingly familiar, and it was all he could do to not break down in grateful tears.

*

There’s an old man standing in front of him, wearing a bright-and-ugly shirt, and his mama says that his papa works for him. But the old man says that he doesn’t have to be polite, that he’s Tsuna’s jii-chan, and Tsuna’s willing to accept that. So he smiles and plays with him, and his papa, even if both of them feel more like strangers than anything else. Even if the more time he spends with them, the worse the burn under his skin gets, as though something in him is telling him to runrunrun the way it always did, when the bigger, meaner kids in school tried to get too close to him, to trip him up or hurt him.

Like it did when those men had tried to make him get into their car one day, after school. Like that teacher who’d come after Tsuna with a knife. Something always made sure he could get away, that he wouldn’t get hurt, even if he wasn’t quite sure what it was.

But he ignores it, for the first time since he can remember, he ignores it, because if mama said this was his papa and his jii-chan, it had to be alright. Right? Whatever it was, even if it took care of him and helped him stay not-hurt, it had to be wrong this time, right.

All of that fades away, when jii-chan presses a finger covered in flame to the center of Tsuna’s forehead, and the world feels like it’s shorting out. Tsuna’s still standing straight, staring up at him, with his papa sitting behind him and holding him in place, and he can hear his mama singing in the kitchen, inside their home, but everything seems to be going dull. The sounds start to fade, everything starts to fade, and Tsuna knows that his jii-chan’s shirt was bright and colorful before, but he can’t see it anymore.

Everything looks grey. And then it starts going black. Tsuna’s still standing straight, but he’s terrified, because it’s getting hard to breathe, but it must not be obvious, because both his jii-chan and papa don’t seem to be worried. His papa ruffles his hair, and gets up to talk to the old man, and Tsuna sits down with a thump, beginning to shake.

And then, all of a sudden, everything wrenches back in place. He feels his eyes burn, and his whole body heat up, as though he’s melting from the inside, like something inside him has caught fire, and it feels like sitting outside under the summer sky at noon, when the entire world feels like it’s as alive as it can be and dying at the same time, when it’s nearly too hot to breathe and the light is harsh enough that everything looks incandescent.

Tsuna blinks, and faintly hears someone calling for him, as if from a great distance. But he shakes it off, and looks up with a beaming smile when his papa calls for him again.

*

Tsuna never realizes that something, someone, snatches those old, terrible memories from him, hiding away the pain of nearly, literally, dying with his life-force sealed away when he’s only a child and too small to understand what was happening, his mind too young to comprehend that his body was shutting down from the inside.

It’s sealed too far inside to help him, for daysweeksmonthsyears it’s sealed too deep, but that doesn’t stop it from trying. That doesn’t stop him from trying, because Tsuna is all there is.

Tsuna is all there is.

And hethey will never be too weak and defenseless to fend for himselfthemselves. Not again. Never again. No.

No.

*

…with my Dying Will, I’ll–