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The Menagerie

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Ever since he was a child Sawada Tsunayoshi had had the worst luck with animals.

     For some unidentifiable reason they just seemed to naturally hate him.

     Cats either ran or lashed out if he got close. Dogs leapt up barking, against gates and straining on leashes. Birds everywhere swooped at him, shrieking at the top of their angry little lungs. The one time he’d attempted to hold their class’ pet, a small and normally docile rabbit named Floppsy, it had squirmed like its life depended on it, kicking with its fuzzy little feet and leaving thin painful scratches all up and down his arms.

     That and other such incidents continued to happen all throughout his early life giving him a - justifiable - paranoia towards all animals big and small, as well as a wistfulness and jealousy towards people who got along with them.

     Tsuna had long ago resigned himself to the fact that he and animals were just not compatible.

     Thus their home would remain without the presence of pets of any kind, no matter how much he might have wanted a furry companion all of his own. It just wasn’t meant to be.

     At least, that’s what he’d thought.

 

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Tsuna’s father, Sawada Iemitsu, existed on the very periphery of his life. To say the man was hardly ever home would be a gross understatement. In fact, young Tsuna could probably count the number of occasions he’d seen his father in person on one hand, and probably have some fingers left over. Due to this absence, Iemitsu’s complete ignorance towards the state of his only son’s life was - quite frankly - astounding, though not exactly unexpected.

     There had thus been a number of inappropriate presents over the years, to the point where Tsuna had an entire corner of a spare room dedicated to a pile of things he’d never use and an expectation of adding to said pile every time a gift giving event rolled around. Even so, when Tsuna came downstairs early on the morning of his tenth birthday to find a suspiciously large, air-hole dotted box sitting on the floor in the living room he still found it within himself to be surprised. With a box like that there could only be one thing inside.

     Iemitsu himself was passed out on the couch next to the box, snoring away in nothing but his boxers and undershirt with a whole hoard of empty beer cans scattered around him on the floor and coffee table.

     First Tsuna froze, then he sighed, then he continued to tiptoe towards the kitchen for the glass of water he’d come down for.

     Standing in the doorway, he sipped slowly, putting off the inevitable as he eyed both Iemitsu and the box with equal amounts of trepidation.

     Once done with his drink Tsuna returned the cup and carefully edged back into the living room.

     He crouched down next to the present. A light tap of his finger near one of the box’s open holes resulted in the scuffle of tiny nails on cardboard and the appearance of a small black nose. Tsuna jerked his hand back and turned a baleful look on his snoring pro-creator.

     With a roll of his eyes heavenward and a silent pray for mercy, Tsuna wedged his fingers under the box’s edges and, with a heave, brought it up with him. It tilted, and Tsuna could feel the animal within slide and bump into the side that rested against his front. He gave a small grunt at the weight and adjusted his grip. His arms were already starting to strain.

     Leaning backwards as he walked so that the weight of the parcel remained securely pressed against his thin chest, Tsuna slowly crept back upstairs.

     The present was carefully lowered onto his bed, and the door closed behind him.

     Tsuna proceeded to have a long stare off with the innocuous and oddly silent box, the contents of which were unmistakably an animal. And not just any animal. A puppy. A birthday gift of a puppy from his wayward drunkard of a father. Out of all the animals he was hated by dogs were almost undoubtedly the top offenders. So he didn’t particularly want to face the thing - and all of its little teeth and claws - but it couldn’t stay in that box. Who knew how long it had already been in there.

     Tsuna sighed wearily for the second time that morning and joined the parcel on the bed. Kneeling and settling on his haunches with a slight squeal of mattress springs, he began plucking at the securely tied yellow bow keeping the lid down.

     All the while the parcel stayed still and quiet, almost unnervingly so. Tsuna thought puppies were meant to be more rambunctious than this.

     Finally, the ribbon came loose and fluttered down onto the mattress.

     With a fortifying breath Tsuna lifted the lid away and, holding it to his chest like a shield, warily peered in. A pair of fathomless black puppy eyes stared back out at him.

     It was adorable.

     Tsuna tensed.

     Any moment now things could turn nasty. All animals - no matter how cute - had the possibility to turn vicious when provoked, and Tsuna didn’t know of any bigger provocation than his existence itself.

     A few long, tense moments trickled by... and nothing happened.

     Tsuna blinked at the docile black puppy in confusion and tilted his head.

     The puppy mirrored him.

     Then, it seemed to decide it had had enough of the stare off since it went up on its hind legs and tilted the box forwards, deliberately spilling itself onto the bed.

     Tsuna jumped and scrambled back with a squeak of alarm, dropping the lid to the floor as the puppy made for him. His feet slipped on the sheets and he sprawled back, hitting the headboard with a thump and a surprised gasp.

     With nowhere left to move, he could only hold his breath as the small bundle of black stepped in between his legs. The puppy placed its furry, worryingly oversized front feet on his abdomen and stretched up, nose twitching as it sniffed at him, seemingly curious and not the least bit hostile. Yet.

     Tsuna kept his hands firmly to himself and let the puppy go about its business while trying with all his might to be as still and least provoking as possible.

     The puppy, apparently done with its observations, scrambled further up his torso and Tsuna, though feeling baffled and a little scared still, brought his legs together under its behind to give it some support. The puppy squirmed around until it was comfortably sprawled across him, small head resting against his front as it seemed to settle down for a nap, content.

     Tsuna was absolutely stumped. Not once in the ten short years of his life had an animal taken to him like this. Heck, the last time he had even been this close to one would probably be the Floppsy incident and he’d learned his lesson that time. Surely this was too good to be true?

     He stayed absolutely still, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

     The moment stretched out in silence.

     Early morning birds chirped in the distance.

     Tsuna swallowed.

     With baited breath he cautiously brought a hand up and laid it across the puppy’s gently rising and falling side. The puppy… turned its head and burrowed further into the folds of his pyjama top. Nothing else happened. No growling. No biting. No kicking or clawing.

     Tsuna’s lips parted in wonder as he gazed down at the small animal. And in that moment, he was lost.

     That was the beginning.

 

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Nana, his mother, was ecstatic. It seemed like the puppy was there to stay.

     “Reborn”, his father announced with a grin over breakfast later that morning.

     Tsuna scrunched his face at the naming but they stuck with it. If he was being honest he probably couldn’t have thought of anything better anyway.

     Two years later, Iemitsu had long since returned to his work -whatever it was - and the small black puppy had finally finished growing into those worryingly large paws.

     As they had thought he might, more so even, Reborn turned out to be an absolute giant of a dog, standing with his shoulders about level with twelve year old Tsuna’s waist.

     He was slim and long-legged, pitch black from nose to tail tip, with upright triangular ears, a long pointed snout, straight bushy tail, and dense medium length fur; a very handsome specimen, and an excellent guard dog. Just the sight of the massive black shadow sitting absolutely still in the night and staring out with glinting, watchful eyes was enough to have any potential robbers run screaming for the hills.

     The dog was also weirdly intelligent. Even without any proper training he turned out well behaved and listened to commands readily; when he felt like it anyway. He seemed to understand their words with an unsettling amount of clarity and Tsuna could swear up and down that he’d seen him nodding to something they’d said on more than one occasion.

     Another odd thing about Reborn was his composure. For his size they had expected him to have hard to manage levels of energy, but he was very low key. Just a short daily walk and a weekly trip to the park seemed to be more than enough exercise for him.

     He wasn’t a lapdog either though, not by any stretch of the imagination. He was actually rather independent. The only time he seemed to deliberately seek attention for himself was at night when he slept together with Tsuna. That had become the norm after the first day they’d met, when Tsuna had slumped down with the newly unboxed puppy cradled in his arms and newfound adoration blooming in his chest.

     The rather large dog now insisted on squeezing into the single bed together every night and had in fact gone into fits of uncharacteristic - what could only be called – sulking, on the few occasions when Tsuna had denied him. He also had an annoying habit of waiting until Tsuna was just falling asleep to yank the covers off of him in retribution and would persistently continue to do so until Tsuna let him onto the bed with him. So he had gotten used to sleeping with the massive black lump half on top of him during the night, and more than half during colder months.

     Despite Reborn’s apparent aloofness, the two of them were still practically attached at the hip and had been since day one. Reborn shadowed Tsuna everywhere, especially in the first few months. He’d trail after him from room to room and sit silently with him no matter what he was doing, head cocked and eyes trained on his young owner.

 

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Later that same year - the year Reborn finished growing and middle school started - was also the year Tsuna made his very first friends.

     He’d been in the same school as these people since elementary, so in a way he already knew them. He’d never really been in a situation where he’d had to talk to them though, and so, being the socially shy person that he was, never did.

     Then, one Sunday while taking Reborn on his morning walk, he ran into Sasagawa Kyoko.

     Tsuna got the feeling that most people found Reborn to be a rather intimidating presence, evident in the way they tended to avoid him, not so subtly edging out of the way wherever they passed. On more than one occasion, Tsuna had even seen people stop in their tracks and cross to the other side of the street just to avoid sharing the same footpath as them. Sasagawa Kyoko however took one look at the dog and her entire face lit up. She walked straight up to them and crouched down with a cry of, “What a cute dog!”

     Tsuna blinked, shifting an incredulous gaze to his giant of a dog and back.

     “Thanks?” he said. He'd never been in this kind of situation before so he honestly wasn’t quite sure how to react.

     Reborn’s tail waved. He seemed happy with the praise regardless and gave her a soft wuff in reply.

     Kyoko grinned at him before turning the expression up at Tsuna.

     “What’s their name?” she asked.

     “He’s called Reborn”, Tsuna replied dumbly. This was possibly the longest conversation he’d had with any girl his age. Or more like, the only conversation ever, come to think of it.

     “Reborn-chan”, she decided. “That’s a cute name too. Is it okay to pet him?” she asked with a tilt of her head.

     Tsuna nodded slowly.

     Kyoko used both hands to give the back of the dog’s neck a firm scratch before moving up and rubbing the base of his ears.

     Reborn tilted his head forwards and his tail gave a few move lazy waves.

     “So soft”, Kyoko cooed.

     Tsuna shifted from one foot to the other and fiddled with the end of the leash.

     With a last content pat Kyoko stood back up, smoothing the wrinkles out of her long skirt.

     “How old is he?” she asked, shifting her hold on her bag.

     “Uhh… ” Tsuna had to pause for a moment and squinted one eye at his dog with a thoughtful frown. “Two…? No. Close to three, maybe?” he said uncertainly. “I got him when I was ten, so not last year but the year before, but we’re not sure how old he already was at the time… ”, he trailed off, shifting in place and feeling awkward. Had he not said more than he needed to?

     He glanced shyly at Kyoko as she gave a small giggle and felt the tips of his ears heat up.

     “Maybe two and a half then?” she smiled kindly.

     Tsuna quirked a sheepish smile back at her, and then jumped when she gave a sudden loud gasp.

     “Oh!” she fluttered. “I’m Kyoko, by the way”, she said apologetically. “You’re… Tsunayoshi-kun, right?”

     Tsuna nodded. “Yeah.”

     “Didn’t we go to the same elementary school?”, Kyoko asked.

     “I think so”, Tsuna said, nodding again. He knew they had.

     Kyoko nodded along.

     “I remember you”, she said. “Sorry we never talked before now.”

     Tsuna blinked in surprise before his expression softened.

     “Me too”, he agreed. “I don’t know if I would have said much though”, he laughed self-deprecatingly, rubbing the back of his neck.

     Kyoko gave a hum.

     “That’s okay though. I mean, it shouldn’t matter how much or little you have to say. Tsunayoshi-kun seems like a kind person”, she said thoughtfully, trailing off.

     Tsuna could feel his cheeks heat slightly and he shyly dropped his gaze to the ground.

     “Thank you, and uh, just Tsuna is fine”, he mumbled.

     “Tsuna-kun, then”, Kyoko deferred happily before glancing down at her wrist watch. “Umm, I should be going now but, I’ll talk to you at school tomorrow?” she asked with a hopeful look.

     “Oh”, Tsuna said. “Yeah, sure”, he smiled and nodded.

     A lovely answering smile broke out and Kyoko made a pleased sound, nodding back.

     “Tomorrow, then”, she said as she began walking past him. “Bye for now, Tsuna-kun! Bye, Reborn-chan!” She pivoted, waving cheerfully.

     Tsuna gave a small wave back, hand close to his chest.

     “Bye”, he called in reply, still smiling slightly as he watched her leave.

     He stood there silently for a moment as she disappeared down another street.

     “So, that happened”, he said to himself and glanced at Reborn.

     His dog gave him an amused look and a meaningful jerk on the leash.

     Tsuna huffed.

     “Yeah”, he said, “let’s go.”

     The pair resumed their walk.

 

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     The next day at school, Kyoko greeted him with a bright, “Good morning, Tsuna-kun!”, and a radiant smile as he sat as his desk. It was an impressive level of cheerfulness and energy for this time in the morning.

     “Good morning”, he could only reply dumbly, slightly blinded.

     Kurokawa Hana, who was standing near Kyoko’s desk, raised a curious eyebrow at the pair. They hadn’t been on speaking terms the previous week after all. She was probably wondering how they could have possibly gotten acquainted over the weekend.

     “How’s Reborn-chan today?” Kyoko asked, oblivious to the look her friend was giving them.

     Tsuna smiled slightly. “He’s fine, I think. Same as usual.”

     “'Reborn-chan'?” Kurokawa parroted.

     “Tsuna-kun’s dog”, Kyoko explained merrily for her friend. “We met during his walk yesterday. He’s very cute.”

     Kurokawa blinked.

     “You have a dog?” she asked dubiously, in a tone that said she possibly recalled the Floppsy incident, among others. His bad luck with animals had been witnessed by a large number of people and become slightly infamous over the years after all.

     Tsuna gave a short nervous laugh. “Yeah…He was a, uh, tenth birthday gift from my dad.”

     Kurokawa’s eyebrow rose back up again.

     Before anything else could be said however, the bell chimed out and the rest of the classroom’s occupants, along with Kurokawa, drifted back to their own seats.

     At lunch time Kyoko asked if he’d like to join them, to which Tsuna tentatively agreed. So Kyoko, Kurokawa - “if I’m calling you Tsuna, just call me Hana” - and he ate together.

     The same thing happened the next day, and the next, and for the rest of the week, and then the following. It had soon become routine and Tsuna realised, perhaps somewhat belatedly, that he’d finally made his very first friends.

     Hana, appalled by the state of his grades, started to tutor him.

     Kyoko came over and taught him how to make cookies while his mother hovered, giggling in the background. As they waited for the goods to bake she showed him pictures of her own puppy, a Kishu called Ryohei, with a promise to let them meet sometime.

     One weekend, the girls introduced him to their favourite café. Tsuna tried coffee for the first time in his life and grimaced his way through the whole cup, the other two laughing at his expressions. He ordered it again the next time.

     School was still school but it had become…fun. And Tsuna, dare he say it, now looked forwards to going.

Chapter Text

Tsuna honestly couldn't explain what had made him do it, but, he'd brought home a stray.

     This was something that he absolutely wouldn’t have, probably couldn’t have done in the past. Maybe the success of his relationship with Reborn had given him a boost in confidence when dealing with animals. Or maybe he’d somehow been able to instinctively recognise another oddball that didn’t come with the natural aversion to him so many animals had.

     Whatever it was, when he spotted the grey puppy - underfed and dirty, emerging from a side alley on his way home from school - he couldn’t ignore it. So he promptly stripped his school jacket off, wrapped the startled mutt in it, and carried it home.

     Of course Tsuna had no way of knowing it at the time but this kind of thing would eventually become a fairly common occurrence.

 

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His mother was worryingly fine with him bringing a random stray home. Tsuna figured most parents would have been angry, or at least exasperated, but she wasn’t either. She wasn’t upset at all. In fact she seemed happy, if anything. She took one look at the dirty bundle of grey fur and with a large smile ushered the pair upstairs to draw a bath. Then, humming to herself, she left them to it and bustled out the door to go and buy some puppy friendly dog food from the shops.

     Tsuna watched her go with a bemused frown and shared a look with Reborn, who had trailed them to the bathroom. His dog gave a huff, as though amused, and stretched up to look at the new puppy. Pale green eyes peered back. Tsuna crouched down to make things easier and the two sniffed at each other curiously, though the puppy seemed to be somewhat wary of the elder.

     Balancing the puppy on his lap with one arm, Tsuna stretched over and dipped his fingers in the bath water. The temperature was just right, so he peeled his jacket back and lift the puppy up, depositing him into the shallow water. There was a startled yelp and some squirming, forcing him to tighten his hold lest the animal tried to bolt.

     Tsuna quietly shushed the wriggling puppy, speaking in a calm reassuring tone and stroking the dirty fur. The puppy calmed down rather quickly and Tsuna smiled as he continued to murmur reassuringly, scooping water up its sides to let it get used to the sensation. Once it was properly soaked he brought out the shampoo, spreading it in his hands before he began to work it through the shaggy grey fur.

     The water gradually became dirtier. After a while of thorough scrubbing Tsuna picked up the shower nozzle, pointing it away as he adjusted the temperature, and then rinsed the relaxed puppy. The grey fur looked glossy and clean.

     Tsuna nodded in satisfaction and scooped out the pup, placing him on the bathmat where he soon began to shiver. Tsuna cooed over the poor thing while he drained the tub and quickly bundled him in a large fluffy towel and began to dry.

     Once he had gotten out as much moisture as he could he cautiously reached for the electric dryer while the puppy shook itself out. The stray probably wasn’t going to like this so he made sure to have a firm hold beforehand. Good thing too. As soon as the dryer started up the puppy began wiggling like no tomorrow, yelping and trying to get away from the noise. Tsuna could only apologise over and over as he tightened his hold and began to blow-dry the damp fur. Reborn sat silently at the door, watching with a dispassionate gaze.

     By the time they were done both Tsuna and the puppy were a little tired, but they’d gotten through the first bath. The puppy turned out to have lovely fur; medium length like Reborn’s but with a finer, silky texture. It wasn’t grey as he’d first thought; it was a lustrous shade of silver. Tsuna marveled at the colour as he pet the small upturned head. The puppy’s floppy triangular ears perked and Tsuna got a full body wiggle of a tail wag in response which made him laugh softly.

     It was nice to see some typical puppy behaviour. He adored Reborn don’t get him wrong but the dog - oddball that he was - had never acted in a particular dog-like manner. Even when he’d still been a puppy Reborn didn’t seem to get particularly excited. When he did wag his tail it was less a wag and more of a… lazy wave. Honestly, for a canine his overall personality was strangely feline at times. Tsuna often wondered if his dog had been a cat in a previous life.

     Nana soon returned with the puppy’s food and she and Tsuna sat together in the dinning room and watched the animal wolf the meal down. It was obvious that he hadn’t eaten anything substantial for a while so they kept the portion small. It wouldn’t do to have him overeat and make himself sick after all. They’d have to monitor his intake carefully until he got back to a healthier weight, his mother said.

     Tsuna slid a sidelong glance her way. That pretty much implied that the stray would be staying after all.

     Nana just gave him a glowing smile in return.

     “He’s a keeper, just like Reborn-chan. You think so too, don’t you, Tsu-kun?” she asked in a weird, knowing way before drifting back into the kitchen.

     Tsuna blinked after her in confusion before giving a helpless shake of his head. His mother could be so odd at times.

     Reborn’s tail gave a lazy wave from next to him and the silver puppy almost seemed to be glowing with happiness as it bounded over.

     Tsuna just sighed.

     It was decided that the puppy would sleep in his room since that seemed to be the easiest thing to do.

     So Nana dragged out a bunch of pillows and some towels and they made up a makeshift puppy sized bed right next to Tsuna’s. This way the puppy could feel close to the brunet and would hopefully be content with that, since there was no way he could add another animal to the bed top itself. Reborn took up enough room as it was. Also, his dog probably wouldn’t have been up to sharing, if the long piercing stare he’d leveled on Tsuna while they figured out where the puppy should go had been any indication.

 

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The next morning Tsuna headed to school with a heavy sigh.

     He’d left the puppy in his mother's and Reborn’s care amidst squeaky, pathetically sad howls as a result of his departure. It had been heartbreaking, even as his mother laughed at his stricken expression and Reborn gave him a firm whap with his tail for lingering.

     Tsuna went on to spend the majority of the school day thinking of names.

     When he told Kyoko and Hana about the new puppy, they decided to help.

     So the three sat in their usual circle during lunch and tossed around suggestions in between bites of food.

     It turned out to be useful because by that evening he was able to settle on one.

     By the end of the week the puppy was officially registered as theirs and they bought him all the necessities. The collar they picked out was a plain, dark red one, complete with a silver, bone-shaped tag with the puppy’s new name and address engraved on it.

     Hayato wagged so hard Tsuna thought he was going to break something.

 

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Their days had become livelier.

     For a long time now, the large double story house - too large for just two people - had felt somehow lacking. Tsuna and his mother tended to gravitate around the same areas, filling where they could with their presence to make up for the empty spots. But there was only so much they could do.

     Then Reborn came along, and the house felt a little fuller, a little less cold. For Tsuna - who had never had any friends up until currently - the dog’s presence at the time had been a much welcomed reprise from a loneliness he hadn’t fully realised he was drowning in.

     Kyoko and Hana took some more of that feeling away.

     Then came Hayato, and Tsuna thrived shamelessly on the overt attention the puppy gave him.

     His mother seemed happier too; lighter somehow. She doted endlessly on the animals and flitted around, smiling and humming a lot more often as she went about the daily chores.

     There was only one downside in it all and that was Hayato’s clinginess.

     Whenever Tsuna left for school the puppy would sit forlornly at the door and somehow managed to reach the same level of disappointment every time he got left behind. It had been endearing at first, but it had reached the point now where it was more than a bit worrying.

     According to his mother, this behaviour tended to go on for hours unless she could find something to distract him with, and even then he seemed wilted somehow.

     It wasn’t like the puppy could play with Reborn or anything either. The older dog just wasn’t the playing type, and Hayato had definitely realised this since he didn’t even attempt to engage him in anything.

     So he’d sit at the door, or lay in random spots around the house, just waiting for Tsuna to come home.

     Tsuna had no idea what to do about it though and could only give the puppy as much attention as possible whenever he could to try and compensate. He’d gotten into the habit of scooping him up whenever he left or came home and pressing firm, adoring kisses to the top of his head or his fluffy cheeks while the puppy reciprocated with enthusiastic nuzzling and tail wagging and overall squirming in happiness. It helped a bit but, it wasn’t fixing anything anytime soon.

     Tsuna’s friends tried to console him over the situation too, and he smiled gratefully at their efforts, but his heart remained weighed.

 

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Tsuna came home after a particularly long day at school and slumped tiredly through the front door, bag slipping down his arm. Silence greeted him and he blinked in confusion at the empty welcome mat. Usually Hayato would have already been waiting there to greet him, ears up and tail wagging, but today he wasn’t.

     Tsuna looked around, wondering what had changed.

     “I’m ho—me~”, he tried calling.

     The response was immediate. There was the unmistakable clacking of tiny nails on hardwood and the small, clumsily running form of a puppy came into view, hurrying down the hallway, except-- Tsuna squealed in alarm. That wasn’t Hayato! The black puppy - what looked like maybe a Kai Ken, of all things - leapt up at him, tail wagging and tongue out with a wide puppy smile.

     Tsuna gave a yelp of fright and froze against the front door, hands in the air and eyes wide. “Wha-!”

     At that moment, Hayato himself came ripping around the corner at a furious pace and froze at the sight of the other animal, balanced with its front paws placed on Tsuna’s legs. The silver puppy seemed to bristle like an angry cat, tail straight out and body rigid as a growl built in the back of his throat. Tsuna could only watch in complete bafflement as his normally happy and affectionate puppy began to bark loudly, ears flat back in anger.

     “What is going on!?” Tsuna cried.

     Nana emerged into the hallway, drawn by the racket at the entrance.

     “My~ Welcome home, Tsu-kun”, she greeted with a smile.

     “Mom!” Tsuna yelped. “What’s going on? Who’s puppy is this?” he asked, looking at said puppy while it sat down and continued to wag its tail happily despite Hayato’s hostile barking.

     Nana laughed.

     “Ours silly”, she said as though it was obvious.

     Tsuna gaped at her, brow furrowed.

     “Wh-”, he stuttered. “What? Why? How? Since when?”, he asked rapid fire, eyeing Hayato - who had gone quiet at the conversation - and the new puppy sitting at his feat, its head tilted curiously.

     “Well, you know Hayato-chan just got so sad when you were out. Reborn-chan isn’t the playing type after all, and I could only do so much. So, I thought maybe he could use a companion his own age”, Nana finished with another bright smile, hand to her cheek.

     Tsuna could only stare, open mouthed. It sounded so simple when she said it but, most people usually didn’t just go out and pick up a pet on a whim like that. He shook his head, ending the drawn out incredulous pause. This was his mother after all, and she wasn’t most people.

     “Where did you even get it from?” he finally grumbled, turning his frown back to the black puppy.

     “Do you remember Takezushi?” his mother asked, tilting her head.

     Tsuna nodded hesitantly. The name was vaguely familiar.

     “Well, the owner, Yamamoto-san, his dog had a litter of puppies a little while ago and he was struggling to find new homes for them. I was there with my friends the other day for lunch and when I heard that I just though, ‘That’s perfect! Why not?’” Nana explained with a fond smile at the puppy. “So I chose him. He was just so cute and bubbly, I thought he’d make the perfect play-mate for Hayato-chan”, she said.

     Tsuna gave a resigned sigh.

     “They don’t seem to get along that well though”, he said, with a raised eyebrow at the intense glare Hayato had aimed at the new puppy. It was quite the comical look on one so small and cute.

     Nana just giggled. “I asked Yamamoto-san what he thought would be a good name. He said ‘Takeshi’.”

     Tsuna blinked, at both the blatant dodge and the name.

     “Takeshi…?” he repeated slowly.

     The puppy, Takeshi, perked up and gave him an enthusiastic yip.

     Tsuna startled and couldn’t help but smile back.

     “Guess he likes it”, he huffed in amusement.

     Nana gave an approving hum and nodded with a smile.

     Tsuna gave his head a last rueful shake and sidestepped the animals, beginning to drag himself up the stairs.

     “I’m gonna get changed”, he said.

     “Would you like some tea?” Nana voice floated after him.

     “Yes, please!” He called back.

     Tsuna paused in the doorway of his bedroom. A familiar, large black shape was lying on his bed in a patch of sunlight from the window. His eyes softened at the sight as he drifted into the room, letting his bag slip to the floor with a thump.

     A pointed black ear flicked at the sound.

     Tsuna laid his hand on the dog’s head and gave an affectionate rub.

     “I’m home”, he greeted softly.

     Reborn let out a long exhale of air in a content, voiceless sigh and tilted his head into the petting. Tsuna couldn’t resist leaning over, burying his nose in the thick fur around the scruff of his neck as he stroked his hand down the dog’s side and folded himself around him.

     He lingered like that for a few long moments, indulging himself as he continued the petting. He had no idea why but, he was just feeling especially affectionate today. He hadn’t been able to give Hayato his usual greeting though, since there has been such a commotion. Perhaps later, he thought, hand trailing over fluffy stomach fur.

     Eventually, Tsuna straightened up and went hunting for clothes.

     Reborn rolled over and raised his head, watching him with lazy, liquid black eyes.

     “So-”, Tsuna began as he opened drawers. “Another puppy, huh”, he said, rummaging for a T-shirt and some sweat-pants. He tossed the change of clothes over the back of the desk-chair and began to unbutton his school top.

     Reborn’s tail rose and fell against the bed cover in a languorous wag as he continued to watch his owner.

     “Honestly”, Tsuna sighed with a bemused frown. “I don’t know what mum was thinking”, he said, as he shrugged out of the top and reached for the T-shirt. “Well, I mean, I get what she was thinking, but... still.” He pulled the shirt on and glanced at the dog. “I dunno”, he finished somewhat lamely.

     Reborn just blinked and gave a wide yawn.

     “What?” Tsuna asked. “No opinion then?”

     Reborn gave him a slow glance and sat up. Tsuna stepped back over to the bedside, curious. The canine pushed his head into Tsuna’s chest as soon as he got near and Tsuna automatically buried his fingers in the dog’s scruff, giving a firm scritch. Reborn shifted, straightening up and laying his jaw against his owner’s shoulder, so Tsuna slid his arms down, bowing over and hugging his dog.

     “You’re being kinda affectionate today”, he murmured with a smile, eyes closed as he carded his fingertips through the black fur. Never mind that the same could be said of him.

     Reborn made a low sound in his chest.

     The two stayed like that for a long, quiet moment of contentment before Tsuna straightened up, dropping his arms. As he retreated the dog turned and gave his chin a short parting lick, very close to the side of his mouth. Tsuna’s eyes widened and he blinked in surprise. Reborn never licked him.

     He eyed the dog and lightly rubbed the spot with the back of his hand.

     “O--kay”, he said slowly.

     Reborn’s expression seemed awfully amused. Tsuna could swear he was getting the dog equivalent of a smirk.

     “Right”, he said absently and turned, picking up the sweat-pants to finish changing.

     Once done, he gathered the dropped clothes and threw them on the chair before heading for the door. He’d put them away properly later. Or maybe not.

     A slight thump from behind told him that Reborn was following and he glanced back at his shadow before going downstairs.

     His mother turned as he entered the kitchen.

     “The tea is on the table”, she said.

     Tsuna nodded and quirked a passing smile.

     “Thank you”, he said, moving to the dinning room.

     Nana smiled back before returning to the dishes.

     Tsuna glanced around while he poured himself a cup.

     “Hey mum, where are the-” He cut himself short as he spied two balls of fur running and tumbling over each out the window. “Never mind”, he called at her questioning sound.

     He stepped out onto the back porch and sat down to watch, carefully placing the cup of tea next to him.

     Reborn joined him.

     The two puppies seemed to be fighting, or play fighting?

     Tsuna dithered, wondering if maybe he should break them up. Hayato kind of seemed pretty angry, but they didn’t look like they were actually hurting each other, so… The duo seemed to finally notice their audience.

     Two pairs of ears perked and tails were instantly wagging as they ran over. Tsuna shifted the tea cup back and a bit more towards Reborn, just in case. Hayato stopped at his feet, but Takeshi didn’t seem to have the same compunction because Tsuna soon had a lap-full of puppy. He laughed at the infectious energy.

     “Wow”, he gasped as he tried to contain the wiggling ball of fur.

     Takeshi settled down under his petting but his tail was still going a mile a minute.

     “And I though Hayato was energetic”, Tsuna chuckled, turning his eye to the silver puppy who was watching the proceedings with a disapproving air. He reached down to give him a placating pat. 

     Hayato pushed eagerly into his hand, tail dusting the ground behind him.

     Takeshi, seemingly happy now that he’d given his greeting, took a flying leap from his lap and was already off again. Hayato startled and quickly followed him, barking and yipping as the two continued to run around the yard.

     “Do they get along or do they not?” Tsuna wondered with a bemused smile.

     Reborn huffed and Tsuna retrieved his tea, sipping contently as he watched the new play-mates.

     He felt lighter.

     Takeshi joined a reluctant Hayato in his dog bed that night. They had bought a large one for him to grow into, so the two puppies could fit for now, but they’d need another one sooner or later.

     They took care of it that weekend, along with the new puppy’s registration and other necessities. Now that they had more than two dogs they’d have to apply for a license, which they got. The Kai Ken ended up with a bright blue collar with a silver baseball shaped tag.

     And so their little family grew another member.

Chapter Text

Either it was a funny coincidence or Reborn was some kind of friendship magnet because it was during another one of his walks that Tsuna met Miura Haru, the soon to be fourth addition to their little circle.

     The odd girl seemed to pop out of nowhere one morning with a bright blush across her cheeks and asked if she could pet his, quote unquote, “baby”.

     Tsuna’s eyebrows rose into his hairline and he gave a hesitant nod of acquiescence.

     The girl was practically vibrating with excitement as she pet Reborn on the head with a dreamy smile. The dog allowed it, but the look he turned on Tsuna was not an amused one. The brunet grimaced apologetically. Thankfully the one doing the patting seemed to have tunnel vision because she didn’t notice the exchange at all.

     “He’s beautiful”, the girl sighed as she finished. “I’ve been watching you two walk past for a few weeks now, but I only recently worked up the courage to say hello.”

     Tsuna couldn’t help it when the word ‘stalker’ was the first thing that floated through his mind.

     “Ah, well, congratulations?” Is what he said instead.

     “Thank you!” she beamed. “You’re a nice person! What’s your name? Ah, I’m Miura Haru.”

     “Sawada Tsunayoshi”, he said.

     “Nice to meet you!” Miura-san nodded.

     “Likewise”, Tsuna nodded back.

     “Tsuna-kun and Reborn-chan!” Kyoko-chan exclaimed.

     Tsuna blinked in surprise and swivelled his head around. “Kyoko-chan?”

     It was indeed Kyoko, and she trotted up to them with a wide smile.

     “Good morning!” she said cheerfully, and curiously eyed the other girl while Tsuna returned the greeting. “Who’s your friend?” she asked.

     “Uhh… Miura Haru? Miura-san, Sasagawa Kyoko-chan. Kyoko-chan, Miura-san”, he introduced with a somewhat awkward hand gesture between them. The two girls bobbed their heads to each other.

     “Just Haru is fine. Nice to meet you, Kyoko-chan”, Haru grinned.

     “Nice to meet you too, Haru-chan”, Kyoko grinned back. “When did you meet Tsuna-kun?” She tilted her head, not recalling him having mentioned the other girl before.

     “Just now!” Haru chirped back. “I wanted to meet Reborn-chan, so I came over to say hello”, she explained.

     Kyoko giggled.

     “As I thought, Reborn-chan is very popular”, she said. “That’s how we became friends too.”

     Haru's mouth formed an ‘o’ shape as she made an understanding noise, nodding.

     “I see!” she said.

     “Hey, Haru-chan, do you like cakes?” Kyoko asked, seemingly out of the blue.

     Haru’s eyes widened.

     “I love cakes! So much that I have to make a special day once a month when I can eat them, otherwise I’ll eat them every day and get fat”, she laughed, cheeks pink.

     “You too?” Kyoko laughed as well.

     The conversation dissolved into a discussion of their favourite sweets.

     Tsuna was feeling very much like a third wheel by that point and he shifted uncertainly on the sideline. He wanted to continue his walk with Reborn but he couldn’t just leave and he wasn’t sure how to get their attention without being rude either.

     He tuned back in as his name was mentioned.

     “Tsuna-kun and I - and another friend of ours - go to this café near the markets, and they have the best parfaits. If you like, you could come with us some time?” Kyoko invited with a smile.

     “Oh!” Haru gasped. “That sounds wonderful”, she said, clasping her hands happily. She turned to Tsuna. “Would Tsuna-san be okay with that?” she asked somewhat hesitantly.

     Tsuna blinked and settled into a soft smile. He nodded.

     “The more the merrier”, he said honestly. She was a bit odd, but she seemed like a nice girl after all.

     Haru beamed.

     “Let’s add each other then”, Kyoko said, rummaging in her bag for her mobile.

     “Ah, I don’t have my phone right now. Could you pass mine on?” Tsuna requested, slightly embarrassed to be indirectly admitting the fact that he still hadn’t been able to memorise his own number.

     “Sure”, Kyoko nodded as Haru got her mobile out as well.

     The girls leaned together and exchanged phone numbers.

     “Got it!” Haru exclaimed, smiling widely as a pair of chimes rang out.

     “Well, I’ve gotta be off”, Tsuna said hesitantly, taking advantage of the pause. The two girls turned to him.

     “Oh! I’m sorry, we held up Reborn-chan’s walk for so long”, Kyoko apologised.

     Haru shared her contrite look.

     “Sorry”, she said as well.

     Tsuna waved them off with a small smile.

     “Its fine”, he said. “I’ll talk to you later, and, I guess I’ll be seeing more of you from now on, huh?” he directed the last part at Haru with another smile. She nodded and smiled back shyly.

     “See you later, Tsuna-kun.”

     “Bye, Tsuna-san.”

     “Later.”

     The three waved as they parted ways.

     And that was that.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

Haru fit seamlessly into their group. She and Kyoko were very similar in a lot of ways and they got on like a house on fire. Hana was impressed by the new girl’s attendance of a prestigious all-girls school and seemed to find her quirkiness amusing. She and Tsuna had started sharing a lot of raised eyebrow looks.

     Their favoured café had also gained another loyal customer, and today was one of the friends’ regular outings to said store. They had just finished lunch and were now wandering around the market area without any real purpose, looking in random shop windows and chatting about whatever came to mind. They walked in twos down the crowded lanes, Kyoko and Haru in front, arms linked, and Tsuna and Hana bringing up the rear.

     When the group reached a certain store front the leading pair veered off quite suddenly. The trailing pair paused, shared a look, and followed at a more sedate pace.

     It was a pet store, and one of the displays housed a trio of fluffy kittens which had already drawn a small crowd, all of whom stood around cooing at the animals.

     Tsuna and Hana hovered at the back as the other two pressed up close to the glass. They wiggled their fingers at a kitten that sat closest to them, drawing its attention.

     A couple that had been standing at another display drifted off and Tsuna had his eye drawn by the animals they’d been giggling over. Several tiny rabbits and guinea pigs were together in the same enclosure. He walked up to get a better look.

     A rather scruffy looking, red furred guinea pig was taking a drink from a large plastic bowl near the glass. The other animals backed off as soon as they saw Tsuna but the guinea pig stayed where it was and looked up at his approach.

     The display was elevated enough that they were close to eye level and the two blinked at each other, one still, the other with a twitching nose.

     Tsuna gave the animal a small smile. It was very cute.

     He pressed a fingertip to the glass display and the guinea pig came over, bringing its head close as though to sniff the appendage before seeming to realise that wouldn’t happen. It drooped slightly and Tsuna’s smile softened into a slightly melancholy expression as he gave an absent hum. When he’d been a kid, one of the pets he’d always wanted had been a guinea pig. They were small and relatively harmless compared to other pets, so even if he got one he figured it wouldn’t matter so much if it hated him like all animals did. But he’d eventually given up on even that small hope. It wouldn’t have been fair to the animal.

     “Thinking of adding to the menagerie?” Hana’s amused voice came from behind him, stirring Tsuna from his thoughts.

     It seemed to entertain her, the fact that Tsuna - who was supposed to be hated by animals - had somehow ended up gaining three pet dogs in just the last few years. He quirked her a wry smile as she came up next to him.

     “Maybe”, he said in a jokingly challenging tone of voice, going back to watching the guinea pig.

     “Hahi. Does Tsuna-san want a guinea pig?” Haru asked, she and Kyoko having also come over.

     “They’re very cute”, Kyoko said, smiling at the animals.

     Tsuna didn’t bother correcting the assumption as he gave them his attention. He shook his head. “They are, but, I don’t know what I’d even do with one.”

     “Wouldn’t the dogs try to eat it?” Hana said offhandedly, watching a rabbit that had emerged from a cardboard hutch move away as soon as it caught sight of Tsuna.

     The other girls both gasped and Tsuna’s expression scrunched at the thought.

     “That would be awful!” Haru exclaimed in horror.

     Kyoko’s head bobbed in agreement. 

     Tsuna shook his.

     “Gross, Hana”, he huffed.

     She snorted lightly.

     “I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t though”, Tsuna added and trailed off.

     Hana just shrugged.

     There was a pause.

     “He really seems to like you”, Haru said, watching the guinea pig.

     Tsuna blinked and looked back at it as well. True. It hadn’t budged from where it sat, and it was still looking up at him, oddly intent.

     “Mm”, he hummed thoughtfully, and pressed his finger back to the glass.

     The guinea pig reached up and put one of its own tiny paws in the same spot. The four of them blinked down at the animal in surprise.

     “He really likes you, Tsuna-kun!” Kyoko laughed with a bright grin at him.

     “That’s kinda creepy”, Hana murmured with a frown.

     “Adorable!” Haru said, suddenly impassioned. “Tsuna-san, it’s a sign!” she proclaimed with a sure nod, turning on him with a fist clenched determinedly in front of her chest.

     Tsuna blinked, leaning back, slightly intimidated by her fervour.

     “Of what?” he asked in bemusement.

     “You have to buy him, Tsuna-san! It’s a sign! He’s meant to be with you!” she insisted with sparkling eyes.

     “Uhh”, he said intelligibly.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

His mother bought him the guinea pig as a birthday present, which coincidentally happened to be the next week.

     Tsuna had no idea when they’d done it but, the girls must have gotten to her at some point and told her about the guinea pig, even though Tsuna had protested that he didn’t actually want one. Obviously he hadn’t sounded convincing enough.

     On the morning of his birthday his mother had dragged him out in a flurry of activity after breakfast, and before he could fully process what was happening he’d been standing in the pet store, mutely pointing out the guinea pig. Next thing he knew he was holding a carry box with it inside while his mother talked enclosures with the young lady behind the counter.

     Turns out that the animal, which he’d though to be just scruffy, was an Abyssinian, and the fur was meant to look like it did. Tsuna named him Shouichi and they set up his - rather large - cage in one of the spare rooms, and another one in the back yard so he could get some fresh air without them having to supervise the whole time. The dogs didn’t try to eat him, which had Tsuna breathing a private sigh of relief.

     Shouichi turned out to be rather shy, despite his seeming boldness during their first meeting. He also often went missing when left alone, and on one memorable occasion, Tsuna had had to spend an entire afternoon tearing up the house and back yard trying to find the guinea pig.

     He had taken Shouichi downstairs and then gone to the bathroom, leaving the guinea pig alone while forgetting that the back door had been left open. When he came back Shouichi was no where in sight and Tsuna had slowly turned to look at the open doorway with an expression of horror spreading across his face.

     The experience had been doubly scary at the time since he’d heard from his mother that their neighbours had noticed a rather mean stray cat hanging around. At one point, remembering this piece of information had nearly made Tsuna burst into tears as he couldn’t stop imagining his sweet guinea pig somewhere in nothing but bloody pieces.

     He’d stood hopelessly in the middle of the lounge room with prickling eyes and turned a look of total despair on Hayato and Takeshi, who were helping him search. That had sent his - not quite puppies anymore but not fully grown - dogs into a tizzy.

     Thankfully, Reborn had come and tugged on his sleeve, leading him to the laundry room where he’d sniffed out the guinea pig, trapped behind the washing machine.

     Shouichi had developed an odd fondness for machinery and electronics. He’d probably wandered off and found it, and then been trying to get a look at the whole thing but overestimated the space between it and the wall.

     Tsuna could only laugh, giddy with relief as he fished the poor flustered guinea pig out.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

One day, Kyoko finally made good on her promise to have Tsuna become acquainted with their family dog and invited him to her house after school for the first time.

     Of course he'd heard a lot about the dog in question beforehand- an apparently very energetic Kishu named Ryohei.

     Hearing about the dog and meeting him though, were two entirely different things turns out.

     Energetic didn’t quite cover it.

     The moment they stepped through the door the dog had come barrelling up to them at a speed that made Tsuna shriek in alarm and Kyoko laugh in delight.

     Ryohei was still young, a little under a year older than Hayato and Takeshi, and he was extremely hyper. He sprinted everywhere at top speed, racing around corners and jumping over couches and chairs and whatever else was in his way.

     The dog never seemed to stay still and even when he did he was almost vibrating with energy anyway, tail wagging at an unbelievable speed.

     He adored Kyoko and took a quick liking to Tsuna as well apparently, according to his friend.

     Honestly, the brunet had been more than a little nervous about the visit. Outside of his own pets he had yet to meet an animal that didn’t hate him on sight after all. Until Ryohei that was. The white dog had been very friendly and had even squirmed his way onto Tsuna’s lap during one of his rare moments of down time, curled tail whapping against him hard enough to hurt.

     So, a success overall then.

Chapter Text

Tsuna was sick and miserable.

     This was a little unusual since he was the kind of person who never seemed to get ill. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d caught a cold. And yet somehow, when he finally did manage to get sick it was with a rather aggressive chest virus that he’d contracted from god knows where.

     As such, the brunet was quarantined at home and hadn’t been to school since last week.

     He’d been coughing non-stop for several days now and had finally lost his voice.

     Everything hurt, but especially his chest. Just breathing too deeply was painful, and when a particularly strong coughing fit came on he would end up hunched over, shaky and teary-eyed by the time it stopped.

     And he felt weak, limbs heavy.

     On a few occasions just standing up for too long had brought on a dizziness that made him nauseous.

     One time when he’d gone to the bathroom he’d had to stop halfway back to lie down until the hallway stopped spinning. Hayato had nearly had a fit when he found him like that. Probably thought he’d up and died or something. After weakly waving an arm and reassuring the dog that he was fine, totally not dead yet, Hayato had decided to join him on the floor in a show of solidarity until he was up to moving again. A minute later Takeshi had joined in for - what he could only assume was - the fun of it. Tsuna might have laughed if the action wouldn’t have been eye-wateringly painful.

     Then, the day before last, he’d woken up with a fever on top of everything else.

     That had been the last straw for his mother and she’d finally dragged him to the doctor’s. They wrote him up a prescription and the medicine had done its job wonderfully so far. His fever had broken overnight and the coughing reduced. Now he was optimistically looking forwards to a speedy recovery.

     Currently though, he still felt like shit, and was lying in bed having just woken up from one of his long naps. The low orange glow of light through the curtains told him that it was probably late afternoon.

     His body felt even heavier than usual and he glanced down.

     It was a testament to his condition that Reborn had temporarily relinquished his territory to the other two. Hayato was at the end of the bed, lying across his lower legs, and Takeshi was curled up at his side, squished in between him and the wall with his head on Tsuna’s stomach. Both seemed to be fast asleep.

     Tsuna swallowed thickly, throat working. He had a headache, probably from dehydration, and felt like he maybe, probably needed a shower. He didn’t particularly want to try getting up though, and he couldn’t call for his mum.

     He exhaled slowly through his nose and licked his dry lips. All three dogs had been hovering pretty much constantly near him ever since he’d started getting sick, so hopefully the eldest would be nearby as well.

     “Reborn”, he tried, just managing a croaky, barely there whisper. It sounded louder than he thought it would though, in the quiet of the room.

     There was a long moment where he thought maybe he hadn’t been heard, and then came the soft pad of paws on carpet. Reborn slipped through the slight crack in the door and made his way up to Tsuna’s bedside where he made a soft sound, black eyes peering patiently at him in question.

     “Mum, please”, Tsuna said simply, knowing that Reborn would get the message.

     His dog turned and left with a dip of his head, heading downstairs to retrieve Nana. Not a minute later she followed him back into the room, bringing a blessed cup of water with her. Reborn stopped just inside the door and sat while Nana gave Tsuna a small smile when she saw he was awake and came further in, placing the water on the bedside table.

     “How are you feeling?” she asked quietly, stroking the hair back from his forehead.

     Tsuna smiled tiredly.

     “Not great, but, better”, he said slowly, voice cracking terribly over the few words. He gingerly sat himself up with weak arms.

     The sleeping pair of dogs stirred at his movements and woke up. Hayato had to roll out of the way as Tsuna dragged his legs from under him, but Takeshi just slipped down and ended up with his head on his thigh instead. The Kai Ken let out a jaw cracking yawn and shifted to get comfortable again, tail flopping happily when Tsuna absentmindedly scratched around the base of his skull. Hayato sat up attentively.

     “You should take some more medicine while you’re awake. Do you want tea? You need to keep your fluids up”, Nana fussed, still speaking softly.

     Tsuna nodded to the offer. Tea sounded nice.

     “What about food?” she asked. “Feel up to some soup later?”

     “Maybe, a little”, he said hesitantly, not really feeling any appetite but knowing he needed something.

     Nana smiled faintly in understanding and nodded.

     “I’ll bring the tea and medicine then”, she said, and left.

     The mattress dipped as Hayato came closer, carefully stepping in the gap between his legs and on the other side from where Takashi lay. Tsuna lift a heavy arm and gave one of those droopy silver ears an affectionate rub. Hayato’s eyes closed and his tail gave a slow wag. Tsuna laid his other hand on the back of Takeshi’s neck, slowly stroking down past his shoulder blades, then leaned his head back against the headboard and closed his own eyes, still tired.

     He cracked an eye open as the weight on the mattress shifted again. Hayato moved away from his hand so he dropped his arm to his lap and watched him retreat back the way he came. The silver dog jumped from the end of the bed with a thump and disappeared into the hallway. The direction he left in meant he was probably going to the spare room down the hall where Shouichi was. Tsuna hadn’t seen the guinea pig much the last few days.

     Tsuna tried to stifle a yawn and winced when his chest ached and the dry skin on his lower lip stretched taut, threatening to split. He reached over and carefully picked up the water with his weak grip, taking a few long drags before continuing to sip more sedately.

     After the much needed drink he placed the glass back down and glanced at Reborn while probing his lip with his tongue.

     The dog now lay vigil near the door and seemed to be listening to whatever he could hear Nana doing downstairs.

     A black ear swivelled and the dog turned his head slightly.

     Hayato had returned, walking slowly. He dipped his head to Reborn as he passed the doorway and Tsuna spotted Shouichi, perched carefully in the groove between his shoulder blades, little feet gripping the silver fur. The dog had probably opened the cage to bring the guinea pig to him, having known that Tsuna felt kind of bad about leaving him alone for so long. Not for the first time, he wondered if he should find his animals’ very high levels of intelligence more disturbing than he did. He guessed he’d just gotten used to it.

     Tsuna gave Hayato an apologetic smile and scooped the guinea pig up before giving the courier a quick thank you pat. The dog sat down next to the bed with a satisfied air.

     Shouichi whistled in greeting, nose twitching. Tsuna smiled and set him on the bed cover between his legs, where he sank in slightly. Takeshi opened an eye and rolled his head to give the guinea pig a quiet wuff in hello while Tsuna gently rubbed the back of a finger against one of Shouichi’s fluffy cheeks. The guinea pig squeaked under the attention.

     A few moments later his mother came back with a tray balancing a cup of tea, a small measuring cup of liquid medicine, and a chocolate to chase away the terrible taste afterwards.

     Tsuna smiled gratefully but gave the measuring cup a frown of trepidation.

     Nana just held the tray out and quirked an eyebrow meaningfully.

     He eyed her but took the medicine and with a fortifying nod, knocked it back in one go. He instantly grimaced and held his tongue out between his teeth. It tasted even fouler than the average cold medicine.

     Nana giggled at his antics while she set the tea cup on the bedside table for him, exchanging the chocolate for the medicine cup when he held it out to her. She nodded in satisfaction and gave an approving hum at the empty cup while Tsuna unwrapped the sweet, popping it into his mouth. She didn’t say anything about the appearance of the guinea pig on the bed.

     “I’m going to start dinner now. It’ll be at least an hour though, so do you think you’ll be hungry by then?” she asked, hugging the empty tray to her chest with one arm.

     Tsuna tilted his head thoughtfully and gave a slow nod.

     “Alright, I’ll bring a bowl up for you then”, she said. “You boys take care of him, hm?” she smiled and said to the gathered dogs and guinea pig in parting.

     That got a round of soft woofs, tail wags, nods, and a squeak in response.

     Tsuna slumped down with a shake of his head.

Chapter Text

Tsuna had yet to personally see the rumoured stray cat his mother had once mentioned, but he’d been hearing a lot more about it recently.

     Anyone with a pet living in their area had some story to tell of it terrorising their animals, whether it was a fellow cat or a dog that must have been several times its size. Apparently this cat was constantly getting into fights and if the injuries the other pets sustained were any indication, it would win, every time. People were not happy. Lately there had even been talk of setting up traps.

     Tsuna heavily disapproved of that idea but he guessed he could see where they were coming from. He was worried too.

     It was November now and the temperature had been dropping steadily as winter crept closer, so it was too cold to let Shouichi outside for very long anyway, but the dogs still needed to stretch their legs. Their house hadn’t received a visit from the cat yet, but it more or less felt like just a matter of time now.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

Tsuna stepped out to the letter box one chilly afternoon, sniffling and wrapped in a thick coat he’d randomly thrown on.

     He shuffled through the small pile of mail and then glanced up at a movement in his periphery.

     A pair of dark blue-grey eyes was watching him, slit pupils eerily focused.

     Tsuna stilled and stared back at the cat standing on the outer wall of their property. This was almost undoubtedly that infamous stray, but he was surprised by its appearance. All he’d heard was that it was black and had an unusual eye colour so he’d filled in the blanks and imagined some huge, beefy monster of a cat, littered with battle wounds, maybe even missing an eye or an ear.

     But this cat was honestly almost dainty, with a slightness to it that suggested it was maybe still growing. A young cat then; with short, pristine, glossy black fur. The dark colouring would have made it hard to tell anyway, but, there wasn’t a single visible wound on it, and Tsuna wondered if maybe he was mistaken. He’d never seen this animal before though and it fit the vague descriptions, so surely it was the cat that everyone was talking about...

     Said feline walked boldly down the wall towards him, not seeming to care about his presence in the slightest.

     Tsuna took a weary step back. He didn’t want to be within scratching distance. An already volatile animal would definitely not hesitate to take a swipe at him of all people, especially if he was too close.

     The cat reached the gate, which created a gap in the wall, but not one you’d think too large for it to manage. For some reason it stopped anyway and gave him a sidelong glance.

     Tsuna blinked.

     “Good afternoon”, he said, with a polite nod.

     There was a slight pause before the cat swivelled its head fully to give him a long, unblinking look.

     Tsuna stared back nervously.

     Eventually, the cat blinked once, then turned dismissively and effortlessly leaped over the gap, silently continuing on its way.

     Tsuna watched it leave, letting out a quiet sigh and rolling his shoulders to disperse the tension before going back inside.

     He continued to catch glimpses of the cat after that. Sometimes when he took the garbage out, sometimes during the dogs’ walk, and sometimes when he just happened to glance out a window; at least once every day, but always from a distance.

     A couple of weeks later the cat was sitting on the wall again as he went to get the mail, long tail wrapped neatly around its feet.

     The human and the cat had a short stare off.

     Maybe Tsuna was just going crazy but, the glint of intelligence in this thing’s eye put him strongly in mind of his own animals. There were several things he wanted to say to it then, but, probably nothing that it would pay any mind to.

     So the silence stretched on, broken only by the quiet crinkle of paper as he warily collected the single piece of mail.

     Tsuna licked his lips nervously, turning the envelope over in his hands.

     “Don’t you get cold?” he eventually asking, glancing up.

     The cat stared back at him silently.

     Today had been particularly brisk and Tsuna’s breath curled into the air, a visible white puff. He shifted, looking back at his house.

     “I don’t know if you have anywhere to stay already, but-”, he began slowly, then looked back at the cat, which seemed to be listening to him. “You can stay here during the winter, if you like. I mean, it’ll be below freezing soon at night. There are three dogs but, there’s a spare room, and I can ask them not to bother you, if you do the same”, he rambled, clutching the mail close to his chest.

     The cat’s eyelids had lowered slightly, and it seemed to be giving him a long, considering stare.

     The moment stretched between them.

     Then the cat silently turned and took a nimble leap down from the wall, disappearing from sight.

     Tsuna sighed and went back inside.

     He didn’t see the cat again the next day, or the day after that.

     Soon a week had passed, and Tsuna worried quietly to himself. He wondered if maybe the cat had finally met its match. Or maybe someone really had put out a trap like they’d threatened to. The cat might have been notoriously strong in animal terms, but it was just a lone cat after all. Such unpleasant thoughts invaded his head.

     Then one night the automatic light at the back of the house got activated.

     Tsuna was in the kitchen, putting back the mug from his last cup of tea for the evening when the light caught his eye.

     He went to see what had triggered it and... there was the cat, standing on the porch and staring at him through the glass windows.

     Tsuna blinked in surprise and quickly went to open the door. He held it ajar, hovering hesitantly.

     The cat slunk in past him with a flick of its tail. Then it paused and looked back at him with a quiet and slightly impatient meow.

     Tsuna started, having just been mutely watching the cat in surprise, and went to lock the door again. He hesitated for a moment and then moved forwards. “This way”, he said in a low voice, leading the way through the hall and up the stairs, the cat staying close on his heel.

     The house had three spare rooms, two of which were upstairs and the other down. All three rooms were a little on the small size but none the less usable. The third spare room was empty, save for Shouichi’s expansive enclosure, but the one next to it was a guest bedroom. The bed currently had a mattress and an electric blanket on it, but nothing else. Tsuna figured it was a lot better than sleeping outside during winter.

     Tsuna led the cat to this room and then, having a thought, ducked out with a murmured, “Just a moment”.

     He went back downstairs and rummaged in one of the linen closets for a spare blanket and brought it back with him. The bed’s electric blanket wasn’t plugged in, which had him crawling under the frame to do so, banging his head as he wriggled back out. Tsuna gingerly rubbed the bump as he sat on the floor beside the bed and set the timer so it wouldn’t run into the morning. He then stood and threw the spare blanket he’d brought up over the bed, smoothing it out slightly before stepping back.

     He gave the waiting cat a sheepish smile.

     “Its not much but-”, he trailed off.

     The cat leapt up onto the prepared bed and circled in place before promptly settling down.

     Tsuna took that as his cue to leave and backed out of the room with a soft, “Goodnight”.

     He closed the door behind him but made sure to leave it open just enough for the cat to slip out.

     His mother was the only one using it but, his parents’ master bedroom was downstairs, and Tsuna knocked lightly, asking permission to enter. A hum came from inside. He edged in and stuck his head around the door. Nana looked up from her book and Tsuna licked his lips, eyes shifting.

     “Umm, there’s kind of a, uh, cat, using one of the guest bedrooms. So, if you hear or see one in the house during the night or tomorrow, umm… yeah”, he finished lamely.

     Nana smiled and nodded in understanding.

     “Alright”, was all she said, before going back to reading.

     There was a pause.

     “Okay”, Tsuna mumbled, mostly to himself. “Goodnight”, he said absently, receiving a similar reply before he ducked back out, closing the door again. Of course, she would just accept it. He should have known better by now.

     Tsuna went back upstairs for the last time that night. He brushed his teeth, then went and said goodnight to Shouichi before heading straight to his room. All three dogs were there. Reborn was lying at the end of his mattress, paws crossed, and the other two were in their own beds. Tsuna slowly closed the door until it rest against the frame, but didn’t click it shut so that the dogs could nudge it open if need be; just as he did every night.

     Then he made his way blindly though the darkened room, layout well memorised enough that he could do so with some confidence. Feeling around for his bedside lamp he clicked it on and slipped into bed.

     Now he’d have to tell the dogs about the cat too. Although, as he settled in, Reborn gave him a look that made him think the dog maybe already had a pretty good idea as to why he’d been delayed. He was weirdly psychic like that.

     “So… ”, Tsuna began, and the two on the floor perked up, giving him their attention. “I may have let that rumoured fight-starting stray cat into the house for the night”, he said, eyes down as he needlessly stroked the sheets flat over his legs.

     Of course they couldn’t really say anything to that in the first place, being dogs, but their silence seemed to hold the same weight anyway.

     Then Reborn gave a huff and Tsuna looked up as the dog stood and came to lie down again next to him, giving him a rather pointed look as he settled in. Tsuna took that as his way of saying it was inconsequential to him and they should just go to sleep already.

     He glanced at the other two.

     Takeshi tilted his head and closed his eyes in a smiling expression. Then he wagged his tail briefly before lying back down again. He seemed fine with it too then.

     Hayato though was looking at him with a furrowed brow and slightly drooped ears, which was his fretting expression, an expression Tsuna was quite familiar with.

     He gave the dog a reassuring smile.

     “I said they could stay as long as they didn’t start anything, because you wouldn’t either. So as long as we don’t antagonise them it should be fine”, he said.

     Hayato nodded slowly and lowered his head, also lying down.

     Now they were all settled.

     Tsuna reached for the lamp.

     “Goodnight, guys”, he said as he flicked it off, receiving two huffs in reply.

     He then squirmed down, pulling the covers up to his ears and curling into a ball while Reborn shuffled closer until he was pressed right up against his back.

     They went to sleep.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

Tsuna peeled an eye open and stared forward, disorientated.

     He felt like he’d been woken up by something, but nothing obvious was jumping out at him.

     He blinked blearily, trying to notice what had changed as he listened to his surroundings. There was a wall of black fur in front of him but that wasn’t unusual. Reborn was almost always there when he woke up.

     Tsuna shifted slightly, and that’s when he heard the low hostile growl from behind him. The brunet froze, abruptly wide awake. Was that one of his dogs? What would he do if it wasn't? Tsuna lay there rigidly, heart thumping, wanting to turn over to look but also not daring to.

     There was a shift from next to him and his gaze flickered up.

     Reborn was lying on his stomach with his head raised and had turned his face downwards, having probably sensed his distress.

     Tsuna relaxed almost instantly as he met those dark eyes with his own. His dog was calm, and so he was too.

     Reborn turned back to what he’d been looking at before and Tsuna, now feeling more secure, rolled onto his back and pushed himself up so that he was on his elbows. He glanced down beside him.

     The growl had come from Hayato, who was tense and staring with ferocious intensity at something near the door, the same thing as Reborn presumably.

     Tsuna followed his line of sight and it took him a moment to spot the small black shape against the backdrop of the dark room. He squinted. Wasn’t that…? Tsuna blinked. It was. The cat, it had come to his room. He frowned for a brief moment before the expression smoothed in realisation. He could take a good guess at what it wanted. It’s not like the house had a litter box.

     “Hayato”, the brunet murmured, placating.

     The dog glanced at him and obediently backed down, quieting, but continued to glare at the cat mistrustfully.

     Tsuna scrubbed at one eye as he pushed the covers back and reluctantly swung his legs out. He shivered from the cold air after the warmth of the bed and curled his exposed toes. At least his room had carpet. Smothering a yawn with his hand, he stood up and paused to shove his feet into a pair of house slippers he kept under the end of the bed before he made his way towards the cat.

     Said feline stood, slinking out into the hallway on silent feet.

     Tsuna opened the door wider and followed, carefully feeling his way to the stairs and gingerly descending.

     The cat was already waiting at the back door by the time he got there. The moonlight from outside illuminated it enough for him to see the impatient, slight flicking of the end of its tail.

     Tsuna opened the door and another full body shiver ran through him as the freezing cold air from outside swept over him. He did not envy his animals, having to go out with that kind of temperature.

     “Should I wait for you?” Tsuna asked quietly before the cat could leave. He absentmindedly noted the visible white puff of his own breath in the air.

     The cat glanced back up at him. Its pupils were large, black pools in the low light.

     There was a slight pause before it gave a minute incline of its head and then disappeared into the night.

     Tsuna closed the door to escape the draft and shifted from foot to foot as he waited. Burr.

     The cat returned quickly and the brunet gave it a sleepy welcoming smile as he held the door open again. The black shape darted in and Tsuna was shocked into stillness when it pressed its cheek to his shin and proceeded to curl around his legs, dragging the sides of its small chilled body against his. He figured that more than a show of affection or anything, it was the fact that it was bloody cold outside and he happened to be the warmest thing nearby, but it was still unexpected. Not unpleasant either.

     The cat untangled itself and continued on its way, undoubtedly straight back to the heated bed waiting for it upstairs.

     Tsuna locked up before doing the same. It was times like this that he was glad he had Reborn sharing the bed - and body heat - with him.

     The cat was gone by the time Tsuna woke up again. When he went to peek into the spare bedroom he found it empty and, after asking his mother, found out that the cat had left in the early morning when she’d gotten up. He had figured something like that would happen though and was just happy that the deal had been honoured and no fighting had occurred. People had been talking about the cat like it was some crazy, mindless beast that got violent with anything and everything that happened to come across its path. Last night had proved that to be wrong though and Tsuna hummed quietly to himself while he helped Nana make breakfast.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

The cat became a regular visitor to their house and started coming earlier and staying longer as the temperature got even colder, sometimes even remaining indoors for the entire day. They had started providing it with food too, which his mother had added to the shopping list after the second night it had shown up.

     There had been a few tense moments like the incident on the first night, but nothing particularly violent.

     The two younger dogs were aloofly tolerated, but, the cat seemed to have developed an odd mutual respect with Reborn - for some reason Tsuna was unaware of - and the two treated each other rather cordially.

     Takeshi was his usual outgoing self and was friendly towards the cat, but gave it plenty of room too. Especially after one incident when he’d woken it from a nap and ended up getting a painful warning scratch on the nose. That had been the only blood-shed so far, as far as he knew.

     Hayato also tolerated the cat - barely - but only seemed to do so out of deference to Tsuna who had invited it into the house in the first place.

     Shouichi was understandably terrified of it though, and Tsuna had made sure that the two were never left alone in the same room. More for the guinea pig’s state of mind than out of worry that he’d be eaten. Somehow, and don’t ask him how but, he just got the feeling that the cat would find the idea of eating Shouichi distasteful.

     Eventually, his mother suggested that they give the cat a name, since it had been around for a little while now and seemed like it was settling in.

     Tsuna though was reluctant.

     It wasn’t like it was theirs. For all they knew it already belonged to someone else and was a runaway that just happened to decide it liked living here more. Even if it wasn’t, there was also a chance it would disappear as soon as winter had passed anyway. That had been the extent of the invitation after all. So, he wanted to withhold on naming the black cat. It would be presumptuous.

     His mother respected that decision, though she did give him an amused and understanding smile when he said all of this.

     Tsuna chose to ignore the look.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

Tsuna shrieked as he fell to the ground under the unknown dog’s weight and momentum. The canine landed on top of him, forcing the breath out of his lungs with a pained, “Oof!”

     The animal scrambled to its feet immediately after and ended up hovering over his torso, front feet on either side of his waist and the rest of its body standing in between his spread legs.

     Tsuna sat up, winded, and propped himself on his elbows so he could wearily look at the dog that had bowled him over so suddenly. It had an open, friendly face, with dark brown eyes and mismatched ears, one floppy, the other half upright. Dark golden fur split and became an off white marking that extended from its forehead down its snout and throat, and over its chest. On its back was a barely-there faded sable marking which settled darkest around it neck and shoulders. It looked like a mix breed, maybe a Collie and a German Shepherd and something else? It had also come out of absolutely nowhere.

     For a terrifying moment Tsuna had thought he’d been under attack, but the startled yelp it had let out the moment they collided hadn’t exactly sounded hostile. And now it was watching him with a contrite slump of its shoulders, head lowered and nose twitching as it sniffed at him in worry. It was quite endearing really, and he couldn’t find it within himself to get properly upset.

     He could have done without the sore tailbone however.

     Tsuna gave a small groan as he began to sit up more fully and the dog obligingly backed up, retracting its front legs and sitting on its haunches so that he was no longer under it.

     “Dino!”, a voice called out at that moment.

     Both Tsuna and the dog looked up.

     A rather flustered looking middle aged man with a dark moustache and glasses was jogging over, trailing orange dog leash in hand.

     “I’m so sorry”, he gasped as he reached them, slightly out of breathe. “Our Dino can be so clumsy. Please, let me help you”, he said, holding out a hand.

     The dog made what sounded like a small indignant yelp.

     Tsuna took the offered hand with a grateful look and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.

     “Thank you”, he sighed, and began brushing off his pants.

     “I hope you weren’t hurt too badly”, the man dithered with a worried frown, his dog sulking in the background.

     “No, no major harm done”, Tsuna smiled as he straightened.

     The man gave a small apologetic one in return.

     “I really am very sorry. My throw was off so it was my fault he ended up coming your way”, he explained, and went to pick up a plain green Frisbee that Tsuna somehow hadn’t noticed till then. It was laying just a little ways behind where he’d been knocked over.

     “Ah”, Tsuna said in understanding. “It really is fine though. I’m pretty clumsy myself so I guess you could say I’m used to falling over”, he laughed awkwardly.

     The man gave an amused huff and nodded.

     Tsuna felt something cold and wet nudge his hand and glanced down startled at Dino, who had pressed his nose to him.

     The dog still had a sort of embarrassed and contrite air about him, and licked Tsuna’s fingers in apology.

     Tsuna smiled and gave the dog’s drooping head a forgiving pat.

     “Its fine”, he repeated earnestly.

     The dog’s tail gave a happy wag.

     Tsuna looked up, and the man gave him another small smile.

     “We’ll leave you be then”, he said, beckoning his dog over.

     Dino trotted to his owner’s side and Tsuna nodded.

     “Goodbye”, as said politely as the two walked off.

     “Goodbye”, the man replied with a dip of his head.

     Dino glanced back and his tail gave another happy wag in parting.

     Nice dog.

     Tsuna wondered if he’d ever see them again.

     He then glanced at the grass stains on the elbow of his favourite hoodie and sighed.

     Just hopefully not under the same circumstances.

Chapter Text

Tsuna sighed as he read the message on the small slip of cardboard before replacing it, ruefully eyeing the oversized basket of expensive fruit and accompanying giant bouquet of flowers. It was a gift of apology from Dino’s owner, Romario-san. The third one he’d received today alone and really, the man didn’t need to go so far. It’s not like his dog had meant to trip him down that hill and send him to the hospital.

     They’d met again by coincidence while hiking along a local mountain trail, one that Tsuna frequented together with his dogs when the weather was nice. His mother had been accompanying him and she and Romario-san seemed to hit it off. So their groups had ended up walking together while the two chatted, with his own three dogs a few paces ahead of them and Tsuna bringing up the rear with Dino.

     Towards the end of the trail there’s a particularly windy section that runs up a ridge, with a rock face on one side and a long, steep incline on the other. And it was here that things had gone wrong.

     At one point Dino had gone to investigate a rustling in the grass besides the path, on the side with the drop-off. Nana and Romario-san had disappeared around the corner while Tsuna, also being curious, had lingered behind with the dog.

     The rustling turned out to be a small snapping turtle, and a particularly grumpy one at that. It had reared its head up at Dino’s exploratory sniffing, living up to its name-sake and snapping angrily at the dog, starling him rather badly. Dino jerked back, seemed to trip over his own feet and slammed into the side of Tsuna’s legs, throwing him off balance. When he’d tried to regain it he’d also lost his footing on the loose gravel of the path and promptly gone tumbling ass over teakettle down the hillside with a sharp shout of surprise. He’d bumped his head along the way and his awkward landing at the end had forced his ankle to bend at an angle it really shouldn’t go under his own weight and momentum.

     His shout brought the others running back and one highly panicked rescue and a trip to the hospital later had told him what he didn’t really need an ex-ray to figure out. Broken ankle and a mild concussion.

     Now here he was; lumpy cast and all.

     Tsuna shook his head and then stopped at the wave of nausea the action brought on, reclining with a grimace against the stiff hospital-bed mattress.

     All things considered he was actually pretty lucky to have gotten away without anything more serious. Still, head injuries were nothing to scoff at so just to be on the safe side they’d decided to keep him in for observation.

     His mother had gone home to grab him stuff for an overnight bag and Romario-san had been kicked out by Tsuna after about an hour of his ridiculously guilt riddled hovering. The second and third gift baskets had arrived over the five or so hours since then. If he got one more he was gonna have to ring and tell the man off.

     Like Dino’s reaction alone hadn’t been bad enough.

     The poor thing couldn’t even bring himself to look Tsuna in the eye and had spent the entire time between his initial franticness at the accident and their parting in the hospital carpark with his face nearly on the ground in shame. Tsuna would definitely have to do something about that later.

     For now though, he was bored. And his ankle was already itchy.

     Tsuna frowned up at the stark white ceiling.

     It seemed like it was gonna be a long night.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

Tsuna blinked.

     There was a cat on his bed. Or, more accurately, there was a cat on him on the bed.

     He had questions.

     ‘How’, being the first. ‘Why’, was also somewhat pressing. He was curious about ‘when’ as well but it wasn’t as important as the first two.

     At least he had an answer for ‘who’.

     The black cat was well and truly a regular fixture in their lives now. Not quite theirs but only by a technicality. Truthfully, at this point Tsuna was kind of scared to take them to the vets for a proper registration because it meant taking the risk that someone else was looking for the cat. That someone else would come and take it away.

     Anyway, the cat was here now. For some reason.

     Tsuna squinted at the dark lump lying across his chest. It definitely wasn’t meant to be in here, and he couldn’t really see his mother sneaking it in so obviously it had done that part by itself. Lord knows how.

     Honestly, if he’d expected one of his animals to do something like this he’d have put his money of Hayato. But no, apparently, he was more well liked that he’d thought…

     That was… reassuring.

     Tsuna gave a shallow sigh and then froze as one of the cat’s eyes cracked open.

     They stared mutely at each other for a long moment.

     Then the cat huffed and shifted onto its other side, uncurling and re-curling its limbs and settling down again with a yawn.

     Tsuna blinked at it and let his head tip back against the pillow again.

     Well, guess he was stuck here now, might as well get some more sleep too.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

Reborn had made a friend.

     Or, well, a something anyway.

     Tsuna said friend, but that was only because he honestly wasn’t quite sure what to make of their odd interactions and didn’t know what else to call it, whatever it was.

     It kind of seemed like a rivalry, only, he had no idea what they were competing for. And they were almost playful, except, from the moment they’d laid eyes on one another they’d started butting heads. And that wasn’t a metaphor. They’d walked straight into each other’s personal space and literally rammed their foreheads together like rutting stags. That can’t have been good for them. The whole thing had been quite alarming for Tsuna, who had never even seen this other dog before.

     And it had just been a normal afternoon.

     Reborn and the other two dogs got their exercise in different ways, and Tsuna only had so much stamina, so they got taken out on separate days.

     Today was Saturday, Reborn’s day.

     So they’d gone to the park for their weekly workout. Then, a few minutes after arriving, the strange lone dog had approached them. Next thing he knew the two were greeting each other via concussion and then somehow he was manipulated into participating in one of the most exhaustive games of catch he’d even played. They were both relentless, and it dragged on for several hours, until Tsuna was panting and sweaty and felt like his arms were going to drop off.

     Of course he could have stopped at any time, it was just… he’d never seen Reborn this lively before. His eldest dog simply didn’t do ‘play’. Not with other animals at least. Yet here he was, racing as fast as he could against another dog, trying to be the first to catch a pitifully thrown tennis-ball and - technically - playing. To see something like that, it made the achy throbbing in his limbs almost worth it.

     Almost.

     Tsuna smiled from where he sat as he watched them, slumped tiredly with his dead arms draped over his crossed legs.

     The two trotted back over to him, Reborn straight backed and triumphant, tail up, with the weathered tennis-ball held securely in his mouth. Unbelievably, neither of them seemed to be particularly tired, even after the hours of running and jumping. Tsuna’s dog dropped the ball in his lap, tail waving smugly as his new acquaintance hovered a little ways behind him. Both were eyeing him expectantly.

     Tsuna grimaced.

     “No, no more”, he groaned, resolutely not picking the ball up again. “Absolutely no way. Are you trying to kill me?” he whined and collapsed sideways dramatically, dislodging the ball and sending it rolling a short distance away.

     He could almost feel Reborn’s mental eye-rolling at the display as the dog stepped closer, nudging his shoulder with his snout.

     “What?” the brunet asked.

     Reborn nudged again, harder, pushing persistently against him.

     “What. What is it?” he asked in bemusement as he allowed himself to be rolled onto his back.

     The dog stepped lightly over his torso, lowered himself slightly, and then dropped his full weight mercilessly onto Tsuna’s diaphragm and stomach.

     “Oh-!My god”, Tsuna wheezed, wide eyed, body curling halfway up before flopping back, utterly breathless. “Reborn!”, he chastised, half whining and half laughing helplessly. “Oh my god, you’re such a jerk!”, he declared, uselessly flailing his legs a little before draping his arms over the dog’s back, giving up.

     Reborn just waved his tail and gave him an amused look, nose in the air.

     Tsuna huffed and then turned his head. The other dog was watching the display with an entertained air, head tilted curiously. He watched it back thoughtfully.

     Now that he had a chance to observe it up close, he noticed that it didn’t have a collar. A stray? If so, it was a rather well groomed one.

     Tsuna, though perhaps somewhat biased, had always thought that his pets were really handsome animals. Reborn in particular was a very elegant dog, majestic even, as humorous as that might sound when said aloud.

     This dog though, it could certainly give him a run for his money.

     Actually, it looked kind of similar to Reborn in a lot of ways.

     It was about the same ridiculously large size, with the same build, long pointed snout, and upright triangular ears. The fur though was a bit shorter and had a slightly scruffy look to it. The main difference was the most immediately obvious one; their colouring. This dog was a stunning shade of gold, solid in colour except for a single patch of white over its chest, and it had the most amazing bright blue eyes. Obviously it was a cross breed of some kind, and out of whatever mix that was, it seemed to have won the genetic lottery. It was honestly, possibly one of the prettiest dogs he had ever seen.

     “Where did you even come from?” Tsuna muttered, frowning slightly at the object of his observations.

     Reborn turned his head to look between the two of them, and the other dog straightened slightly. It cocked its head in the other direction and gave a soft wuff.

     The brunet beckoned it closer and the dog stepped forwards obligingly, sitting itself down again within arm’s reach.

     Tsuna reached up and lightly touched the side of its neck, double checking that there wasn’t anything hiding under all that scruff.

     “Yeah, definitely no collar, but you don’t look much like a stray”, he said, squinting up at the dog as he carded his fingers through its fur.

     It just gazed back at him evenly.

     Tsuna gave the side of its neck one last ruffle before he let his arm flop back to the ground. He stared contemplatively into the distance for a moment, coming to a decision, and then glanced back up at the dog.

     “Well, whether you have an owner or not I’d feel bad just leaving you here now, so-” He met Reborn’s eye then looked back at the other dog. “Wanna follow us home for today?” he asked with a mild expression.

     The dog blinked at him, blinked at Reborn, and then blinked at him again and gave a short dip of its head, tail wagging briefly.

     Tsuna grinned brightly.

     “Right then. We can go as soon as this lump gets off of me!” he said.

     Reborn rose at the subtle cue, and made sure to step on his stomach as he went.

     Tsuna gave a pained wheeze.

     “Thanks, Reborn.”

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

Less than half way home, Tsuna realised they were being trailed.

     He’d been catching glimpses of a shadow out the corner of his eye for the past few minutes, but it kept ducking out of view every time he tried to turn and get a better look. It had gotten to the point where he was more than a little bit frustrated.

     He thought Reborn would have reacted as well by now but both he and the new dog simply walked ahead of and beside him, seeming content to just ignore the extra presence altogether. Tsuna though, he couldn’t stand it much longer.

     As they rounded the next corner he stopped abruptly and quickly ducked close to the wall of the nearest house.

     Reborn kept walking without a care but the other dog paused, glancing back at Tsuna and cocking his head before turning and coming over to stand next to him.

     Tsuna gave him a brief acknowledging glance and gripped the tennis ball in his pocket, plucking at the loose fuzz as they settled in.

     They didn’t have to wait for long.

     A few moments later their shadow crept around the corner, and then froze instantly when it spotted the two of them. Tsuna also stilled and stared back in surprise at, would you believe it, another tag along dog. What was this, ‘Tsuna Becomes A Stray Magnet For A Day’ day?

     It was another huge one too, almost the same size as both Reborn and the other one. Similar features as well, except for its ears, which were half up half down instead of straight up. One of them had a large tear in the floppy end. The most striking thing about it though, was the fact that its mottled grey fur had a single patch of stark white which covered the entirety of its head while leaving the ears alone the same colour as the rest of it. With the faint accent of grey around its mouth, nose and eyes, it looked almost as though it had had skull makeup painted onto it. Altogether, certainly an interesting looking dog.

     Their tag along still hadn’t moved though. It seemed to have taken quite the shock at being caught, and Tsuna couldn’t help the amused smile curving his mouth as he took in its wide eyes and frozen pose, feet lifted mid stride.

     “You okay?” he giggled as he stepped away from the wall.

     That seemed to do the trick because the dog finally unfroze, slowly lowered its legs, and then calmly backed itself around the corner again.

     Tsuna snorted and walked over, poking his head around the wall.

     “That’s kind of useless at this point you know”, he said mildly, smiling at the silly animal.

     The dog stiffened and bristled defensively. A low threatening growl bubbled up as its lip curled back, hackles rising, and this time Tsuna was the one freezing. It wasn’t silly anymore. He suddenly became very aware of just how big this dog was, shoulders almost level with his hips, and how it was a strange animal that he’d never encounter before this moment. Tsuna’s heart leapt into his throat and the blood drained from his face as very real fear shot through his veins. He’d gotten so used to the few friendly ones around him that for a moment he’d forgotten.

     Animals hated him.

     He was lost in his terror so quickly that he didn’t notice the worried countenance that came over the dog when it saw his reaction. It took a step towards him and Tsuna stumbled back into the middle of the other street. The golden dog made a small startled sound at his panicked retreat and the other dog followed him around the corner, eyes wide.

     A dark shape appeared in his periphery and Tsuna’s head jerked in its direction, adrenaline pumping.

     Reborn stepped in front of his owner, posture hunched forwards threateningly and a shockingly deep growl rumbling up from the depths of his chest. Tsuna had never heard him make such a sound. Evidently his dog had never had the occasion to do so.

     The grey dog instantly backed up with a yelp, tail dropping and ears flattening with a thoroughly cowed expression as it hastily lowered itself to the ground in a submissive gesture, all but throwing itself down. It blinked up at Reborn with wide frightened eyes.

     The black dog stopped growling, but continued to stand in front of Tsuna, stance rigid.

     The brunet calmed as he stared at the reassuring figure. He had no idea how his dog had known what was happening or when he’d even come back to them but he didn’t care. His heart rate evened, panic draining away. Tsuna swallowed thickly.

     “Reborn”, he called quietly, voice thankfully remaining even.

     A black ear swiveled in his direction and the dog slowly straightened, glancing back at him over his shoulder.

     Tsuna gave him a wobbly smile.

     “Its fine”, he said, then eyed the cowering dog. “I overreacted, and I’m the one that confronted him anyway”, he reasoned.

     If Reborn’s flat expression was any indication, he obviously didn’t think that was a reasonable excuse for both threatening and scaring him.

     Tsuna gave a small helpless shrug.

     Then a furry head pushed itself under his hand and he glanced down in surprise at the third dog. Blue eyes gazed back up at him as it leaned a comforting shoulder into his side, tail swaying slowly.

     Tsuna smiled gratefully and rubbed at one of its ears.

     The dog leaned into the petting happily, eyes closing as it pressed the side of its face to his hip.

     Tsuna sighed as he scritched the back of his fingers along the top of its head.

     “Okay, so, I think we’ve all had a bit of an overreaction”, he said lightly to the gathered animals as he continued to pet. It helped sooth him.

     The golden dog huffed in amusement, eyes still closed contently.

     Reborn lowered his head in apparent agreement to the sentiment.

     Tsuna ignored that and stopped petting, but kept his hand laid between the golden-furred ears as he turned a look to the dog which remained belly down on the ground.

     “I’m sorry about that, but, you scared me”, he told the animal matter of fact.

     The dog’s ears perked and it raised guilty eyes to him.

     Tsuna quirked a small smile.

     “I think I startled you pretty bad too though, so I guess we’re even”, he said.

     The animal raised its head a little and its tail gave a hopeful wag.

     Then Reborn made a low sound which had it startling and flattening itself right back to the ground again.

     Tsuna gave his dog an admonishing look, which of course went ignored. He sighed and turned his gaze back to their follower again.

     “Since you were already tagging along, do you want to come back with us too? Might as well now”, he said, tilting his head in askance.

     That earned him three incredulous stares.

     Tsuna just shrugged a shoulder.

     The grey dog stayed still for a long moment, eyeing Reborn warily, before it slowly raised its head again and gave a small hesitant nod.

     Tsuna smiled and nodded back.

     “Okay!” he said cheerfully. “Mum’ll probably be happy”, he continued to mumble to himself as he gave the golden fur under his hand an extra ruffle and then started to walk again.

     Reborn gave the other dog one last flat look before he turned and followed after Tsuna.

     The golden dog also eyed it for a moment before doing the same.

     The two flagged the brunet on either side as they continued down the street.

     After a pause the tag along shakily got to its feet and trailed after the trio, head lowered and tail down.

     Tsuna glanced back to make sure it was following properly, and when the dog raised its head curiously it received a quick friendly smile before the brunet faced forward again.

     The dog’s steps lightened after that.

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

Nana was happy.

     She held a strong belief in the more the merrier type philosophy, which extended to animals too apparently, and so the sight of Tsuna coming home with not just one but two whole extra dogs made her fairy ecstatic.

     Grinning widely she clapped her hands together and declared that she’d make croquettes for dinner to celebrate the occasion.

     Tsuna smiled at her enthusiasm as she began to bustle around the kitchen, then shook his head before drifting off to look for his other two dogs. He could only hope that the black cat wasn’t around yet because things were probably going to get boisterous pretty soon, which it undoubtedly wouldn’t appreciate.

     Reborn brushed past him as they went back to the hallway and made for the stairs, probably heading to Tsuna’s room.

     The brunet held a hand out so that Reborn’s spine ran under his palm as he passed, fingers loosely encircling his tail until the end slipped out and he was no longer in reach. Tsuna watched him go and the dog glanced back at him before he disappeared into the stairwell.

     The golden dog watched the interaction as he stood close to his side. The grey one though hovered uncertainly at a distance. Tsuna gave it a sympathetic glance before addressing both of them.

     “I’ll introduce you to the other two”, he said, and headed down the hall.

     Hayato and Takeshi hadn’t come to greet him when he got home, which was unusual but not entirely a one off. There could be a number of reasons for it, but if Tsuna had to guess, he’d say they were probably distracted by each other, which most often happened due to rough-housing, which meant the back yard.

     And sure enough, there they were.

     Takeshi was lying on his back, looking pretty ridiculous with his front paws up and tail wagging between his legs, swiping the ground as he squirmed about, batting at Hayato who mimed biting and growled without any real heat at him from above.

     Tsuna giggled at the sight as he watched through the windows for a moment. Hayato had some kind of unfortunate aversion to acting in any sort of ‘undignified’ way in front of him, so it was rare to catch him playing like this.

     “I’m home”, he called with a smile as he stepped through the open back door.

     The two instantly shifted their attention at the sound of his voice. Hayato snapped straight and Takeshi rolled quickly to his feet. They ran up to him, tails wagging, Hayato’s almost hard enough to make his whole back end swing, while Takeshi circled him excitedly, bumping against his legs as they both made happy sounds.

     “Hi guys”, Tsuna chuckled. It never seemed to get old, being greeted so enthusiastically whenever he came home. Dogs were great.

     Tsuna plopped himself down on the edge of the porch and was instantly surrounded by happy canines. Takeshi pressed up against his back and enthusiastically rubbed his jaw and the side of his head along his shoulder. Tsuna turned to glance back at him in amusement, lifting an arm which the dog instantly squirmed under happily. The brunet curled that arm and laid his hand against the Kai Ken’s side. Tsuna then used his free right hand to pet Hayato, who had sat himself in front of him, head bowed and eyes closed contently as he had the side of his neck scratched.

     “We have visitors”, he murmured to them.

     Hayato’s ears perked as he opened his eyes to look up at his owner, and Takeshi made a curious sound.

     Tsuna gestured with his head back at the house.

     Both of the new dogs were hovering just inside the open doorway still. The golden one appeared a lot more relaxed since, unlike the grey dog, it had sat itself down while it waited to be acknowledged.

     Hayato leaned around him to give the other animals a wary, suspicious look.

     Tsuna pinched down on an amused smile at the reaction.

     Meanwhile Takeshi slipped out from under his arm and walked up to the golden dog, tail wagging slowly and ears forwards with friendly curiosity.

     The golden dog wagged his tail in reply and made a small sound, dipping his head slightly.

     The two sniffed at each other in greeting.

     Once done with their observations, the Kai Ken looked past his new acquaintance to the grey dog in the background and then glanced back at the brunet in askance.

     Tsuna shook his head.

     “I don’t know either of their names, if they have one. Neither have collars and they were alone when we met, so…”, he trailed off.

     The Kai Ken tilted his head in understanding and gave the grey dog a soft wuff and a tail wag of welcome.

     The other dog lowered its head back to the greeting.

     “They’ll be staying overnight and we’ll… take them to the vets tomorrow I guess, see if they’re microchip-ed or not or match any posters”, Tsuna continued to say absently as he began to pet Hayato again, rubbing the sides of his neck and cheeks with both hands now.

     The silver dog melted under the attention, shoulders relaxing and head dipping down until his chin came to rest on Tsuna’s raised knees.

     What they’d do after that, Tsuna didn’t know. His mother and he hadn’t discussed anything yet, but, well, they’d see.

     “Tsu-kun.”

     Speak of the devil.

     His mother’s voice called from the hallway and he turned to look in that direction.

     The grey dog stepped politely to the side, clearing the way for her as she approached.

     “Mm?” Tsuna hummed questioningly as she stopped in the doorway, just behind the golden dog and Takeshi.

     Nana smiled apologetically at him.

     “I’m sorry to ask since you just got home but, do you think you could run down to the store for me? We won’t have enough food for everyone in the morning otherwise”, she said with a glance over the assembled animals.

     Tsuna blinked and then slumped over, dropping his head down with a lamenting sigh. He was tired after all those hours of catch and his arms definitely wouldn’t like the extra work. He pouted unhappily at the request but looked back up at her and reluctantly nodded in understanding.

     “Sure”, he said, dislodging Hayato with a quick apologetic kiss to the forehead before he slowly started to get up.

     Nana smiled back gratefully.

     “Thank you, Tsu-kun.” She glanced down at the grey dog next to her, and her expression lit up with her sudden idea. “Why don’t you take one of your new friends with you? They can help you carry the groceries”, she suggested cheerfully.

     Tsuna paused as he straightened up.

     “How? They’re not pack mules”, he said, huffing in amusement.

     The dogs glanced between the two humans.

     Nana hummed thoughtfully, putting a finger to her chin.

     “With their mouth?” she said contemplatively, and then smiled again. “You’ll figure something out.” Nodding confidently, she promptly disappeared back down the hallway.

     Tsuna watched her go with an incredulous shake of his head. He sighed again and glanced at the dogs.

     “Any of you feel up to running an errand?” he asked with a small smile.

     Of course Hayato was instantly standing, tail wagging enthusiastically as he gave a bark of consent.

     Takeshi gave him his usual close eyed smiling expression, tongue out and tail also giving a wave.

     Tsuna sighed through his nose.

     “I can’t take all of you at once though”, he said, glancing between the four of them. He gave a thoughtful hum. “Hayato… and Mister-Skull-Makeup then, you’re with me”, he decided with a nod.

     The grey dog straightened as he turned to look at it and blinked back at him in confusion.

     Tsuna gave him a crooked grin.

     “That means you”, he said.

     The dog gave a slow nod of understand, but still seemed vaguely confused. Tsuna could only assume it was because of either the nickname or the fact that he’d been chosen after their less-than perfect first encounter.

     Anyway, Hayato seemed to be almost vibrating in excitement at the thought of performing an errand with him as he raced past, disappearing into the house to go and fetch his leash from the laundry room.

     Tsuna shook his head and turned to address Takeshi.

     “Why don’t you see if you and Reborn can figure out sleeping arrangements while we’re out? So there’s less of a fuss later”, he requested, smiling back at the happy huff and nod of consent Takeshi gave in reply.

     “Thanks”, he said, giving the top of the Kai Ken’s head an affectionate ruffle.

     He then followed Hayato’s path into the house and found him sitting in the laundry room, leash already in mouth and tail wagging in anticipation.

     “Alright, alright”, Tsuna laughed at the sight, taking the leash from him and circling slightly to clip it on. “Good to go”, he said.

     Hayato gave a wuff of thanks and tipped his head back to look at him.

     Tsuna cupped his hands around the dog’s cheeks, fingers resting along the underside of his jaw.

     “Go get the shopping bags from mum, please, you ridiculous animal”, he said fondly before letting go.

     Hayato barked in affirmation and disappeared into the hallway, pausing to pick up the end of the leash with his mouth so it wouldn’t drag along the ground behind him.

     A moment later the grey dog’s face hesitantly peaked around the corner.

     Tsuna beckoned him closer with an encouraging smile and turned to open one of the cupboards under the bench.

     “I don’t think you guys really need them but we’re required to have dogs on leash in public areas”, he explained as the dog tilted its head enquiringly.

     Tsuna pulled out a box full of assorted items, including several older spare collars. He gave a thoughtful hum as he glanced between the dog and the collars, rifling through the pile of stuff. He picked out a couple, holding them up before selecting a faded black one with its edges just starting to fray.

     “One of Reborn’s old ones should fit fine”, he said with a nod, putting the box back. “Excuse me.”

     He leaned over, and the grey dog obligingly tilted its head up, allowing him to slide the collar on without fuss.

     Tsuna adjusted the length slightly, wriggling two fingers between the material and the dog’s neck and then rotating it into place before leaning back again.

     “How’s that?”, he asked.

     The dog tilted its head this way and that a few times before it looked up at him and gave its tail a wag of approval.

     Tsuna smiled back, satisfied.

     “Great”, he said, and unhooked one of the leashes on the wall, clicking it into place and holding the end in a loose grip. “Let’s go then."

 

=+=+=+=+=+=

 

Tsuna squinted unhappily at the half finished questions in front of him, tapping the eraser end of his pencil against the textbook page in a steady absentminded beat. After a long moment the answers still refused to jump out at him and he abruptly dropped the pencil with a gusty, frustrated sigh.

     He took his headphones off and placed them on the desk, pressing the heels of his palms into his eyes to scrub at them tiredly as he leaned back in his chair, which gave a faint squeak.

     Then, the low, distant growl of an angry cat instantly drew his attention. Tsuna went still, slowly lowering his hands and unconsciously cocking his head to one side as he listened carefully for the sound again. There it was, and he knew that growl.

     It was the black cat. He’d lost count of the number of times he’d heard that very same growl by now, to the point where he didn’t even bother to get worried anymore because both the black cat’s and his other animals’ fighting never escalated into anything serious.

     This time though Tsuna sprung to his feet and began to follow the sound back to its source. It seemed like it was coming from the back yard and Tsuna knew for a fact that all of his dogs were currently out with his mother. Whatever the black cat was reacting to, it was an unknown entity.

     A second, unfamiliar growl joined in and Tsuna quickened his pace, feet landing heavily against the wooden floorboards as he hurried downstairs. The growling escalated in sound and pitch, turning into sharp yowls, and Tsuna was all but running down the hallway now because that sound meant that things had just turned physically violent.

     He caught a flash of movement through the glass as he reached the back door before he yanked it open, all but flying out onto the back porch, just in time to watch the tumbling, yowling pair of cats separate and spring apart.

     There was fur all over the place, floating through the air and laying about the ground in tufts that they’d torn off of one another. They’d probably been at it for a little while already then, and he hadn’t been able to hear the disturbance because he’d had headphones on.

     Tsuna hissed a heartfelt curse under his breath.

     The other cat was one he had no recollection of having seen before. It was white with black patches, and, conspicuously lacking in a tail. All it had was a short fluffy stump, not dissimilar to a rabbit. Whether that was the result of its breeding or an amputation, he couldn’t tell. Tsuna only had a moment to take all of this in before the two were at each other again, claws and teeth out.

     They were in constant motion, rolling and flipping and moving too fast for him to tell much of what was going on, but it was horrifying to watch all the same. Tsuna’s breathing quickened in his distress as he helplessly followed the pair further into the yard, looking for a chance to get in between them.

     The other cat seemed to have taken the advantage in this round and was in a position to kick at the black cat with both its hind legs, something it seemed to do with relish, sending even more fur flying.

     The black cat hissed angrily and yanked, rolling them again.

     The pair separated once more and before he even had time to think Tsuna’s body moved on its own. Desperate to stop them, he lunged forwards and scooped up his black cat, the more familiar animal and thus the safer choice.

     That was a mistake though.

     High on adrenaline, in pain, and focused only on the opponent in front of them, the black cat reacted badly to the sudden intrusion. It immediately swung its head around with a sharp, furious snarl or indignation, sinking its teeth into the nearest bit of flesh, which happened to be Tsuna’s right hand.

     The brunet let out a loud, startled yelp of pain but held onto the cat. His voice seemed to spark the black cat’s recognition because it stilled and instantly let go. Those sharp little canines had already done their damage though. The cat had bitten deep and without restraint, right into the meat of his thumb, close to the wrist. Blood instantly began to run freely. Tsuna’s hand was covered in red within moments and he left a sporadic trail of droplets across the grass and porch as he quickly made his way back towards the house, all the while eyeing the unfamiliar cat warily.

     Thankfully, Tsuna’s intervention seemed to have stopped things cold because the black cat stayed still, not struggling to get free despite the hostile growling he could both hear and feel still thrumming through is body. The other cat didn’t follow after them either, as he feared it might. It just stood there and watched their retreat with paper-thin pupils, fur still on end. Tsuna couldn’t help but notice that its eyes were heterochromatic. The left was a clear, deep blue, and the right one was brown, but under the direct sunlight it seemed to almost glow red.

     Just before he turned his back on it Tsuna saw the cat lick its bloodied mouth, the red stain disturbingly stark and obvious against its white fur.

     Tsuna clumsily nudged the back door close with his foot, hip checking it into place, and only once it was properly shut again did he put his bundle down.

     The black cat crouched down where he let it go, hunkered low to the ground and puffed out tail swinging forcefully from side to side in a clear display of displeasure.

     Tsuna cradled his injured hand to his chest and eyed the cat.

     “I’m sorry, but please, please just, stay here for a moment”, he pleaded.

     A low unhappy rumble emitted from the cat and it turned its head, pointedly not looking at him, but made no sign of moving otherwise.

     Tsuna lingered for a moment, hesitating, and then made for the kitchen. He had to stop the bleeding.

     He made a detour to the linen closet for a clean towel, and then once in the kitchen he carefully and single-handedly pried the first aid kit out from one of the cupboards, rummaging around for what he needed. With everything out, he then went to the sink and stuck his hand under the faucet, rinsing away the blood.

     The water ran red, then pink, and finally clear. He turned the shaking appendage. Even under the running water there was a steady trickle of blood coming from the two neat little puncture wounds.

     Tsuna’s body gave a small shiver and he switched the faucet over, filling the basin with the hottest water he could stand and struggling with the lid of the disinfectant for a moment before he got it off one handed and poured a generous amount in, submerging his injured hand again. He used cotton swabs to clean around the wound, and made sure he’d gotten rid of all of the blood before he lift his hand free and carefully patted it dry with the towel. The cloth was soon dotted with patches of bright red. A hand wound like this would just continue to bleed, soaking through whatever he put on it until it clotted on its own, so he dabbed some antiseptic cream over the punctures to stop the flow. It did the trick.

     He had to get an extra band-aid because he accidentally messed up and got the first one half stuck to itself before he could apply it, but, he had the wound treated in just under a few minutes and quickly went back to the black cat.

     He found it sitting at the back door where he'd left it, staring out into the yard with the tip of its still fluffier than usual tail ticking in irritation.

     When Tsuna peered out though, he found it empty. The other cat was long gone.

     Sighing as he rubbed at his cold fingers, Tsuna slowly lowered himself to the floor, arranging himself into a cross-legged position.

     After a pause he scooted closer to the black cat.

     One of its pointed ears swiveled in his direction but it otherwise continued to ignore him.

     Tsuna leaned over and carefully ran his eyes over the cat, looking for any obvious, serious wounds. He already knew they were injured, he just didn’t know to what extent. The dark fur made it hard to tell but there were a number of patches that were sticking together and had a slightly wet look to them. That could have been from saliva, but, Tsuna had a sinking feeling that most of it was blood. His arms and shirt front were smeared with red after all, and he was pretty sure that not all of it had come from his hand.

     Tsuna worried his lip, frowning over the patches.

     “You’re hurt”, he said eventually.

     The cat turned its head just enough to give him a flat sideways look.

     Tsuna sighed again.

     “Obvious, I know, but-”, he trailed off, expression pinched with worry. “We have to take you to the vets’”, he said softly.

     The cat made a low sound of displeasure.

     Tsuna pursed his lips and ran a hand through his hair, ruffling his bangs.

     “You might not like it but you have to”, he said firmly. “You…you’re not ours but you’re still part of this family now”, he continued.

     The cat stilled.

     “I don’t like it when you’re hurt and I can’t just leave you alone, okay? So, so yeah, you’re going”, Tsuna finished with a resolute nod, meeting the cat’s eye as it turned to look at him properly.

     They stared at each other for a long moment, Tsuna with a stubborn frown and the cat with an even less readable expression than usual.

     The cat’s gaze eventually dropped down to Tsuna’s injured hand, the hand it had bitten, curled carefully on its side in his lap.

     The cat turned its head away again and then, after a pause, gave a slight nod.

     Tsuna slumped in relief.

     The cat was going to be taken to the vets one way or another, he would have made sure of that, but having its consent made things so much easier for everyone involved. He could quite easily imagine the nightmare it would be trying to shove this animal into a carry box against its will.

     “Thank you”, he said quietly.

     Now he just hopped the others wouldn’t freak out too bad.

     After going to change into a clean shirt and putting the bloodied one into soak, he made sure Shouichi knew what had happened and wasn’t too stressed out, and then went back downstairs to watch TV while they waited for the others to get back.

     Tsuna got a towel to spread over his lap so the black cat had somewhere comfortable to sit without getting blood on the furniture. Also because he was worried about it and that was translating into a near irrepressible desire to cuddle. Then he reclined against the armrest of the couch and stretched his legs out while the black cat curled up and proceeded to fall fast asleep on his stomach. Tsuna took shameless advantage of the rare opportunity and very carefully pet the cat’s fine fur, from the top of its head down the back of its neck, one of the few places it wasn’t injured.

     That’s how they were when the others finally got back, roughly an hour later. By that point Tsuna himself was half nodding off and blinked back into awareness at the sound of the front door closing.

     “We’re back~” Nana’s voice called cheerfully from the hallway.

     Usually Tsuna would have called a greeting in reply, but, he glanced at the sleeping cat using his torso as a pillow and refrained.

     There was the sound of clicking nails on hardwood and then light steps on carpet, and he knew one of the dogs was heading his way.

     A moment later Reborn came into sight, ears perking forward in interest when he saw Tsuna on the couch with the cat.

     Tsuna quirked a small smile.

     “Welcome back”, he said quietly.

     Reborn came closer, and then suddenly went very, very still. The dog slowly straightened his spine, and he was already near enough that Tsuna could hear the sound of him scenting the air.

     The brunet glanced at the cat again and took a deep breath, letting it out in an exasperated huff.

     “There was a fight”, he explained in a low voice, while gently running his fingers over the top of the cat’s head.

     One of its ears flicked reflexively but it otherwise didn’t react.

     Reborn came up to the couch, head canting slightly as he looked between the cat and Tsuna, and then zeroed in on his band-aid covered hand. The dog shot him a look.

     One corner of Tsuna’s mouth pulled in a slight smile and he held the hand up for inspection.

     “My fault. I did something kinda stupid”, he admitted ruefully.

     Reborn huffed, as if to say ‘of course you did’, and leaned in to give the offered appendage an assessing sniff. Apparently satisfied, he sat, and in one of his rare shows of initiative pushed his head into Tsuna’s shoulder, since he was at a convenient height to do so.

     Tsuna took the cue and happily pressed his face to the top of Reborn’s head, using his right hand to reach around and scratch the base of the dog’s neck.

     They stayed like that for a few long moments, until Reborn leaned back, and not a second later Nana poked her head around the corner. She blinked at the sight of Tsuna with the cat and a wide smile broke out across her face.

     “My, that’s rare”, she tittered.

     Hayato and Takashi, following on her heel, trailed past her into the room. In a way that was slightly comical now that Reborn had already done it, the two of them froze in tandem. Although, whether that was because they’d also smelt the blood or because of his current position with the cat, he didn’t know.

     Tsuna ignored their reactions for now and addressed Nana.

     “Mom, I think we’ll need a trip to the vets. This one’s gone and gotten themselves hurt”, Tsuna said with a small frown.

     Nana’s smile fell away in reply and she also took up a worried furrow to her brow.

     “What happened?” she asked, coming over.

     “A fight, with another cat”, Tsuna said, glancing down at the feline.

     In a somewhat worrying testament to their injured state, the cat wasn’t reacting at all to what was going on around them, even though they would usually stir from sleep at the slightest sounds.

     Nana gave a disapproving hum.

     “I’ll try to make an appointment for tonight”, she said, giving the cat a last concerned look over. Up close she could see their telling, less than pristine appearance.

     Tsuna nodded.

     “Please”, he said thankfully.

     Now he just had to pray that the cat could stay theirs.