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Omniscience

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"For all the things my hands have held, the best by far is you." ~ Andrew McMahon

 


 

October 14, (Year Zero)
Namimori General Hospital

When midnight struck, the wails of a newborn child pierced the air. A handful of nurses took the baby away to wash off the excrement that coated its small body. Meanwhile, doctors and midwives fussed over a twenty-year-old brunette who breathed heavily as she continued to bleed.

A pair of dark, narrowed eyes watched the medical personnel as they attended to the baby. When the owner of those eyes saw and sensed, with his diluted Hyper Intuition, that there was no threat to his child, Sawada Iemitsu returned his full attention to the woman who laid on the medical bed. She gripped his hand tightly as another contraction hit her in order to dislodge the placenta.

Iemitsu resisted the urge to pull away his cramped hand. Idly, he wondered how the Ninth could have possibly gone through this ordeal thrice.

When his beautiful wife, Nana, finally relaxed and caught her breath, he discreetly removed his hand and stretched his fingers, a grimace on his face. From his peripheral vision, he saw the doctor frown then turned to speak to a midwife. The man gestured towards the placenta on a surgical tray and then towards Nana, an action that caused worry to spike in Iemitsu's heart.

The doctor noticed the apprehension on the man's face and smiled reassuringly. "Iemitsu-san, we're going to need to take a few visual documentations of Nana-san's vaginal opening, hymen, and uterine wall. We've spotted some issues with the delivery but we aren't sure yet, so further examination is necessary."

As odd as it was to hear a man ask permission to take pictures of your wife's vagina, Iemitsu knew that the doctor was a professional and only had his patients' best interests at heart (unlike that damn Shamal). With his free hand, he removed the surgical mask that covered half his face and glanced at his wife. Nana gave him a barely perceptible nod and Iemitsu returned his gaze to the doctor. "Do what you need to do, sensei."

When the medical personnel moved to do their respective tasks, Iemitsu turned to his wife once more, a bright grin stretched across his face. He understood that even though she gave her consent, she was still uncomfortable with the situation.

"You did it, Nana," he whispered reverently. "You did it. You gave birth to our first child."

Nana hummed weakly in reply. Her eyelids closed in exhaustion and her long brown hair splayed over her pillow in disarray. Her flushed face showed just how much effort she had exerted during the delivery. "I… didn't think it would be… so difficult," she took a deep breath as she opened her eyes. "I'm… so happy… you're here, anata."

Iemitsu's grin skilfully hid the guilt he felt. He gently kissed his wife.

The truth was that he almost could not make it. He and the Ninth, after the latter had checked up on Vongola's Japanese branch stationed in Tokyo, were to leave for Italy yesterday. Just as their private jet was to take off, Iemitsu received a call that announced that Nana had gone into labour. For five whole minutes, he sat there in shock, torn between his desire to be there for his wife and soon-to-be-born child, and his duty as the boss of CEDEF. He barely managed to stutter out an explanation to the Ninth's concerned inquiry when the old man kicked him out of the jet and ordered him to stay with his family until further notice.

He was shocked for a moment when the jet left him in the dust—quite literally—that it took a while for him to finally high tail out of there. He managed to stop a car owned by the Vongola before it left and requested (bribed) the driver to give it to him. Then he drove as if the devil were after him. He only paid the traffic laws the minimal amount of attention necessary so the police would not give chase.

(Reborn would never let him live it down if the police caught him of all people.)

Somehow, he managed to get to Namimori a few hours before midnight, and now here they were.

"What should we name him?" Nana softly asked as her fair complexion steadily returned.

"Whatever you want," Iemitsu immediately replied. He tried not to think about how he was not there for the majority of Nana's pregnancy or how they were supposed to think of names for their son or daughter together. "I'm sure it'll be wonderful. You thought of it, after all."

Nana's cheeks heated up as she let out a breathless giggle. Her husband always said the most romantic things. However, before she could reply, a tired yet cheery voice called out to the young couple.

"Congratulations, Nana-san, Iemitsu-san. You have a very healthy baby boy. Well, he's a little on the small side, but it's nothing to be worried about."

The two were struck speechless with the realisation that they were about to receive their child. They did not notice when the doctor and midwives finished their business and filed out. They did not notice the frown on the doctor's face as he spoke with a nurse.

Their attention was completely riveted on the midwife that carefully walked towards them, a tiny blue bundle in her arms.

Nana attempted to sit up and managed to do so with the help of her husband. Both waited anxiously the closer the midwife got. She smiled at them softly as she handed the child to his mother. "You have a very cute son, Nana-san. Very well behaved too, for a newborn. He cried a bit while we were cleaning him but calmed down soon enough."

Iemitsu and Nana only half-listened to the woman, their thoughts occupied by the baby nestled in his mother's arms where he continued to sleep peacefully; tiny breaths of air escaped his button nose every second or so. The baby had a wrinkled forehead, chubby cheeks, and tiny clenched fists tucked under his chin. A tuft of smooth, light brown hair rested upon the crown of his head. Everything about him looked sleep-rumpled and soft.

Iemitsu raised a hand that subtly shook and lightly touched one of the baby's fists, amazed at how small it was when compared with his finger. He tilted his head towards his wife and smiled as she cooed at the baby.

"He looks like you," he teased her.

She blushed. "D-Don't be silly, anata. I think he looks a lot like you."

"No way! Look, he's got your hair!"

"Yes, but–"

Nana's breath caught in her throat when she felt their baby shift. Both parents simultaneously looked at their son just in time to see his eyes open. They were unbelievably wide, their size emphasised every time he blinked sleepily, and were a deep hazel colour. His dark lashes framed them adorably.

Iemitsu always thought that Nana's eyes entranced him to no end. He now wholeheartedly believed his son's eyes would be the death of him.

The blond managed to speak first. "See, he even has your eyes," he whispered, and he felt somewhat foolish at the thought that if he spoke any louder the moment would be broken.

Nana nodded absentmindedly, captured by her son's sleepy gaze. "Un, I guess, but… darling, I think his eye colour came from your side of the family," she replied with an ecstatic smile.

Iemitsu returned the gesture, pleased. Though he adored Nana's wide, brown eyes, the fact that their son had the shape of his mother's eyes and his father's eye colour made him feel proud beyond words.

He promised to protect the innocence that shone in those eyes for as long as he could.

A gurgle of happiness broke the silence that had descended upon them. The baby's eyes flickered back and forth between the man and the woman, as though he could already see them. His chubby cheeks lifted into a semblance of a smile as he displayed red, toothless gums. He raised his small fists and moved them stiffly. Both parents gave each other radiant smiles then proceeded to hold one fist each.

In their happiness, they did not notice the grave look their doctor wore as he watched them from outside the room. The midwife who brought in the baby sent him a worried look to which he merely shrugged. He sighed in resignation then steeled himself, opened the door, and entered the room.

"Iemitsu-san, Nana-san, I need to speak to you about something. It's about the results of your delivery."

It was always terrible to be the bearer of bad news, especially on such a joyous occasion. As the doctor saw the happiness seep out of the young couple, as he watched the woman clutch her baby to her chest and suppress her tears, and as the man before him took on a devastated expression…

He felt like the worst scum on earth.

 


 

"I… see. That's very unfortunate…"

'I know it is,' Iemitsu could not help but think bitterly, but he pushed the emotion away when his mind registered his boss' genuinely regretful tone. "Yeah, the doctor said the delivery ruptured her birth canal and… yeah. He said that if she got pregnant again and had to go through the same thing she… might not make it next time. She lost more blood than she should have as it is, apparently," he sighed into his phone then looked up and down the hallway he stood in. Though he spoke in Italian, a language virtually no Namimori native knew how to speak, one could never be too sure in his line of work.

"Iemitsu…"

He forced out a laugh. "Well, it's not like Nana and I didn't expect something like this to happen! I mean, whenever we—or just Nana, really—went to a doctor's appointment, they always said that her body wasn't… compatible… with the baby..."

Timoteo allowed time for his Outside Advisor to regain his composure. His next words were careful and his tone calculated, akin to the voice one used when one had to approach an injured animal. "… What do you plan to do now?"

Iemitsu frowned. His Intuition's warning bells made his gut twist into uncomfortable knots. "What do you mean, Nono?"

"Our agreement—"

"Apologies for speaking out of turn, sir, but our agreement states that my first-born would come back with me to Italy and be trained to become the next Boss of CEDEF when he or she was old enough," he interceded in a clipped tone. "Any child I have with Nana afterwards would be left with her and out of the Mafia." He took a deep breath and rubbed his face in agitation. "With all due respect, Nono… I don't think that's possible anymore. And you know I can't leave Nana alone. He's her son too! I can't… I can't take that away from her…" His eyes shone with pain.

The Ninth sighed. He understood his Outside Adviser's dilemma, however—"What do you propose we do, then? You do not wish to involve Nana any more than necessary, so bringing her here to Italy with your son is not an option," he stated logically. "However, that does not change the fact that we need a successor for your position."

"I know, okay, I know," Iemitsu replied in frustration. He closed his eyes in thought and wracked his brain for the best possible solution. He understood that not all of them could come out of this situation happy but at the very least, most of them would. He opened his eyes and his face took on a tentative and resigned look. "How about this: I'll come back to Italy and look through the CEDEF recruits. I'll take one of them on as a student and—"

"Iemitsu," the Ninth interrupted softly. "If you do that, you will not have enough time for your family. Your son…" He trailed off.

"… I know," he said sombrely. He rubbed his face again. "Listen, Nono, I'll settle the rest of the details with you later. Nana… Nana needs me right now. I didn't exactly leave her in the best condition…"

"Of course, I understand. I wish you the best, Iemitsu, and… for what it's worth… I'm sorry."

Iemitsu did not respond to the empty platitude and merely hung up. He knew, especially being a Mafioso, that an apology could not bring back what was lost. Even an apology from someone as great as Timoteo di Vongola was worth nothing at this point.

 


 

Nana wiped away her tears. She attempted to hum to her son as she held him in her arms. If she were not so depressed, she would have smiled at how she held the child, as if he were her life jacket, the only thing that kept her afloat.

After they received the news, a few nurses assisted with her clean up before they moved her to a nicer room they had reserved for her. She had, at her doctor's suggestion, breastfed her son and burped him. The baby had just fallen back into a peaceful slumber when her husband entered the new room.

She gave him a watery smile, thankful that it did not take too long for him to collect himself before he came back for her, as he pulled up a chair to sit next to her bed. She mentally noted how tense and weary he looked even though his grin was as wide as ever. Nana then kissed his cheek, pleased by how he marginally relaxed and how his grin turned a little more genuine. Her husband was so silly sometimes what with the way he tried to hide his pain from her. Although she loved him for that. It always seemed as if he would carry the weight of the world if only to protect her and keep her happy.

"Nana…" Iemitsu started softly. "I got in touch with my boss a while ago and…" He hesitated and struggled with the best way to phrase his next words. He sighed in aggravation. "… Something came up in work," he finally said and his smile turned strained. "I might need to go back soon."

Nana blinked. "Oh…" Her smile faltered and the warmth in her gaze subdued. "That's… oh. Well, I… I'm happy you got to see our child, at least. When are you coming back?"

He hesitated again. "Dear, you see… things are getting a lot more hectic back at work. I might not… get to come home for… long periods of time," he finished lamely.

His wife looked at him, her eyes filled with mixed emotions. He suppressed a shiver, uncomfortable with the look she bestowed upon him.

Nana did not know what to feel. Anger? Sadness? Apathy?

Pain?

Then she took in her husband's tired visage beneath all his bravado. She gazed into his eyes, saw his veiled guilt, and found that all she felt was resignation. She was not the only one hurt by their situation. She could not afford to be the selfish one. He never offered information about his job and she never asked. For a while now, she has had the impression that he was involved in something dangerous with how secretive he was about it… but she never confronted him because she was (is) scared of things changing.

These thoughts had always been the ones she turned to whenever her husband's job inevitably strained their relationship. However, this was not just about her anymore.

She looked at their baby. Their small, fragile son would only have one parent and she was not even certain of her capabilities as a mother, let alone as a single parent. She did not believe she was strong enough to handle it.

The smile Nana gave Iemitsu was small and tight, though it was neither bitter nor happy. "What about…"

Iemitsu slowly moved to sit on her bed so he could hold her and their child close to him. "When we got married," he murmured and his serious gaze halted whatever his wife was about to say, "I promised you I'd keep you safe no matter what… and I'm going to do that and more. I'll keep our family safe. Just… I just want you to know that… this is me, keeping that promise. Please understand."

She melted into her husband's embrace. A few tears leaked from her eyes and then they ceased. "Then, can you promise to come and visit whenever you can? He… He needs his father…"

"Of course!" He replied immediately, greatly relieved that this talk had gone smoother than he imagined. "If I couldn't do at least that, then I couldn't call myself a man, right?"

She laughed lightly at that, a soft bell-like sound that Iemitsu loved. The family of three snuggled together even more. All was quiet; the only sounds heard were their nearly silent breaths and a toddler's cute noises as they enveloped him in blankets and warmth.

"It's early morning," Iemitsu murmured.

"Mm-hm."

"… Can I hold him?"

Nana blinked. She shifted a bit before she looked up at her husband with a smile. "I thought you'd never ask." She held out the bundle in her arms to him. "Be careful with his head. You have to hold it up because he can't do it on his own yet."

Iemitsu could not suppress his grin as he accepted their son and did as told. He always knew his wife would make a great mother.

Nana watched as the man she loved cradled their little gift. For all his flaws, her husband was overly protective of his family and loved them with all of himself. She never thought she could love him any more than she already did but as she watched him now, awed at the fact that he was a father while he claimed that she would be the best mother in the world…

Love did not sound strong enough to describe what she felt anymore. For the first time in a long time, she felt happy, content even… and she had their child to thank for that.

She smiled lightly at the thought. She was happier to have him now, especially since Iemitsu would be away from home even longer than before. She did not like being alone.

She found it sweet, really. Their child was like the perfect blend between her and her husband. She could see, even at this point, how his hair was a shade lighter than her own was, and she knew his eyes would always remind her of her husband's when she grew forlorn for him. Not to mention that there was enough of her in his features to make her happy at any given time. It was as if he represented their bond, that even though Iemitsu was miles away she had a piece of their love with her always.

'Bond…' She thought about it and then said aloud, "Ne, anata. Do you think we can name him… Tsunayoshi?"

Iemitsu blinked. "Tsunayoshi?" He asked as he tested it out. "Why that, Nana? Err… not that I don't like it!" He added hastily. "I just want to know why?"

"Oh! It's just that I was looking through your family tree one day and I noticed that it's sort of a tradition to name the children after Tokugawa Shoguns," Nana replied airily. "I just wanted to continue it since it looked nice, and I've grown to adore the name 'Tsunayoshi'."

"Well… if that's the case then I don't see why not!" He proclaimed. He felt embarrassed of how highly his wife thought of his side of the family to honour them. "Sawada Tsunayoshi. Ohh, it even has a nice ring to it! Great job, honey!"

Nana smiled lightly in response. The reason she gave was only part of why she wanted to name their child that. She did not want to state her other reason out of slight embarrassment and because she knew that if Iemitsu found out, he would feel even more guilty and troubled, and she did not want that. It would just distract him from his work.

She reached out and brushed her fingertips against Tsunayoshi's hair. Her eyes and smile were warm and filled with love. It was a good name, she mused.

"He can be 'Tsuna', for short, since the name's a mouthful," the young mother said with a tone of finalisation. "Or Tsu-kun," she added thoughtfully.

Her husband grinned at the adorable nickname for their adorable son and nodded eagerly, words inadequate to express how much he loved this moment and how much he wished it would last forever.

Their "lucky bond".

'We love you, Tsu-kun.'

 


 

January 8, (Year One)
Sawada Household

Nana woke to the cries of her three-month-old child on a cold, empty bed. She rubbed her eyes as she sat up then stood to make her way to a white crib. Tsu-kun, oddly enough, rarely ever cried and usually slept through the night. She grew concerned about this and brought her child to a professional but the doctor claimed that her baby was perfectly healthy. The paediatrician instead advised the young mother to be grateful to have a well-behaved child as not all parents got to have such peaceful nights.

Parents. Nana entertained the idea that Tsu-kun behaved so well because he knew how difficult this was for her without Iemitsu. The sentiment warmed her heart. After all, Tsu-kun had not been this silent the first week after he was born. The restful nights only began after his father left for work.

Though that did not mean her child was silent all the time. Tonight, it seemed, was one of his sleepless nights.

She leaned into the crib, picked up her baby, and cradled him to her chest. His fidgets gradually slowed and his sniffles became few and far in between, but the tears that ran down his cheeks persisted. She felt a pang in her heart. Tears did not suit her child, the woman decided. She rocked him in her arms and hummed as she walked around the room. She inspected the lion beanie on his head, the one her husband bought to keep him warm, and saw it was still secure. She inspected the mittens on his hands and feet and saw the same thing. She reluctantly sniffed his diaper and breathed a sigh of relief when she smelled that it did not need to be changed and she knew he was not hungry since he ate a lot before bed. She felt stumped.

Then Tsu-kun's tears ceased as his eyes widened and Nana stopped in her tracks. The moonlight from the window bathed the both of them in a gentle luminescence, her son evidently entranced by the sight. Nana wiped away the tear tracks from his soft, chubby cheeks. The baby moved his head and gurgled in protest, but did nothing more when she stopped her ministrations. She cooed at the sound and wondered why the moonlight had calmed him. She looked around and caught sight of her child's crib surrounded by shadows.

"Oh Tsu-kun," Nana sighed, now with a good idea as to what scared the baby. She turned herself so that the both of them could look out the window and into the night sky. Stars twinkled brightly in the distance and the child made a happy sound as he raised his mitten-covered fists to reach for the sky.

"You shouldn't be so afraid of the dark, Tsu-kun," she admonished him gently. The infant tilted his head. His mother giggled and kissed his forehead as he yawned sleepily.

Nana smiled warmly. "Did you know? Stars shine the brightest in the dark."

 


 

Nana knew what the neighbours thought of her, both the good and the bad.

She may live in Namimori but she was not born or raised here. She thinks Iemitsu was because he seemed attached to the town and almost everyone knew him.

She held nothing against the townspeople as they had given her a warm welcome when she arrived with Iemitsu and he announced that they were married. The people were very kind.

That did not change the fact that she knew almost everyone pitied her.

She can understand them to an extent. She knew the whispers of 'absent father', 'single parent', 'housewife', 'trophy wife', already said much of what they thought of her situation. What she could not understand was why some scorned her and that was something she did not wish to understand. She preferred to resign herself to blissful ignorance. She was not blind; it was simply easier to ignore the opinions of others if she pretended obliviousness.

It was not her fault she had the chance to marry Iemitsu. She feels lucky to have met the sweet, understanding man at all. She knew that, although many of the women she met were kind, many still envied her luck. She wondered why they would not just move on and see that there were many other people out there willing to make them happy. As great as her husband was, he was still only one man among billions.

Even if what you receive is not what you wanted, it did not mean you could not be content or even happy with what life has dealt you. She would make sure to teach that to her son.

 


 

January 25

Nana blinked when she heard the doorbell ring. She set aside the blocks she held and smiled fondly when her child crawled to the toys eagerly. She dusted off her grey lounge pants as she stood up and made her way to the door. When she opened it, she found herself faced with a medium-sized cardboard box and a deliveryman who struggled with its contents. He had a clipboard precariously balanced on top of the box and, when he met her eyes, he offered her a professional smile.

"Are you Sawada Nana-san?"

"Yes…?"

"Package from Sawada Iemitsu, miss. If you would just sign here," he gestured with his chin to the clipboard, "to show you've received the package. All other expenses are paid for."

Nana did as requested and directed the man to leave the box on her living room floor. He did so in front of the curious yet shy gaze of a baby.

Minutes later, the deliveryman was gone and Nana sat cross-legged on the floor. Her son squirmed in her lap as he reached for the cardboard box in front of them. She decided she was being hesitant for no reason at all and placed her son to the side so he could entertain himself with the toys scattered throughout the room. She then proceeded to pry open the box with her fingers. When she opened it, she let out a breathless gasp.

Her husband had filled the box to the brim with numerous kitchenware that ranged from non-stick pots and pans to an entire wooden block of assorted knives. The majority of the utensils were made of hard stainless steel while others were made of darkly coloured and thick plastic. Piled together at the sides were various cookbooks that looked to contain recipes from all sorts of cultures. The sight of it all pleasantly surprised her. She spoke to Iemitsu once about her need for new kitchenware and mentioned a desire to learn new recipes as an afterthought. It had slipped her mind the past months and she smiled widely at the realisation that he remembered.

As the last thought struck her mind, her eye caught a small piece of paper, folded in two, on top of all the gifts. She eagerly snatched up the paper and opened it and she beamed as she read the simple note written by her love.

Happy Anniversary Nana. Tell our little Tuna-fishy Papa says 'Hi.'

Nana hugged the letter to her chest. She blushed prettily and softly sighed. She did not know where the "Tuna-fishy" came from but it was cute and the entire package was just proof that her husband had not forgotten them. She gently placed the letter on the floor and looked around the room before she leaned towards Tsu-kun and grabbed him by his armpits. She settled him back on her lap and her dainty hands gently held his arms as they flailed about.

"Tsu-kun," she murmured, "Papa says 'Hi'."

Tsuna turned his head to look up at her with the eyes he shared with his father. His mouth stretched as he mimicked a smile, red gums displayed proudly, and gurgled. Nana gave him a tolerant smile when saliva inevitably dribbled down his chin.

 


 

March 31

Nana had a terribly stressful day. It started with a son that wailed at an ungodly hour in the morning and then refused to return to slumber. Then she had to feed the both of them when the sun came up and ready herself. Then she had to go to the town bank to settle her joint account with Iemitsu since so many anonymous donations came in (though not exactly anonymous, as she was reasonably certain it was her husband being secretive, as usual). Then she and Tsu-kun had lunch out before they set off once more to go grocery shopping. (It was long due anyways, Tsu-kun went through his diapers much too quickly.)

While at the market, she bumped into a pair of her husband's high school friends. She would have accepted the invitation for tea but realised that Tsu-kun was not comfortable with strangers yet, as the child was too quiet during their conversation, so she declined. A pity, but she promised to come over when Tsu-kun was older and less shy. They also had a son around Tsuna's age, a fact that made Nana ecstatic. Sadly, they had left the child at home with a babysitter.

The Yamamoto couple were such nice people. Nana wondered if she and Iemitsu could have been like them, if he were around more often, or if the Yamamoto's son was anything like Tsu-kun.

She returned home and went through the rest of her day deep in thought. She managed to breastfeed her son with the same absentmindedness until his mouth clamped around her nipple. The pain jolted her away from her thoughts. She blinked in hurt confusion before she saw something white poke out of one of his gums. Her son was teething! That meant she would have to buy baby bottles soon.

Late at night, when Tsuna was peacefully asleep, Nana tiredly laid in bed and ran through her day in her head. She was surprised to realise that today was, in fact… her birthday. She had been so busy that she never noticed or bothered to think about the date…

Nana buried herself into the covers of the bed she was supposed to share with a husband who was not there. She suppressed her grief as it tried to fill her heart and reminded herself that being a single parent was supposed to be lonely and difficult. Though she felt grateful for her husband's monetary assistance, it did not stop the bitter taste of abandonment at the back of her throat, but she refused to feel resentment towards the man she loved.

She resolved to forget this ever happened. It was not as if a part of her did not expect it. Not after Valentine's Day.

 


 

June 15

She cooked Iemitsu's favourites today. After all, just because she had not heard from him in months, it did not mean that they should not celebrate his birthday.

It also did not hurt that Tsu-kun was being unreasonably adorable.

She held in a squeal as her son rolled to his stomach, then to his side, then to his back, then to his other side, then rolled all around the room as he followed her. She smiled widely as she took pictures and videos of him.

Tsu-kun looked at his feet as if they were the most interesting thing in the world. He brought them up to his face and tucked his arms beneath his legs to keep them there to make a very good impression of a fleshy, chubby ball. He then proceeded to roll around from side to side in the same position.

Nana could not hold her giggles back anymore; she was glad she managed to video the whole thing. Tsu-kun, when he heard her laugh, uncurled from his pose and sat up with a toothy grin. He raised his flabby arms and the squeal he made somehow managed to sound bossy.

The young mother smiled as she walked to her son. The toddler could not speak yet, but she knew he wanted her to carry him, and she was only happy to oblige.

 


 

October 14

Blank chocolate eyes stared uncomprehendingly at a rice cooker as the water inside boiled. Nana did not want to think about it but it has been one year and she had not heard from her husband at all. Not since the Anniversary present in January. She feared the worst. Did he lose his job and pushed himself into a drunken stupor to try to forget everything? Did someone mug him as he walked down an alley at night? Did someone kidnap him because of something he did? Maybe his job was truly more dangerous than she initially thought and he was actually dead. He was a very secretive man so she would be surprised if anyone knew he even had a family in the first place. Maybe no one bothered to inform her of his death and maybe she was actually a widow now…

'Or maybe…' Tears prickled her eyes. 'Maybe he found another woman…'

"… Mama," an unfamiliar voice whined. The voice was small, as if the owner of it had spoken the word for the first time, and timid, as though they were not aware of what it meant. It was the high-pitched voice of someone whose vocal chords were still underdeveloped.

Nana recognised it as the voice of her son.

She turned around in shock at the boy who innocently sat in his high chair. When he saw that he had caught his mother's attention with that one word, Tsuna happily clapped his hands together. In a fit of giggles, he called out cheerily, "Mama! Mama!"

Nana felt her eyes tear up for an entirely different reason as her hand involuntarily raised to her mouth. She walked as fast as she could to her child and picked him up before she settled him in her arms. "Oh, my…" She murmured in surprise and her voice cracked. "Your first word… Your first word–!"

"Mama!"

Nana laughed out of pure joy for the first time in what felt like forever.

 


 

December 25

Sawada Nana, the mother of one very adorable son, barely blinked when Christmas rolled around and there was still no word from her husband. Money still came in, the amount in their shared account increased every time she checked the bank. That most likely meant he was still alive and okay and that was enough for her. It had to be enough. She herself simply needed to believe in him. She has already seen so many families in both real life and TV break up because they did not trust each other enough. She did not want that to happen to her small family of three. Therefore, she chose to place her faith in her husband.

For now, Tsu-kun was more than enough for her. Just the two of them was enough. For now.

 


 

"To love somebody is not just a strong feeling—it's a decision, it's a judgement, it's a promise." ~ Bell Hooks

Chapter Text

She never knew her mother as the woman passed away when she gave birth to her. In her early years, up until she became an adolescent, her only parental figure had been her father.

Nana never minded. Her father was kind and gentle and always did his best to make sure she grew up into a woman that had the best of his character and, most especially and more importantly, the best of her mother. She always found it sweet how her father never remarried after her mother's death; that he kept true to the vows he made on the day they wed even beyond death. To her, it showed just how much he loved his wife.

It had never been “‘til death do us part” with her parents and she wanted that as well.

 


  

As Nana grew up, it became more and more obvious that she took after her mother in appearance. Her father had dark green hair and equally dark eyes while she had the brown of her mother’s hair and eyes. He always joked that she got his disposition instead because her mother tended to overreact about something or another when they first met and it was only after they were well into their marriage that she mellowed out.

Nana loved to hear stories about her mother, not only because she felt closer to the woman she never met, but also because she has the opportunity to hear the unabashed love in her father’s voice. However, there was sadness there too. She understood that her mother’s death caused a hole in his heart; even so, he never denied her right to know the wonderful and beautiful woman she had been.

For the first eighteen years of her life, Nana and her father lived together in peace. Her father had an average income, enough for two people to live in a small house in the suburbs of Tokyo. For almost two decades, it had only been the two of them, and they had been content. Happy, even.

However, like all good things, it did not last.

One day, in her last year of High School, Nana’s father went to Italy to visit a few relatives and, hopefully, some old friends. The man’s grey-green hair indicated just how old he had gotten and age had already begun to take its toll on his body. They knew that in a few more years he would not be able to leave the house anymore, so he decided to make one last trip to his homeland before such a thing could occur. Nana could not come with him because of her final exams and the fact that she had to decide whether she wanted to enrol in college or not. Therefore, her father flew to Italy alone.

It was on the last day of her exams that she felt that something was very wrong. However, it was only on the next day, the day her father was to return home, that she found out why.

 


 

She was never quite the same.

 


 

When she opened the door to her home, she expected a man in his mid-fifties would greet her with a gentle smile on his faintly wrinkled face. Instead, she met a pair of wide blue eyes set into the face of a toddler with chin-length, dark-green hair. When the teen looked closer at the child's face, she could make out some sort of flower mark beneath their left eye. A birthmark, perhaps. The child wore a small white dress with a white coat on top of it, which made Nana conclude that the child was a girl. She wore a white, puffy hat on her head and a tiny squirrel sat on top of it. Both human and animal looked at her curiously.

Nana’s eyes were drawn to the orange pacifier the child wore around her neck before they darted back up to the little girl’s eyes. She crouched down so the little girl would not have to strain her neck to look up at her and smiled. "Hello, little one. Are you lost? Where are your parents?"

The child smiled back politely but Nana felt inwardly uneasy at her meaningful and sad gaze.

"Hello. Are you Kuroyuri Nana?" She asked in a soft voice and Nana thought she sounded almost shy, as if she rarely talked to other people.

Nana blinked though her smile did not falter. "Yes, that's me." She blinked again, clueless, as she pointed at herself. "But why are you looking for me?"

The child did not react to the confirmation of her identity. She acted as though she already knew the answer and only asked out of courtesy. "I am a long-distance cousin of your father's. We need to talk, so may I please come in?"

Nana hesitated to let a stranger inside the house. She reasoned to herself that it was a child so she could not possibly be dangerous and as she looked at her dark green hair, she recognised the shade to be similar to her father's despite the grey edges in his.

She let her in and they talked.

 


 

She could never remember how that talk went.

She only remembered numbness as she listened.

 


 

She was stunned silent. The child, who introduced herself as Luce, was one of the distant relatives her father visited while he was in Italy. They had parted amicably but the little girl belatedly heard of an incident that occurred near the road he took to return to his hotel. She made her way there as soon as she realised the implications but…

There had been a mass shooting near that road. Some big-shot mafia family—in Italy? Those actually existed?—confronted another family of… inventors. Scientists? She could not register the details, the news simply made her near catatonic.

Her father was dead. He had run into the fray to save a woman and child but by then, people had begun to shoot indiscriminately, and they hit him in the process. He bled out because the woman he saved did not know how to help him, her son had even less of an idea, and the three of them… they had been in the middle of a feud. There was no way anyone could have saved him in such circumstances, even if they could have.

Nana, when she heard the recount, never thought to blame the two other victims. Her father did not raise her to hate people for what they have done, let alone for something out of their control yet… that did not change the fact that he was… dead.

 


 

Why did he die?

 


 

Her stomach convulsed as the thought hit her like a bludgeon and her throat clogged up. Her confidant, her guardian, her best friend, gone in a matter of hours. Shot yesterday and she did not even know until a day later. He died alone; his only company in his last moments were two bystanders that he did not know.

He died in pain.

At that, she cried. She cried for the loss of her father, her father who somehow managed to fill the hole her mother left in her life when she died. She cried for the loss of her father, who knew her and all her faults. Her father who had been there for her even when it felt like the world was against her. Her father who made her laugh and smile through her tears yet…

 


 

No matter how much she cried that day, he did not come back to wipe her tears… and he would not again. Not anymore.

She had to learn to wipe them away herself.

 


 

Many hours and rolls of tissue later, Nana wore herself out to the point that she could finally think, little though it may be, through her grief. She still sniffled every now and then and her eyes were clearly bloodshot, but it was not as bad as when she started. She was dazedly shocked when she saw how much time had passed and even more surprised when she saw that Luce still sat in the same chair while she had a mental breakdown. Then her mind registered that there was a cup of green tea on the table.

Luce sat across her and daintily drank from her own cup, which she held in her tiny hands.

Nana's hands shakily took the cup of tea on the table and drank in increments. She pulled a fresh piece of tissue, dabbed at her eyes, and wiped her face some more to get rid of the excess moisture. "I-I'm sorry," she hiccupped. Then she unsteadily breathed in and out to compose herself. "I-I'm sorry you… had t-to watch m-me have a… b-break… a breakdown like th-that."

Luce gave her a soft, yet sad, smile. "It's quite alright, Nana-san. When I heard that your father…" She eyed her companion for any signs of grief and, sure enough, the teen's lower lip wobbled ever so slightly. She then hastily moved on to what she intended to say. "I remembered from our last conversation together that he mentioned he had a daughter back in Japan. After the… incident… and ascertaining that his… body was, in fact, safe… I booked a flight to Japan and came here as soon as I landed to tell you. He… He wouldn’t stop talking about you. I know he loved you very, very much."

Luce was so earnest with her words that Nana could not help but give her a tremulous smile. She took in another deep, uneven breath of air. Her lungs felt heavy, they burned in her chest, and she covered her mouth to help hide the sob she forcibly held back. "I kn-know. Thank y-you for… coming all t-this way j-just to tell me…"

They remained in silence for a long time. Nana hiccupped and sniffled every now and then but she did her best to control her emotions. When her breath finally began to even out, Luce spoke up again.

"You're taking this rather well," she commented quietly. "I actually… I presumed it would take longer to calm yourself."

Nana’s lips involuntarily twitched into a small, sad smile. "Papa, he… sometimes, he reminded me he wouldn't a-always be around, e-especially when I started to get older. He said I should be… ready, when that time came," she flinched and realised that this was the time he spoke of but probably did not think would come so soon. "He told me that… it was okay to grieve. He even said he'd haunt me if I didn't at least cry for him when he… when he left," she choked out a laugh.

Luce softly laughed as well, morose as it was. "Aa, that sounds like him. Always making a joke of such serious things."

"Yes…" She looked at her hands. "But, you know… Papa also told me that even though I can grieve, I should still try to…" Her lip wobbled, "move on. He wanted me to be happy, and he said that… he said that I couldn't be happy if I spent my whole life feeling sad for what I lost… and then he'd get this affronted look on his face and he'd say—"

‘and then I'll be sad'," Nana and Luce said at the same time and they shared small smiles at the camaraderie they felt.

"He would always make it sound like it would be my fault if that happened, but I always knew he was joking."

Luce stayed silent as she took a good look at Nana. "… How would you like to send him off?"

"… Eh?"

"The funeral, or cremation… would you like it to be here in Japan or in Italy?"

Nana’s lips thinned as she forced herself to think about it. "… How do you think he would have liked us to send him... off? We never... We never really talked about it..."

Luce hummed in thought. "I believe… he would have liked to be cremated. Where you wish him to be cremated depends on you as his daughter and as his closest living relative who is a legal adult."

The teen visibly hesitated. "I think I would like to bring the… body," she swallowed the lump that formed in her throat and ignored the burn she felt in her eyes, "back here in Japan."

Luce gained a faraway look in her eyes. They widened slightly and it almost seemed as if her mouth moved of its own accord when she blurted out, "I don't want to leave you alone so soon.”

Nana blinked.

“How do you feel about me living here with you? Just for a little bit until you can get yourself settled again?"

She blinked again and seriously thought about the offer. Her house held too many memories and reminders of what she had lost. She did not trust herself to be alone so soon. Who knows what isolation in her grief would bring her to do? She was only so stable now because the presence of company prompted her to collect herself much more quickly than she thought she would have had she heard of h-his… death… alone.

Thus, she accepted the offer without further encouragement and they made preparations by themselves.

The cremation was a small affair. As friendly as her father was, he was also quite reclusive. Many offered her their condolences but only a few cared enough for the man to be there in person. She felt depressed at that fact, especially when one considered how he did not pass on by natural means.

Later on, she would wonder if perhaps the little girl she now called Auntie knew what she could have done if she had been alone. She knew what she could have done, especially after that awful cremation. She kept the jar of ashes in her father's bedroom and locked it.

She wanted to further reminder of how wrong it all felt.

 


 

Life with Luce, though, had been a novel experience, especially for someone predominantly influenced by a male figure early in life. In those days, Nana would often wonder if that was how life with a mother was like.

Luce and her pet squirrel, Cosmo, were extremely self-sufficient and often helped the teen with the housework. Nana learned a lot from the child about the best way to cook, clean, laundry, garden, etc. It was different from what her father taught her. With Luce, everything had a more feminine touch and it took much more effort to accomplish. Although, she felt grateful that the work kept her busy.

The highlights of the entire experience, however, were the times when Nana would learn new things about the infant.

Luce was secretive, like Nana’s father. She seemed to wear her emotions on her sleeve but skilfully diverted personal questions. Yet, the teen noticed the little things, such as the way the child would get an odd, distant look on her face when Nana sometimes braided her long, brown hair. At that time, she asked the child what was on her mind and she merely replied that she used to have a friend with long hair and endless patience as he did the same thing every day.

The same look would appear sometimes, early in the morning as Nana made her daily cup of coffee. The infant would hop onto the counter and start to make espresso, her face full of nostalgia, as with the manner she made the drink. When the teen asked Luce to teach her how to make the espresso, the toddler got another faraway look in her eyes. When she came to there was almost something amused, mischievous, regretful, and sad about her manner all at once. Still, she laughed softly and agreed to teach her the recipe.

The distant gaze also appeared whenever Luce saw certain books, when Nana occasionally went out to jog and the child would tag along, and there was even that one time when Nana counted the money that she inherited from her father. Even in little everyday things the gaze would appear, such as when they switched to another channel on television and saw a stuntman dare to defy death. With each instance, Nana would ask and Luce would simply answer that she just remembered an old friend.

On another note, the wistful look the two-year-old sometimes bestowed upon her made Nana curious enough to dig deeper. The reply Luce gave surprised her more than anything.

"You make me think of my daughter. She would be… hmm, fourteen years old now. I couldn't take custody of her for… personal reasons."

"Oh…" Nana felt immensely guilty to have brought up bad memories.

The infant eyed her curiously. “You're taking me having a daughter rather… well.”

She blinked in return. “Why wouldn't I?”

Sky blue eyes continued to probe her until the teen shrugged.

“Papa didn't want me to end up too much like my kaa-san so he taught me to just take things in stride.”

Luce only giggled at that and they never brought it up again.

It was amazing how fast Nana recovered from the news of her father's death, and Luce thought it was because she had someone to help her speed up the process.

 


 

What Luce did not know was that her cousin brought up his daughter in such a way that she was practically sheltered from everything. Nana grew up pampered and comforted so in the event of her father's death, arguably the first time she experienced hardship in her life, she shut it out. She refused to acknowledge it. She wanted to stay ignorant. She did not want the pain.

To others, it would seem like she was strong enough to get over the traumatic event quickly but in truth she just let herself stay in a constant state of denial.

She made herself believe that if she just ignored it everything would remain fine… and no one was the wiser.

 


  

Months later, both Luce and Nana believed that the latter felt better, enough to re-join the world in a sense. The teen had decided to forego college and got a job as a server in a nearby café.

It was there that she met the love of her life.

For him, it was love at first sight. For her… well, it took a couple more visits from Sawada Iemitsu at the café to make her think of him as someone who could be more than a regular customer. She also knew that his extreme—though admittedly successful—attempts at courtship were a source of entertainment for her Aunt. Luce never requested to meet him and Nana never pushed. Deep down, she knew that the child would leave her soon. Luce only stuck around in the first place to ensure her niece would be able to continue her life on her own. Nana knew the infant did not want to be too involved with her life. She did not know why or how she knew, she just did.

On their one-year anniversary of being a couple, Iemitsu proposed to her.

She was not quite sure just what both of them had in mind at that moment but he looked so earnest and he loved her so much, possibly more than she loved him. She could not help but say yes. Just when she was about to talk to her Aunt about it with the hope that maybe they could all celebrate her engagement together, Luce made an announcement. The meaningful expression that Nana had not seen since the day they met was back in her gaze.

"I'll be leaving for Italy tomorrow. This will be the last time we will see each other." She said it lightly, but her next words adopted a more regretful tone. "I… I will also not keep in touch with you."

Nana opened her mouth to protest but at the look Luce gave her, she closed her mouth and bowed her head. She had no right to protest for she knew, deep in her heart, that this day would come. The child never made any indication that their arrangement was permanent, after all.

"Nana-chan," Luce whispered, loud enough that she heard it, and the brunette looked up to meet the child’s wide blue eyes.

She smiled and said, "I’m happy for you.”

Nana’s eyes widened and she tried to blink away the tears that suddenly gathered there. She bit her lip.

“This is all I have wanted, and all that your father would have wanted, for you. For you to be able to live everyday feeling, ‘It’s great to be alive.’”

Her voice softened even more and Nana had to strain her ears to hear her next words. “One day you're going to bring someone very important to our world, so…" She smiled slyly and her eyes took on a mischievous glint. "Don't let go of Sawada-kun. He's a keeper, dear."

Nana did not think she ever blushed so much in her life. She privately thought that her Aunt's muttered words were rather cryptic but ultimately paid little mind to them. It was not a rare occurrence, as Luce said similar things throughout their time together, but all the same, a small part of her took note of it.

The weeks went by and again, almost everything she looked at reminded her of Luce and she almost felt the same way she did when her father died. She felt lost. All she wanted was stability, a constant in her life. She did not like any of the changes that occurred in her life because, so far, they only brought her pain. Hence, she did the same thing that helped her speed up her recovery process in the aftermath of her father’s death.

She ignored the pain. She tried to forget the cause of it and hid everything that would remind her of the cause of that pain. She went through every day in the same manner and stayed happy. Her relationship with Iemitsu continued to grow and before she knew it, they were married. Before she knew it, years had gone by and she forgot about the little girl who acted like her mother but was not… the little girl who helped her heal but reopened the wounds in her heart when she left.

She learned to forget, to forgive, and they became the only way she knew how to deal with pain.

 


 

October 14, (Year Two)

Sawada Nana sighed as she fixed her son's crayons and collected the stray papers where he had scribbled. She smiled at one that depicted a flower. It was pretty and a rather accurate first attempt when she considered how Tsu-kun was only two years old and did not even know what a flower was yet. It seemed as if her son had an aptitude for the arts. She would make sure to encourage him.

She picked up her baby and carried him to his high chair. He immediately brightened as she settled him into his seat and the toddler cheered and repeatedly slapped his hands on the table eagerly. "Mama! Eat, now?"

Nana cooed at the action. "Hai, and it's 'Will we eat now', remember?"

The baby simply nodded enthusiastically. He was not entirely certain of what he agreed to, he just agreed with everything his mother said.

Nana’s eyes glazed over as she set her own food and plates while her son's milk and baby food heated up on the stove. She thought over the life she had lived so far. Her father, her Aunt who for the life of her she could not seem to remember the name of, her lover and now husband, Iemitsu… and now her son. She shook her head and laughed to herself lightly.

It seemed as if she would always set the table for two. She could not wait until her son grew up and brought some friends over.

 


 

“What made her strong was despite the million things that hurt her she spoke of nothing but happiness.” ~ j.a.

Chapter Text

Sawada Iemitsu was only five years old when he first used the Flames that were his birthright.

Although, at the time, they were barely flames. However, they were enough for the wrong—or right, depending on how you look at it—people to take notice of him.

He has no recollection of that day. He can tell the story only because the Ninth shared his own memory of that day and Iemitsu filled out the rest of the details with vague impressions from his Intuition. Try as he might, he himself could never remember a single part with clarity, everything was too… fuzzy. He always thought it was because he had only been a child at the time and the trauma caused by his father's subsequent death made his mind block the painful memories.

Sometimes, when he thought hard and long enough, he could grasp a few memories that, for him, became the catalysts of the incident. Memories that began on an ordinary day weeks before the event itself, in the small town of Namimori, Japan.

 

((((((()))))))

 

At the attic of the Sawada Household, Sawada Ietsuna, a brunet man with an easy-going disposition, and his son Iemitsu, an energetic blond child, looked through the belongings of Ietsuna's grandfather and father. After the latter passed away, Ietsuna found that his old man had passed on all of their family heirlooms to him. The funeral had been a miserable affair overall but Ietsuna took consolation in the fact that his father had lived a good, long life.

Now that they were mostly over the depression the death left them in, they decided to go through the ancient artefacts that had been in their family since a little over 350 years ago (if the records were to be believed). With Ietsuna, it was inevitable that they goofed off as they looked through the various knick-knacks they found. His wife, who initially tried to help them sort through everything, eventually gave it up as a lost cause and left when her husband proved to have a mentality even younger than that of their five-year-old child.

A little while after that, Ietsuna found a journal that belonged to his grandfather. He grinned as if he won the lottery. He directed and assisted his son as they replaced the various objects they played around with back to where they found them. Then he exuberantly ran down the attic stairs with his son in tow to show the journal to his wife.

Ietsuna loved anything and everything to do with his family's history. It was partly the reason why his son's name was what it was: he upheld the "tradition". His wife, understandably, was not as enthusiastic about it as he was, but she was curious all the same. Therefore, the couple read the journal over the weekend.

Their son, on the other hand, was a very active child. To sit still and read ancient texts, whether they belonged to an ancestor or not, was not what he would choose to spend his weekend. Instead, he played either with the neighbourhood children or by himself, with his own toys. One day, as he did the latter option, he overheard a conversation between his parents.

"My father never believed my grandfather's claims of having Italian blood," Ietsuna commented to his wife. "He always thought we looked far too Japanese for such a claim, and he never knew my great-grandfather either so he couldn't believe it. But this book… if what it says is true, then maybe he was wrong. I mean, our son is proof enough. He's blond!"

His wife shot him a look between annoyance and amusement, which created an interesting expression on her faintly European features. "I'm blonde too, idiot." She shook her head sadly as if she wondered why she was the one stuck with such a husband. "He could have gotten it from me, you know."

Ietsuna shot her a half-hearted glare. "Yeah, but… genetics! Blond hair is a recessive gene compared to brown hair, which means my genes should have dominated yours in our son. But it didn't, so it must mean I have a recessive trait of blond hair. And since pure Asians predominately have black or brown hair…"

"It's entirely possible for one or more of your ancestors to be foreigners," the woman finished his sentence in a mutter. She was mildly impressed as she was of the opinion the brunet she married was marginally more idiotic than most.

"Yeah! Cool, right? And, you know… this journal also has directions to my great-grandfather's grave so… I was sort of thinking that we could, maybe… go look for it?" He adopted a pleading look.

His wife stared back with an unimpressed gaze for a long moment. When she saw that he had not wavered in that time, she sighed in mock resignation. "I guess it can't be helped—"

"Yes!"

"—but you have to ask Iemitsu-kun if he wants to go."

The brunet's smile morphed into a smug smirk. "I was planning to anyways." He turned to the direction where he knew their child usually played with his toys. "Oi, 'mitsu! You wanna go on a road trip?"

The boy’s excited cheer answered his inquiry.

Less than a month later, everything was ready. They rented an RV and stocked up on food and gasoline as neither wife nor husband knew how long it would actually take to find the grave. Likewise, clothes, toiletries, and the like were also gathered and the vehicle became something one could almost call a home away from home. On the day they were to depart, the matriarch of the family announced that she had no intention of going with them. Both Sawada males protested.

"But Kaa-san!" Iemitsu whined.

Ietsuna also whined, "This was supposed to be a family outing; you can't just decide not to come out of the blue! We've been planning this for weeks!"

The woman huffed as she crossed her arms and looked away. "Idiot! I wasn't planning on coming with you from the beginning."

Ietsuna looked like she might as well have punched him in the gut. "But—But… But why?!"

"I don't want to bother going because he's not my ancestor. I'd just be intruding."

"Intruding? Intruding on wha—" the brunet cut himself off and he looked closer at his wife's face. Sure enough, there was a tinge of red on her cheeks. He grinned wildly and his expression did a complete one-eighty as he pinched her cheeks. "You liar, you. You just want me and 'mitsu to pay our respects to ‘our’ ancestor. That's why you don't wanna come? 'cause you think it should be a blood-family-only affair?"

"Would you stop that?!" She forcibly removed his hands from her face in annoyance. "And no matter what you say, I'm not changing my mind. It's too late to get ready, anyways. I'll only delay the trip."

“You don’t sound like you regret that at all! In fact, you feel smug about it, don’t you?”

She raised an elegant eyebrow and her lips formed a half-smirk as if to say, ‘Yeah, so?’

Ietsuna resignedly, and dramatically, sighed. "I know, I know. You're stubborn that way." He smiled and brushed his lips against hers. "I'm gonna miss your cooking."

She rolled her eyes even as her lips involuntarily twitched upwards, which turned into a full-blown smile of amusement when she saw the disgusted face of their son. "Just get going already. The sooner you do, the sooner you can get this over with."

"Why? Miss me already?"

"I-Idiot! I didn't say that!"

"Love you too! Oi, 'mitsu, say goodbye to your mother."

"Bye Kaa-san!"

“Make sure my son comes back in one piece or it’s on your head."

Ietsuna laughed even as his body shivered at the threat. “You know I will! He’s our son, after all,” he winked roguishly.

The week that followed was a blur. It was a repetitive cycle; Ietsuna constantly drove while he consulted both the journal and various other maps. He only stopped to heat up some food three times a day, to take a bath, and to sleep, as well as on the occasions his son demanded they play together. The blond boy was always bored as his father drove and sought ways to stimulate his hyperactive mind, which sometimes lead to disastrous consequences. When Ietsuna made him sit in the passenger’s seat, he repeatedly asked if they were there yet in an attempt to pass the time. The child did not know where they were going, just that they were going somewhere. It was a maddening week for both father and son.

When the time that they could no longer travel by vehicle came, they met an unexpected resistance.

"State your name and purpose for coming here," a black-suited man demanded icily.

The Sawada males looked around nervously. They had stopped the RV at the entrance of a dense forest and had stepped out of the vehicle to make their way through it, but in that small amount of time, men in black suits managed to surround them, many of which also wore black shades. The men spread out evenly on all sides of the pair except for one group composed of seven men. They were located on the far side of the formation but not far enough that they could not reach the duo unencumbered if they were so inclined. Six of the men encircled the seventh man defensively; loose enough that they did not hinder one another but clustered together in such a way that suggested they intended to protect the man in the middle.

By the formation, one could easily deduce the heavily protected man was their leader.

Ietsuna cleared his throat. "My name is Sawada Ietsuna and this is my son," he said as he brought the trembling boy closer, who then gripped onto his father’s pants tightly, "Iemitsu. We came here because we're looking for the resting place of one of our ancestors."

The presumed leader of the group gained a fascinated look on his face. He gently moved the men in front of him aside so he could move out of the circle, much to their protests. He replied to them in a foreign language and they grudgingly let him be. The man slowly walked towards the cornered Japanese males. He looked to be in his early-thirties with crystal blond hair and light brown eyes. He twirled a gold-topped sceptre in one hand while his other remained in the pocket of the pants of his brown, pinstriped suit. The black-suited men that surrounded them, though they moved aside to let their leader pass, never once let their eyes stray from the two they perceived as potential threats.

"My name is Timoteo," the obviously European man introduced himself smoothly even through his accented Japanese. "You have my apologies for the behaviour of my men as they are quite paranoid, especially of strangers. We have come all the way from Italy in the hopes of finding the resting place of a very important person in our history. He moved to Japan hundreds of years ago, you see. Thus far, we have only discovered that he lived near this area and was subsequently buried."

"O-Oh," Ietsuna stuttered, intimidated by the confidence the man exuded and the power he wielded as the hostile aura around them lessened, but remained wary. "What a… coincidence! Haha, umm… according to my grandfather's journal, the man we're looking for also came from Italy. Though I'm not really sure since I've never, well, met him, you know…" He laughed nervously.

Timoteo's eyes twinkled. "I see. May I inquire the name of whom you are searching for? Perhaps we can help each other as we've had no luck, as well."

"Oh, ah… his name was Sawada Ieyasu and–oh! Wait a bit…" He searched through his backpack, anxiously aware of the sudden spike in hostility, but continued his actions. With a victorious look, he pulled out Yoshimune's journal and proceeded to flip through the pages. "Umm… my grandfather wrote down his father's, my great-grandfather's, Italian name here… but I can't read the characters—because I think it’s written in the Roman alphabet?—so I don't know what it says and neither can my wife so… I was hoping you could, maybe… help me…?" He hesitantly offered the ancient journal to the man. "I'd… really like to know it."

Timoteo accepted it graciously with the hand that was previously in his pocket. His eyes skimmed over the written words, then widened as he breathed out reverently, "Giotto."

"Excuse me? Jo… tto?"

Timoteo raised his eyes from the journal and locked gazes with Ietsuna. He appraised the other man and saw him in a new light upon the knowledge of the fact that he was a descendant of their founder. "Come," he gestured to them as he snapped the journal shut and turned his back to the Sawada males. "We have much to discuss."

"W-What?"

Iemitsu barely paid attention to his father and the oddly dressed man as they conversed. No, he was preoccupied with a nondescript, black-suited man who glared hatefully at the both of them. Something inside the boy made him continue to look at this particular man.

Then they made eye contact and Iemitsu felt his blood run cold.

The man's right eye melted to reveal a dark blue iris with a white spade for a pupil. A foreboding feeling settled in the pit of his stomach and the boy forcibly tore their gazes apart and returned his attention to his father and Timoteo.

That night, Daemon Spade made his move.

 

((((((()))))))

 

Iemitsu was far from a good son, as he grew older.

Ever since the sudden death of his father, his mother had been in a constant state of regret. She worked twice as hard to support the both of them but her actions lacked feeling, lacked life. Her every movement seemed mechanical.

For the first five years of Iemitsu’s life, she always held an iron fist as she raised him and was hesitant with affection, which was usually where her husband came in. He had been her opposite and helped smooth the areas where she was a prickly mess. When he passed away, she lost that sense of balance and regressed. She became someone far worse than who she was before, someone who was incapable of giving her son what he needed from his mother.

When Iemitsu came home with a stranger and without his father, and when she was told of Ietsuna's demise, both of them were inconsolable; the wife plagued with thoughts of what she could have done to convince him not to leave and the son for the trauma he experienced when he witnessed his father’s death. When the boy needed her most, she was not there. He realised that she had never been able to give the love and comfort he craved before, and with his father gone, it seemed as if there was no way for him to get it. Therefore, when she finally pulled herself together, his mind had already found a way to cope.

He forgot the entire thing ever happened and only remembered that he lost his father and that his mother did not help him through the aftermath. He fostered a hatred for her, fuelled by resentment of her failures as a mother.

For others, he constructed a mask. He became the cheerful, athletic boy with the somewhat sad past of never having known his father and lived with a workaholic for a mother. He kept this mask up and his mind steadily blocked all the times he spent with his father. He ignored everything his mother said and every lecture she gave him. On bad days, they would fight. On the worst days, they would shout and scream.

She would say in frustration how his father would have wanted him to listen to her.

He would shoot back that he could not know what his father would have wanted now, could he?

The thinly veiled reference to Ietsuna’s death always ended their arguments. He always brought it up and every time he did, his mother would lock herself up in her bedroom, the one she once shared with her husband.

In his first year of middle school, he got into a bad crowd.

In the end, after months in which she witnessed her son get progressively worse (injuries from gang fights, the smell of alcohol on his clothes, cigarette packets in the trash can in his room), she remembered the stranger that appeared on her doorstep many years ago to bring back her son and tell her that Ietsuna was dead. She remembered how he remained with them until the funeral, where he then gave her a number and told her to use it if she ever needed help.

Then he promptly disappeared.

She looked for the number and found it buried in the black purse she used that day. She stared at it for a long time. When she accepted it, she never once thought she would actually use it. She knew nothing about the man. How could she trust him?

She thought of her son. She thought of the day everything went downhill.

She called the number.

The man on the other end somewhat recognised her when she called. After she explained who she was, her situation with her son, and begged him to help her, he immediately acquiesced his assistance.

With much regret in her heart and without any warning to Iemitsu, she sent him off to Italy.

 


 

 

"What the fuck am I doing here?!" A teenage Iemitsu snarled as they finally removed the sack that covered his head. He struggled, even more, when he realised he was tied up like a wild hog in a large, empty room brightly lit with fluorescent lights. He looked up and met the eyes of a man in his forties and panic fully set in. "Where am I?!"

The man softly snorted. "Your mother was right. But you look much worse than how even I imagined you to be."

Iemitsu ceased his struggles. "My mother?" He scowled. "Let me guess, you're some sort of shrink she hired to 'help me', aren't you? She thinks I've lost it? Ha! I'm not your patient old man, she is."

The man chuckled humourlessly in response and his eyes gained a hard glint. "I assure you, I'm no doctor. The methods I will use on you are not exactly as… gentle… as someone in that profession." He gripped his sceptre tightly and the top burst into bright orange flames that shocked the boy before him. With a few swipes, the ropes that bound the boy burned away before he could blink much less scream.

"Stand up," the man ordered as he turned and walked away so that there were a few feet between them. "The sooner we get started, the sooner I will be able to return to my work."

"Who are you?" Iemitsu asked warily as he slowly stood up, eyes glued to the fiery sceptre. "What are you?"

"We met, many years ago, but I doubt you'll be able to recall it. I suppose you should also know that I am doing this for you as a favour to your mother. After all…" He turned around and laid a subtly pained gaze on the teen, "I am the reason your father is dead."

"Tou-san! What do you know?! What did you do to him?!" Iemitsu so dearly wanted to approach the man and start a physical fight, but the afire sceptre was an effective deterrent.

Timoteo shook his head as if the act would banish the memories from his mind. "Now is not the time for you to know. You are much too emotional."

"What! Then when! When the fuck will someone finally tell me how he died?!"

The man glared at the boy before him and an affronted and angered look overtook his features. "You should know. You were there."

Iemitsu was stunned into silence. He would remember something so important like that… right?

"Now…" The man brandished his weapon expertly. "Show me your resolution."

"What…? You're not making any sense old man!"

"You assumed I am here to 'help you'," he ignored the teen's protests. "You are wrong. I am here to educate you, especially after what I heard from your mother. Constantly seeking fights, drinking, smoking… you take pleasure from being on the brink of death and surviving against all odds. Perhaps our world will suit you more. Either way, all of us will win," he murmured the last part mostly to himself. "At any rate, simply think of these as… remedial lessons.

"And Lesson number one is this: Family is absolute.”

 


 

 

It was an uphill battle, especially since Iemitsu fought his instructors almost every step of the way. After every successful lesson, Timoteo would divulge a few secrets and answer any of the boy's questions with selective honesty. He found it to be a good motivator and effective reward system while others saw it as an efficient brainwashing-cum-recruiting method as the man would always paint the work he did in a better light.

In this way, Iemitsu learned of the greatest Mafia Famiglia in Italy, the Vongola, and his relation to it. He met the Ninth's three prospective heirs: Enrico, a decade older than him and a silent, capable leader; Massimo, a boy a few years younger than him with arrogance etched in every bone of his body, who followed his older brother like a shadow; and little Federico, innocent, wide-eyed, and the apple of everybody's eye. The majority of the Vongola workers he met were kind, others more stoic, but most, if not all, loved the Famiglia they worked for.

Likewise, Iemitsu, in turn, grew to love the Famiglia.

 


 

 

"Do you not want to be the boss?" Timoteo asked him one day.

Iemitsu blinked at him. He was exhausted from the Spartan training Lal Mirch put him through earlier so it took a while for the question to register in his brain. He yawned. "Of what? Vongola? Nah, don't wanna take that away from Enrico."

He mentally noted to remind the boy to work on his Italian a bit more. "But you are of Primo's blood. Surely you are aware you have more than enough right to challenge him for the position?"

Iemitsu grinned at him lazily. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you want me to challenge your son."

Timoteo patiently waited.

Finally, he sighed. "I know."

"But…?"

"It's just that… being the boss of something as big as the Vongola? Not really my thing. I mean, I wanna help the Family but being a grunt doesn't appeal to me and I can't be a Guardian 'cause of my Flames either. CEDEF just seems like the perfect choice for me." He stretched and felt his back pop. "Aah, that hits the spot. Man, Lal's a slave driver. She kinda reminds me of my mom. Whether it's a baby or a woman, strict girls are… ugh, just not cute at all."

"Three years," Timoteo said suddenly as a thought struck his mind.

"Huh?"

"It's been almost three years since you last saw your mother and I myself have been unable to contact her for the past year. Why don't you go visit her?"

Blond bangs shadowed the teen's eyes. "The Family—"

"—can wait. We do not need you yet. Why don't you enjoy your life before the Mafia takes it away?"

He shifted and his eyes looked everywhere but at the Don. "… I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because I can't look at her in the eye until I know more about my dad… and how he died."

Timoteo was silent.

"Look, you taught me that 'Family is absolute', and I get that. I understand that so I understand she… neglected me because she was grieving. Somewhat. I can't really understand why she was grieving over him and forgetting about me because… well… I can't even remember him. I don't know him, so how can I feel sad that he's… gone? I know it's selfish of me but all I remember at that time was a gnawing pain in my head and the feeling of being all alone. And until I remember anything, anything at all, about my dad… I won't be able to understand how she felt when he died. And I'll never be able to forgive her. Does that make sense?"

The two males locked gazes, one searching while the other expressed a desperation to know.

Timoteo hesitated briefly. "I suppose… I suppose I've put it off long enough now."

Relief and anticipation shone in Iemitsu's eyes as he leaned forward eagerly, his exhaustion forgotten in light of his eagerness.

"You were only five years old when I first saw you…”

 


 

 

(Nighttime is a dark period, especially in the middle of nowhere. The Sawada males were in their rented RV when five-year-old Iemitsu heard the vehicle’s door creak open. He had been tense all day and well into the evening. Now, he was terrified. He could not move as he watched a dark figure enter and stealthily close the door, and he held his breath as the person approached the sleeping form of his father.)

"I don't remember much–"

(The figure pulled out something from somewhere on its person. It was a small bottle filled with an ominously dark liquid.)

"—I was only five after all, how could I remember anything at that age?"

(The silhouette opened the bottle and poured the liquid inside Ietsuna's partially open mouth. It closed the man's nostrils and mouth together and hung on even as the other thrashed wildly, eyes now wide open as the brunet stared fearfully at his assailant. Then it abruptly let go of its victim.)

"But… there are flashes. Images… vague memories, I think."

(His father began to foam at the mouth and clutched at his throat as he tried to breathe. Ietsuna’s eyes searched the vehicle until they landed on his son, then to the figure who had poisoned him, and then back to his son. Iemitsu thought that his father, with his eyes alone, screamed for him to run. Then Ietsuna’s eyes began to droop. He fell to his bed on his side and foam dribbled down his chin. His son only watched with growing horror as something in his father’s eyes disappeared.)

"I remember… I remember screaming–"

(The figure now turned to the boy and approached him menacingly. Iemitsu screamed as he moved to run but the figure darted forward to grab his neck and choke the life out of him. A cloud moved in the sky and moonlight illuminated a lone crazed eye with a white spade for a pupil. As black spots danced in his vision, he recognised the man before him.)

"—and almost dying. I almost died that night–"

(The little boy clawed at the hands that choked him and desperation filled his body. Instinct pushed at him, pushed him to do anything to survive, and without thought, he pulled on that desperation. Orange embers flickered to life on his forehead and his tiny hands, which shocked his assailant enough that he loosened his grip and he desperately took in a ragged breath.)

"—but he saved me, you know? I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him."

(The door of the RV banged open. Timoteo and his Guardians reacted immediately when they heard someone scream and sensed activated Flames. The man glared down at the boy murderously before he disappeared into mist, the Mafiosi outraged that he had escaped.)

Iemitsu took a deep breath.

"I think I can understand you a bit better now, mom. I won't pretend to understand you completely, I mean, I was the one who was traumatised and you weren't there for me, but you didn't know any better so… yeah. I can't blame you… I don't blame you. Not anymore. I just want you to know that and… that I'm sorry. For not being there for you… for being an ass… for giving you a hard time… I'm sorry about pretty much everything."

He smiled sardonically.

"... Now if only I knew if you could actually hear me."

He stared down blankly at the grave at his feet, marked with his mother's name, her date of birth, and the date of her death… but nothing else. Because her only family left had not been around to add anything.

Maybe, if said family member had been around, she would not be six feet under in the first place.

"Depression my ass," Iemitsu's voice broke as he attempted to swallow the lump that formed in his throat and hold back the burn he felt in the corners of his eyes. "I was coming back, you know? Couldn't you have at least waited that long?"

There was no reply. Not even an answering wind. It was not as if he expected one, though, that was just a superstition. Still, even that would have been nice; his eyes had not felt this heated since he was a kid.

"Did you have to just… wither away like that? Y… You were always so… so strong…"

Drops of water fell on the soil of the grave as the afternoon sun continued to shine.

 


 

 

"Hello? Iemitsu, are you okay?"

"… No."

There was silence on the other end of the phone call. Timoteo cleared his throat. "I take it the visit—"

"—went rather well, considering I was talking to a grave," the teen cut in dryly.

He was silent once more but this time out of shock. He immediately collected himself, sorrow apparent in his voice. "My condolences…"

"I don't want to talk about it," Iemitsu replied curtly. Then he sighed and his exhaustion made him appear older than he actually was. "Listen, Nono… I think I'd really appreciate a break from everything and stay here in Namimori for a bit. I mean, I haven't been here for three years, you know, and I've always wanted to go to High School…"

"I understand. Nevertheless, I cannot leave you there on your own. You're still a minor, people will inevitably ask questions."

Iemitsu blinked then sighed again. "Yeah, I guess you're right. So, what did you have in mind?" He questioned then heard, through the phone, the sound of a pen as it scratched on paper.

"I have a few people in mind who can be your temporary guardian. I'll have to make a few calls first, though, just to make sure."

"That's fine. Thanks for everything you've done for me," Iemitsu swallowed around the lump in his throat. Acceptance of the fact that both his parents were dead was a work in progress but if having lived with Mafiosi for three years could give him any benefits it would be that he was accustomed to the concept of death and the reality of dying.

"It isn't a problem. You're part of my Famiglia, after all." The scratching shortly stopped. A pause and then Timoteo sighed. "I'll leave you to your own devices then."

Iemitsu merely hung up without another word, not entirely sure that a pitiful sound would not have escaped his mouth had he spoken.

 


 

 

'That's what happened but…' Iemitsu thought as he looked up at the man who stood just outside the threshold of the door that led to the apartment the blond rented.

The man before him was lithe in physique, unlike the teen’s own rather muscular one, and taller by a few inches. He had professionally cut yet still somewhat spiky black hair and dark brown eyes in a perpetually narrow, hard look. A blue cylindrical bag rested over one of his shoulders. It most likely contained his weapon of choice.

So what weapon is long and can mete out a swift and easy death?

Right. A sword.

'Damn.’ Iemitsu thought.

The good news, which depended on how you looked at it, was that the man claimed Vongola Nono had sent him. What sealed the deal for the Iemitsu was when the older male presented him a memo that bore the Vongola boss' Sky Flame. All of this was done with a disturbingly wide smile Iemitsu could tell, despite how good the other was at it, was strained. Evidently, he was not looking forward to being a babysitter.

Which led to their current predicament.

'Why did Nono send a Mafioso of all people?' He cried mentally. In reality, he just sighed and decided why not. The man was a Mafioso so he will damn well send a Mafioso. "Name,” he stated firmly, determined not to show any more weaknesses than he already did.

The man raised an eyebrow but complied, as this was something he somewhat expected. He and his charge would need to have an open line of communication in order for him to protect the other properly. For that to begin to happen, the other at least had to have a certain amount of trust in him. "Tsuyoshi."

"Last name?"

"None." His eyes hardened even further, which indicated he would not elaborate on the matter.

Iemitsu did not expect him to. "Occupation."

Tsuyoshi's lips twitched a bit. "Freelance Hitman but, as of now, your legal guardian."

"Any aliases?" He continued and ran all the freelance hitmen he knew of in his head and dismissed the ones who did not use a sword. There was, admittedly, very little people left as to whom this man could possibly be.

"None. Not quite well-known enough for one."

"Huh…" Made sense, actually. If someone spotted a well-known Hitman out in the open, in Namimori no less, there would be too many curious Mafiosi all too eager to come and investigate. The Ninth, by hiring this particular Hitman, ensured the security of the last of Primo's line and the safety of the town he currently resided in.

The corner of the Tsuyoshi's mouth lifted as if he were on the verge of a grin. "Are we done already? That wasn't even 20 questions yet,” he teased though inwardly he was relieved, as he did not wish to share more information than strictly necessary.

Iemitsu twitched. "How old are you, exactly?"

"I'll be turning nineteen next month."

His jaw dropped. "Wha—? How can you be my legal guardian when you're barely legal?!"

Tsuyoshi simply gave him a full-blown grin, the expression more genuine than the ones he wore before. "I was under the impression nothing about what we do is legal. In any case, I’m still older than you are, brat, and in the eyes of the law, legal enough to watch over a minor. And really, that's all that matters, right?"

Iemitsu grudgingly grumbled his agreement and the black-haired man chuckled. The former then stood aside and welcomed the latter into his apartment. A sense of tranquillity settled over the newly acquainted pair, and each of their instincts told them that the other was not a danger to them now or, it seemed, at any time in the near future.

 


 

 

Iemitsu’s eye twitched. "You know, you didn't have to take the campus tour with me," he muttered to his companion. "It's not like you're a student here."

Tsuyoshi walked calmly beside the younger teen as they made their way to Namimori High School's Reception Room. "Better safe than sorry. You'll be spending most of your time here, right? It'll make my job easier if I know the layout of the school."

Iemitsu said nothing in reply as he knew the other was right. They walked the rest of the way in silence and, once they reached their destination, a female student who wore the girls’ uniform greeted them with a wave. She lounged on one of the couches with her legs crossed as she repeatedly threw and caught a Baseball ball with one hand. She had her dark blue, almost black, long hair tied up with a dark red ribbon, the tips left to brush against the space between her shoulder blades. She stood up when they closed the door behind them. Her wide amber eyes, set in a delicate face, and her impish grin welcomed them warmly.

The girl bowed. "It's nice to meet you! My name is Yamamoto Amaya, Year IV Class B, and I'm a school prefect." She straightened her posture and looked at them with open curiosity. "Sorry, but I thought we only got one new student? A Sawada Iemitsu…?" She questioned and wondered if she heard wrong.

Tsuyoshi laughed and Iemitsu was left stunned at the other's abrupt change of demeanour. Instead of the stance of a reserved off-duty Hitman, his countenance appeared like that of a regular civilian. He actually looked approachable.

"No, no, you're right. This," he placed a hand on the other teen’s shoulder, "is Sawada Iemitsu. His parents are out of town for a while and I'm a family friend, so they asked me to look after him. I just came with him for the tour since I have nothing better to do," he grinned. "Ah, and my name's Tsuyoshi. Nice to meet you."

Iemitsu stayed silent. He only gave a nod of confirmation when the girl turned to look at him questioningly. He smiled nervously.

Amaya blinked and rolled her ball in one hand while her other hand stayed in the pocket of her blazer. "I… see." She smiled brightly, "Well, follow me, then. The school's not that big so I'm pretty sure you won't get hopelessly lost even if you don't follow me, but then if you don't then you won't know where everything is, ne?" She laughed sincerely.

The girl was a very enthusiastic tour guide. She freely shared information and stories of each classroom and hallway, with the occasional antics of certain teachers and students. She laughed a lot and conversed with ease, which made Iemitsu loosen up. Before long, she proclaimed him as the little brother she always wanted but never had, and practically adopted him on the spot. The blond teen was clearly embarrassed but also pleased with his upperclassman's sentiments and especially her attention. Though the constant pestering to join the Baseball Club got a little on his nerves.

It made sense, he supposed. She was the Baseball Club's team manager, after all, so a bit of advertisement was to be expected.

On an entirely different note, all his attempts to steal the ball from her possession ended up in failures. She had amazing natural reflexes and he knew he was not the only one impressed.

There was another thing Iemitsu noticed. Sometimes, she would send Tsuyoshi these looks. Not ones of infatuation, though. The looks she gave him were hesitant and full of confusion. She would always send them to the older male when she thought they would not notice. Evidently, she lacked subtlety.

The tour ended before they knew it and they soon found themselves back in the Reception Room.

Tsuyoshi smiled once more and bowed slightly, but Iemitsu could read his body language and he knew that his current guardian was relieved to escape the girl’s glances. "Thank you for spending some of your time showing us around."

Amaya returned the gesture albeit she appeared to be reluctant to do so. "It wasn't a problem," she grinned tightly as she straightened her posture. "I had fun anyways. But…" She bit her lip and now openly stared at Tsuyoshi with that odd expression of simultaneous hesitance and perplexity. "I know that it’s probably not any of my business but… can you please not smile like that?"

His expression faltered. "What…?"

"Your smile. No, actually, everything about you. It's all so… It feels so… fake." There was a frown on her face now and the serious expression on her laidback features caused the tension between them to spike. "I want you to stop."

"How—? Why…?"

“Because you look like you're in so much pain and I—" she bit her lip and shook her head. "N-Never mind," she turned and ran away.

Tsuyoshi was visibly shocked. Iemitsu, on the other hand, was more awed. Private tutors taught him how to watch the expressions of others until it became second nature to him. Meanwhile, a girl who had none of his formal training picked up something about his guardian—whom he knew longer than she did—that he completely missed.

 


 

 

Sawada Iemitsu, now in his last year of High School, sat in his classroom absolutely bored out of his mind. When the memory of Tsuyoshi's latest failed attempt at courtship with Amaya no longer entertained him, he lowered himself to eavesdropping on his classmates’ gossips. The group directly in front of him seemed promising.

"Can you believe it?" The white-haired male in the middle of the group groaned dramatically and Iemitsu snickered. Sasagawa always complained about his traditional family and it seemed like they did something to piss him off again. "An arranged marriage in this day and age!"

Oh?

“Sucks to be you, man.”

"Yeah, who's the unlucky girl?"

Sasagawa groaned again. "That boxing-obsessed freak! Oh Kami-sama, I can practically feel my eardrums bursting already!"

Iemitsu twitched. He went to the boxing club a few times and joined in on their training so he knew exactly whom they referred. Sure, she was enthusiastic and loud, but she was not bad. She most certainly did not deserve the label of “freak”.

Another of Sasagawa's friends winced. "Oh, ouch. Shit."

"That pretty much sums up the entire thing. The chick’s good-looking enough, I guess, but her personality isn't your type at all."

"Unlike a certain someone—"

"Shut up!" Sasagawa yelled as he blushed.

"But seriously man, what're you gonna do? You've liked her for ages..."

As the conversation travelled down the road of hormonal teenage angst, Iemitsu tuned them out. In all his years in this town, not once did a single girl catch his eye. Oh, he was interested in girls, no doubt about it, but the one he was looking for needed to be mentally strong, sweet, and cute. Mentally strong because, if she was going to be the one he would spend the rest of his days with, then she would have to be able to deal with the less-than-legal life he would have after his graduation, and sweet and cute for his own personal preference. It was either that combination or no one at all, to hell with Nono’s desire to continue Primo’s line.

It was not his fault no girl in Namimori was cute enough for him. They just reminded him too much of his mother and he got enough of that from Lal alone.

Chapter Text

 

Vongola Mansion and Main Headquarters, Sicily, Italy

Polished black shoes walked on carpeted floors as their owner made his way through maze-like hallways. Then the man turned abruptly and came face to face with a set of carved wooden double doors that bore extravagant golden handles. He took a deep breath, straightened his posture, and opened the door.

Inside the office, two males simultaneously looked up at his entrance. One was an elderly man who sat on cushioned upholstery behind a beautifully ornate mahogany desk that had neat stacks of paper atop it. In the elderly man’s hand was a black fountain pen, poised to sign.

The other male was a boy who could not have been older than seven or eight years old. He had unruly black hair and dark red eyes that glared mutinously at the man’s entrance. Piles of leather-bound books surrounded him as he sat cross-legged on one of the couches in the office.

Sawada Iemitsu raised a sceptical eyebrow at the boy, a pointed gesture that questioned his right to study in the Ninth’s office during the Don’s work hours. The boy’s glare only darkened in response and his diminutive hands crushed the pages of the tome he held. The elderly man behind the desk, his crystal-blond hair overrun with the grey strands of age, glanced at Iemitsu reproachfully then looked back at the boy with both exasperation and fondness.

Time had been good to Iemitsu. At the age of twenty-two, his features had become sharper and more defined. He had finally filled out and matured from the awkward lankiness of his teens. Now, broad shoulders complemented his muscular build and the crisp black bespoke suit he wore only served to flatter his physique.

"Nono," Iemitsu inclined his head in deference. "You called for me."

The boy snorted. "Shouldn't you have knocked first, trash?" He glared at the man disdainfully with his childish chin tilted up in superiority.

Iemitsu twitched but said nothing. His lip, however, curved upwards—subtly contemptuous.

"Now Xanxus," Timoteo reprimanded, "I was expecting him, so it was unnecessary for him to announce himself." He then turned to face Iemitsu, leaned backwards on his chair, and laced his fingers together. "Iemitsu, I have been awaiting further reports from your division regarding the Estraneo Famiglia."

Xanxus, who had lazily continued to skim through the book on his lap after his father reprimanded him, suddenly perked up at the mention of the Famiglia. There was an odd look on his face. Both adults noticed this but Timoteo continued with the conversation, which signalled to Iemitsu that there was no need for secrecy. Iemitsu wanted to protest, as Xanxus was only a recently acquired son and had only been part of the Vongola for approximately half a year, but did not.

Privately, Iemitsu thought that his boss either already had a huge amount of trust in the boy or he wanted him to become more interested in the affairs of the Family. It was most likely a little bit of both.

"The last thing that was reported to me was also the first thing that brought my attention to them: the creation of the Possession Bullet. I have received neither a follow-up report nor any more news on the matter for months. At least, none that I am aware of." Timoteo’s eyes sharpened and he tilted his head in speculation. "Care to elaborate?"

Iemitsu appeared suitably apologetic but at the same time unfazed. “Apologies, Nono. We've been trying to gather more intel in order to give you a thorough report on the current affairs of the Estraneo, but have admittedly remained largely unsuccessful. Other than every man, woman, or child belonging to the famiglia having a kill-on-sight order from other families—in and out of our alliance—we haven't uncovered anything concrete on them or on what they're up to. My guess is that they're lying low for now. It seems to be the most logical thing to do for anyone in their situation.”

"You guess?" Xanxus scoffed. "Useless pieces of trash… You can't even do your job properly. I can't believe you have the guts to show your face to the Ninth after your obvious failure."

Iemitsu felt his irritation grow but he had far too much pride to begin an argument with a child. Instead, he behaved as if the boy did not speak. Timoteo only sighed wearily, both at the vague report and at the palpable tension in the room.

"Thank you, Iemitsu. You may leave. Oh, and don't forget to check up on our Tokyo branch next month. They've been out of touch with us for far too long; it concerns me. My sons and I are too busy at the moment and I'm afraid I'll need my Outside Advisor to remain here in Italy, so I'll leave it to you." He then moved his attention to Xanxus and raised an eyebrow. The boy grumbled under his breath but returned his attention to his book. Timoteo nodded approvingly at that and then gestured for Iemitsu to see himself out.

Iemitsu nodded, pointedly ignored the only other person in the office, and made his leave. Xanxus sneered at the man’s disregard for his presence and it looked extremely out of place on his childish features. "Jeez, I don't get why you trust him so much. He's useless," he muttered as he turned a page.

Timoteo looked back at his papers. "He's dependable and one of my more trusted men. Your brothers have also approved of him, though Massimo quite grudgingly," he chuckled in remembrance.

"I don't like him."

"And why is that?"

"Because. You told me he's a descendant of Vongola Primo’s, right? What if he tries to take the Decimo position?" He sounded incensed at the thought.

The corners of Timoteo's lips curled up into a slight smile around his bushy moustache. "I have no worries over that as he is in line to succeed as head of CEDEF. And since the establishment of the Outside Advisors, no Vongola boss has allowed them to interfere with the workings of the Main Famiglia, as they are just that, advisers. Once Iemitsu obtains that position, he will be firmly out of the running as a potential Vongola Boss. I assure you."

"Then what about any brats he might have?" Xanxus argued. "Don't they have as much right or something? Even if he doesn't have a chance in hell of becoming the boss, what's stopping his kids from becoming Vongola Decimo or Undicesimo or something?"

At this, Timoteo finally looked up. He fixed his gaze on his son contemplatively as he set his pen down and laced his fingers together once more, elbows rested on his desk and mouth hidden by his hands. "There are many things I could say to refute your claims. One of them being Iemitsu showing no interest in any woman for many years, another being that he would do everything in his power to ensure his family will never encounter anyone from the mafia. Best case scenario, he becomes head of CEDEF like he always wanted and his firstborn, in the event he or she is brought into the Mafia, will become his successor."

Xanxus narrowed his eyes. "What's the worst case scenario?"

Timoteo's eyes darkened. He picked up his pen and sifted through his papers. "Worst case scenario is… all of my heirs are assassinated before any of them can inherit the throne," he lifted one stack of papers and straightened them out by tapping them on his desk, "and I will have no choice but to make one of his children my successor." He grabbed a new stack of paper and began to write once more.

A sour look found its way onto Xanxus’ face. "Not gonna happen. Even if they," he sneered derisively, "get killed off, I won't die so easily, so you can count on me becoming Vongola Decimo," he proclaimed proudly.

An undefinable emotion crossed the old man's eyes but his features did not shift from their customary genial expression, which lead Xanxus to think that it was just his imagination.

Timoteo paused in his writing. "I hope," he started slowly, "that I can count on you for more things than just that," he finished in a murmur, so silent that his son almost didn’t hear him.

Xanxus shifted uneasily. He looked confused, and then irritated that he was. Silence enveloped the office as both males returned to their respective tasks, although the boy felt increasingly restless. A nagging thought would not leave his mind and it messed with his concentration.

In the end, he mustered enough courage to speak up. "Oi. Erm… Papa." He shifted uncomfortably, the term foreign in his mouth. "Nono," he amended, much more sure of the title that denoted the respect his father deserved.

"Yes?” Timoteo replied, eyes glued to his papers.

Xanxus shifted once more, uncharacteristically hesitant. He forced out the question that bothered him. "What was that about the Estraneo?"

Timoteo’s pen stopped mid-sentence. He looked up from the paper and peered at his son with a narrowed gaze. He was silent long enough that Xanxus began to squirm.

"What do you wish to know?" He finally replied.

Xanxus relaxed. He thought for a moment before he prompted, "What's the Possession Bullet?"

Timoteo tapped his pen on his desk in a somewhat distracted manner. "The Possession Bullet is what its name implies. Someone shot with it would be able to possess someone, though I'm not entirely sure of the process or how such a thing is possible." He added the latter half of the sentence more to dissuade any ideas from his most ambitious son, though he was unsure of how effective it was.

He need not worry, however. Xanxus was not interested in a weapon of dubious mechanics and was not keen to shoot himself for whatever reason. Other than with the Dying Will Bullet of the Vongola, of course, as it was a tried and tested method. "How did you discover it?"

"Your brother, Enrico, was actually the one who discovered it. Don Estraneo had requested a meeting to demonstrate a new weapon his men had developed. I was occupied with other matters that day so I entrusted the task to him and, well… he was less than impressed with it." A small, proud smile crossed the old man's face and Xanxus’ scowl, when he saw this, deepened. "To keep it brief, there was a disagreement, one of our men was shot, and Enrico retaliated. Before long it grew into a feud between the Vongola led by your brother and the Estraneo led by their Don."

Red eyes narrowed as the boy frowned. "When did that happen?"

"About… six months ago, I believe. Just a few weeks before your mother managed to contact me, actually." He smiled lightly. "We are very fortunate Enrico lived through that fight to meet you, and for you to be able to meet him."

Xanxus gave a non-committal grunt. "Yeah, fortunate… sure," he mumbled as his thoughts ran rampant and his eyes gained a frightening intensity.

Timoteo noticed and grew concerned that he might have said something he shouldn’t have. "Why the sudden curiosity?"

Xanxus was silent for a moment.

"… No reason," he finally muttered. Then, softly, he said to himself, “It could have been anyone…" His hands clenched into fists on his pants and faint red-orange Flames illuminated them for the briefest of moments.

Timoteo heard nothing from the boy other than incoherent words, though the old man took note of the flames. He warily continued to observe his son, painfully aware of his "temper tantrums", as Federico had so affectionately called them. He hadn’t meant to anger the boy but he had thought that it was a good opportunity to glean more information on the his past… as, to this day, Xanxus remained obstinately tight-lipped about his time spent in poverty.

 

((((((()))))))

 

A man and a child walked through the snowy rundown village quietly. The child would occasionally look up at the man his mother claimed was his father. He was uncertain of the decision to leave his mother behind in this place, all alone, but it seemed she was under the impression that she would only hold him back from his destiny, and who was he to go against his mother's beliefs?

Even so, this man was nothing but a stranger to him, father or not. His mother's excited proclamations of who, exactly, the man was also made him cautious. At that train of thought, he had a sudden realisation, which made him open his mouth and start a conversation.

"Oi. Nono."

"What is it?"

A thoughtful silence, something very different from what Timoteo had observed from the boy. His first impression of the child had been bluntness and tactlessness—that Xanxus always spoke his mind and did what he wanted without thought of the consequences.

"Mama told me you were a mafia boss. Is that true?"

Timoteo hesitated for only the slightest of seconds. "Yes. And what of it?"

"Do you know of any famiglia called 'Estraneo'?"

The question caught the Don’s attention then, alarmed at the implication that the boy knew more about his line of work than he let on. However, outwardly, he remained congenial and unassuming. "Yes. I know of them, and I have met their boss as well. How do you know them?"

Xanxus stubbornly looked to the side and avoided the other's gaze. "Someone just… told me… about them. I just wanted to know if you knew them."

"And who is this someone?"

The child finally looked up, only to glare at him. "You may be my father," his hand unconsciously reached up to the scarf wrapped around his neck, "but you haven't been part of my life until now. I still don't trust you enough to tell you something personal like that."

Timoteo sighed and his eyes looked down at the boy with honest grief. "I know, child, I know. And I am terribly sorry for leaving you, and your mother, to such a life."

Xanxus looked away. "W-Whatever. Anyways, you just have to make it up to me and Mama."

His father chuckled softly. "Of course. Now, if you don't mind satisfying an old man's curiosity, why did you want to ask if I knew that particular famiglia?"

Xanxus looked up at him once more, but this time, his face was as blank. "Because I hate them," he replied bluntly.

The conversation ended there.

 

((((((()))))))

 

Xanxus' fists slowly unclenched and his Flames dissipated from his hands. "Thanks," he said, "for telling me all that."

There was no genuine gratitude in his voice. Xanxus’ tone was similar to that of a machine: mechanical and with no hint of any emotion. An automatic statement because the boy was taught to behave that way.

Timoteo wasn’t entirely sure he approved of it.

 


 

 

Tokyo, Japan

Sawada Iemitsu had just met the love of his life, he was sure of it. He, an up-and-coming mafioso in the Underworld, had fallen in love at first sight.

It was almost laughable… if he were not so serious. Tsuyoshi, Reborn, and those damn heirs of the Ninth would never let him live this down (if they ever found out).

When he left the headquarters of Vongola’s Japanese branch, frustrated with the man in charge, he headed to the nearest café to cool his head. It was never a pretty sight when he lost his temper and if he lost it in front of someone who was (technically) a superior, it would shoot his reputation of dependability to hell. He called a server when he was ready to order and the moment he looked up at her… he was a goner.

She had long, dark brown hair, hair that looked like the finest silk, tied up in a high ponytail with bangs that framed her delicately heart-shaped face. She had dewy skin that looked softer than velvet could ever be, skin that also somehow had the fragility of porcelain. Her glossy, pink lips stretched into a warm smile and the lighting made them even shinier, if that were even possible.

(Also, while it was probably just his imagination, Iemitsu would still swear for the rest of his life that at that moment sparkles and flowers surrounded her beautiful smile.)

To top it all off were her eyes. Her stunning, beautiful, mesmerising, enchanting, wide eyes the colour of melted chocolate—no, they were incomparable! Mere words could not possibly hope to capture the gloriousness of this woman. Despite her uniform (which actually complemented her splendid figure and shit that did nothing to stop the blush on his face), she appeared to be a goddess to him, a lowly mortal. She exuded such kindness and warmth that it gave him a feeling of security similar to when he used his flames. Yet even as her eyes shined with such… innocence—for there could be no other word for it—still he could detect a hint of pain, as if she were plagued by a wound that just wouldn’t heal.

That, more than anything else about her, caught his eye.

(Not that everything else about her didn’t catch his eye because holy shit she was exactly his type.)

"Sir? Are you okay?" She asked with concern so warm he practically melted. His heart skipped a beat, flopped around a bit, then restarted twice as fast than usual, as if to make up for lost time. Then it was like a gunfight started in his stomach (nothing gentle like butterflies) and a heat very much unlike his Flames spread warmth throughout his body. His cheeks felt warm and they were probably lit up like a damn stop light and he felt completely and utterly mortified because what very little dignity he managed to maintain throughout this encounter told him that he was acting like a teenage girl with her first crush—but that was fine.

It was fine because even though he was a grown man this exquisite being was (is) his first love. That was fine with him. He loved her already despite not knowing a single thing about her, which was a fatal mistake in the mafia, but right now it just felt right and he didn’t even need his Hyper Intuition to tell him that. It was fine that his heart decided to desert the fortress he built around it and come into the possession of this cute but naïve civilian girl he just met.

It was just fine with him because he knew this woman's gentle hands would protect his heart, his life, far better than anything else in the world would.

 


 

 

Two Months Later…

"Your father sounded like a wonderful man," Nana praised.

Iemitsu scratched his cheek bashfully. "Yeah, I like to think he would have been a really great dad if he got to live. What about your parents?"

She bit her lip. "Well, I never knew my mother because she died in childbirth, so I guess you could say my only parental figure… was… my dad."

Iemitsu gazed at her gently and didn’t miss the way she shook as she spoke. "Was?" He asked lightly.

She looked away as tears collected around her eyelashes and took in deep breaths. "Was," she confirmed. "A little more than half a year ago, he went to Italy to visit some relatives. On his way back to his hotel, some sort of gunfight broke out. He died of gunshot wounds and blood loss after saving a couple of bystanders."

Iemitsu paled with every word of her story. He gently took her hand and ran his thumb along the back of it comfortingly. “When did he die?” He murmured, almost afraid to hear the answer.

When Nana told him the date, Iemitsu felt something inside of him break. It coincided with Enrico's feud against the Estraneo. The Vongola—Iemitsu’s famiglia—could be the reason Nana's father was dead.

And he knew, even as he took her into his arms and held her close, that he was guilty by association.

Nana’s soft laugh broke him from his sombre thoughts. "Sorry. That wasn't a very good topic to talk about on a date, huh? We can talk about something else, you know. After all…" her tone turned thoughtful, despite being heart-wrenchingly painful to listen to at the same time, "it's not your fault it's hard for me to cope. Unlike you with your father…" She trailed off.

"What are you talking about?" Iemitsu said, his words somewhat muffled by her hair. "The only reason I managed to cope was because my mind made me forget. You're managing to live with those memories and that makes you stronger than I could ever dream of being."

His words struck her as she absently played with a button on his shirt. "Forget, huh…"

He rubbed soothing circles on her back. "I think," he began, "that I'm falling even more in love with you."

She froze and parted herself from his torso to look up at him with eyes wider than usual.

Iemitsu attempted to convey everything he felt for her through his eyes, and then tried to explain. "You're the strongest woman I know. You're beautiful, you're kind, and you're completely and utterly perfect. How can I not love you? How can I go through every day without loving you more and more?"

Nana was in awe of the conviction in his voice. When she managed to get her wits back together and opened her mouth to speak, however, a ringtone cut her off. It was Iemitsu’s.

Annoyed that his phone ruined the moment, Iemitsu didn’t bother to check the caller I.D. as he answered. "Hello?"

"Iemitsu."

The blond instinctively straightened and immediately switched to Italian. "Nono?"

"I need you to return to Italy as soon as possible. The Outside Advisor was assassinated and the position needs to be filled immediately. I'm appointing you, Iemitsu Sawada, as the new Head of the Consulenza Esterna Della Famiglia. Effective immediately. I'll debrief you of your other duties and responsibilities when you return. That is all."

"Wha—huh?! But Nono, it's too soon! You said so yourself. I'm too young and inexperienced right now, and I—"

A click and a few beats of the dial tone signalled that the man had hung up.

Iemitsu looked at his phone in disbelief, then groaned. He ran his hands across his scalp in frustration. Then he caught the concerned look of his girlfriend and promptly grimaced.

How in hell was he supposed to explain to her that he needed to leave right now?

 


 

 

Four Months Later…

When Nana looked up to greet the new customer, she met the guilty eyes of her (ex?) boyfriend as he held a large bouquet of flowers. He walked towards her stiffly with eyes that darted everywhere but at her and with cheeks dusted red. The moment he stood in front of her, he rigidly held out the bouquet. She cautiously took the flowers from him and that was when he began to ramble.

"Look, I'm really sorry that I didn't keep in touch for the last four months like you wanted me to but I honestly couldn't at the time because some really big mess up happened back at work and my boss had to promote me to a really important position because his eldest is going to take his position and his other sons either aren't ready or don't want the position I have now so that only leaves me and I'm really sorry but I completely understand if you don't want to continue a relationship with a man who would leave for long periods of time and doesn’t really keep in touch but I just want you to know that I love you and that I will support any decision y—"

Nana giggled and Iemitsu felt his mouth snap shut with an audible click. As usual, he felt like a love-struck fool around her.

Then she gave him a warm smile, her sweet eyes closed halfway and her features full of a gentleness that he was unaccustomed to, and he remembered exactly why he was a love-struck fool around her. His heart beat faster because everything about her was warm and soft and gentle and just so stunningly perf—

His brain crashed when it sensed arms wrapped delicately around his torso (because damn how long did he exactly live without this kind of warmth in his life every day?), flowers pressed at his back, and soft lips against his tan cheek.

"Welcome back," she murmured and her hot breath fanned over his ear. He felt electricity shoot up his spine and restart his brain and he hugged her back tightly.

He didn’t even feel embarrassed when their audience, in the form of the café’s customers, cheered. He knew Nana secretly enjoyed these kinds of romantic scenarios and he would do anything she wanted of him.

 


 

 

Three Months Later…

Yamamoto Tsuyoshi looked at his phone warily, specifically at the "Unknown Number" that flashed where the caller I.D. was supposed to appear. Another reason was that this phone was the one he used back in his darker days. He wasn’t entirely sure what it meant that someone called this number now when the official story was that he died on a mission a few years ago.

Nonetheless, on the basis that something went wrong after all these years…

He answered the call.

"Hello?" He greeted stiffly.

A disgruntled sound came from the other end. "Jeez, can you be any slower in picking up, old man?"

Tsuyoshi frowned. The man's voice, his tone, even his words, sounded very familiar. Recognition lit up his mind and he finally relaxed as a genuine smile graced his face. "Who are you calling an old man, Baka-'mitsu? We're only four years apart."

"Still older than me, though."

"Yeah, yeah. At any rate, why are you calling me with this number? You practically froze my blood when I heard this phone ring!" He half-joked.

Iemitsu coughed. "Well, you see, about that… I may have, erm… accidentally… deleted all my contacts on my old phone without copying down some of them," he finished in a rush.

‘What?’Really? You know, it kinda seems like you're not even trying to prove me wrong when I call you 'Baka-'mits—”

"Oh, shut up," he grumbled. "Anyways, that's not what I called you for." He paused for a moment then slowly announced, "I'm… getting married."

Tsuyoshi jolted away from his previous position as his mind processed the information. "Seriously?! I thought you'd never settle down! Who's the girl? Is it that waitress you told me about?"

"… Yes…?"

Tsuyoshi groaned. “You know, you're making me look bad. It took me four years to make Amaya my girlfriend. That was how dense she was—”

"I think it's mostly because you weren't the best at expressing your feelings…" Iemitsu deadpanned.

Like any good friend, Tsuyoshi ignored the jab. "—and it took you, what? Nine months to get a fiancée?" He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "You're not marrying her just because you knocked her up, are you?"

"What? No!" He immediately replied, aghast. "I really do love her!"

"Hm. Fine, then. So, what do you want? I doubt you called just to tell me the good news. You’re far too busy to make a social call, if I recall correctly," he pointed out.

"Huh? Oh, right. Well, Nana doesn't really want anything fancy and she doesn't have any close friends or relatives she wants to invite. I kinda just wanted to ask if you and Aneki could come to Tokyo—which is where the wedding's gonna be—and be our respective Best Man and Maid of Honour."

Though stunned by the offer, Tsuyoshi recovered quickly enough. "I'm not so sure that's a good idea," he began wearily. "Amaya's in a delicate term and I'm not sure she'll be up to a trip to somewhere far away like Tokyo. But I'll ask her anyway."

"Woah, wait," Iemitsu backtracked, alarmed. "What's wrong with Aneki?"

The dark-haired man blinked once, then twice, thought about it a bit, and then chuckled. "Oh, right, right. I didn't get to tell you yet, huh? Sorry, I guess I just got used to everyone congratulating us that I forgot some people still didn't know."

Iemitsu started to get impatient. "What don't I know? Did something ha—"

"Amaya's pregnant," Tsuyoshi interrupted smoothly. "Been that way for almost three months now."

There was a shocked silence on the other end.

He laughed and grinned widely. "Yeah, I couldn't believe it either when she told me." 'How could I… when I never thought I'd live long enough to start a family of my own? She gave me that…' "Hey, I'll call you back after I talk with my wife. Be ready with the details by then, just in case we can make it. Oh, and, next time… try not to delete my number before copying it down." The former Hitman grinned when his friend spluttered indignantly and abruptly hung up. He texted the number he used nowadays to the phone that Iemitsu used to call him before he tucked away his old phone again.

Then, he sighed. As much as he loved the woman who had given him everything, he didn’t particularly enjoy her mood swings.

 


 

 

March 6, (Year Zero)
Namimori, Japan

"Sawada?"

"… Sasagawa?"

Iemitsu was very surprised when, as he walked around the streets of his hometown, he came across his High School batchmate. In all honesty, he could barely recognise the man he had become. The Sasagawa he recalled had been an average student if a quite rambunctious one. He would constantly get into fights with people who called him an "old man" because of his snow-white hair. The man in front of him, on the other hand, looked very sophisticated in his dark suit and his previously mocked hair had grown out in such a way that it complemented him.

But Iemitsu could clearly see Sasagawa's red-rimmed eyes, the type one would get after crying for far too long, and beneath them the black bags of insomnia.

He also noted the small bundle he carried. If he didn't know better, he'd say it was a—

"Waah!"

—baby…

Two pairs of eyes widened, Iemitsu's because his assumption was correct and Sasagawa's because he realised he called out to his former classmate without thought of the consequences. Added to that was the fact that he was not accustomed to a distressed newborn. His skin turned into a sickly pale shade, a detail that did not escape the Iemitsu's notice.

"Yours?" He questioned softly, eyes on the bundle.

Sasagawa was tense as he rocked the child. "I… I… She—I mean…" He deflated and exhaustion lined every facet of his being. "Yeah. She… She's mine."

Iemitsu approached him slowly. Sasagawa, seemingly resigned, made no move to stop him. Finally, Iemitsu reached the duo and peered down at the baby, now calm as she cuddled into her father's arms.

"Shouldn't you be happier about that?" He muttered rhetorically as he took in the child's features, the ginger tuft of her hair and her sleepy golden eyes. "She doesn't look like you…"

"Her mother," Sasagawa replied curtly.

"Ah," he hummed as he wracked his brain for information. There was something very wrong about this situation, evident in the guilt that lurked beneath the grief in Sasagawa's eyes and his own Intuition's insistence. “What's her name?”

He hesitated. "… Kyoko,” he finally answered, and Iemitsu saw his eyes soften. “Sasagawa Kyoko."

Iemitsu’s thoughts raced. Wait. Sasagawa’s family arranged for him to marry the "boxing-obsessed freak" (as he so eloquently put it years ago) and he knew for sure that the baby in his arms looked nothing like her. He also knew that his former classmate went through with the marriage… so the most likely scenario to explain this was…

"The direction you came from," Iemitsu began. "That's where Namimori Central Hospital is, right?"

Sasagawa nodded warily. "Yes… I just came from there. She was born two days ago and they only allowed me to take her out of the Hospital today."

"Hmm. That actually explains a lot but… where's her mother?"

"She—That's none of your business!" He snapped.

Iemitsu raised his hands in surrender. "Hey, I was just curious. I'm sure your wife is very concerned about where you're taking your new child."

As he predicted, Sasagawa flinched and, with a blank face, he scrutinised Iemitsu. Then… he sighed in defeat.

“You know.”

"I guessed. You confirmed it," he replied impassively.

Impressively, Sasagawa still managed to muster up enough annoyance to glare at him. "So, what are you going to do about it? Small towns love gossip after all, and my… affair," he winced, "would churn the rumour mill for a good while."

Iemitsu hummed. "I'm going to do… nothing."

Sasagawa was obviously surprised, a reaction that amused Iemitsu, but he was sure his batch mate would not appreciate a smirk.

“Nothing? What are you playing at?”

'His annoyance is back. Not good.' "I meant what I said. I'm not going to do anything and I'm not going to tell anyone," he paused for dramatic effect, "because that's what you're going to do."

Sasagawa gazed at him with contempt. "And what makes you think I'm ever going to tell anyone about this?"

Iemitsu stuffed his hands into his pants’ pockets. "You can't keep it a secret forever. If you're planning on taking care of her," he jutted his chin towards the baby and the other man looked down as well, evidently conflicted, "then you need to tell someone. Like your wife."

Sasagawa’s hands spasmed from where they held his child. "It's… That's easier said than done."

"Look, I don't particularly care exactly how your life turned out like this, so please spare me the details, but as man to man, I’m telling you that you've got to own up to your mistakes. I know that you didn't want the marriage and I'm pretty sure your wife didn't want it either, but both of you went through with it anyways and that probably means something to the both of you. If you don't tell her now and she finds out about it some other way, it'll just make your life that much harder."

Now Sasagawa was twice as irritated. "Look, Sawada, I know you probably mean well but you have no idea what I'm going through right now. You're right, neither of us wanted to get married but we did. And it was hell, especially when she—" He growled.

Iemitsu inwardly groaned. He asked him to spare him the details, damn it! "When she what?" He prompted resignedly.

"She's not my first kid okay?! We had a son barely a year into our marriage and we had no fucking idea how to take care of a kid! The fights just got worse from there and I… I…" He clutched his daughter to himself. "I made a mistake."

Iemitsu's face twisted. "Do you mean the action or your daughter?"

"I—I don't regret my daughter but…" He lips sealed shut.

Iemitsu sighed. "I told you I didn't want any details," he grumbled, low enough that the other did not hear. Then he spoke normally. "From what I can get from your incomprehensible outbursts, you at least care about your family, right?”

Sasagawa nodded hesitantly.

"And I'm going to say this out of a gut feeling but you don't want to hurt them, right?"

He nodded again, more certain this time.

"Then what the hell do you need to think about? Right now, you're just being a coward and saving your own skin. Even if you don't love her, you care about her enough to have a family with her, right? That should be enough reason for you to man up."

"What do you know about married life?" He snapped back.

Iemitsu snorted. "Got married two months ago. It's why I'm here right now. My cute wife wants to move out and I suggested here, so I'm looking for a house to buy."

Understanding dawned in Sasagawa's eyes and his expression somewhat calmed as he took advantage of the change in topic. "Ah. Newlyweds huh? Lucky bastard, you sound like you got your dream girl," he smiled wryly.

"Yeah. She's everything I wanted and more."

Sasagawa eyed the clearly love-struck expression Iemitsu donned and smiled to himself bitterly. At least someone was happy. "Have you found a house yet?"

Iemitsu blinked, abruptly taken out of his daydreams. "Err… no. Why?"

Sasagawa sighed in relief. "That's good, actually. I have another house in this town besides the one I live in right now. It was actually supposed to be for my new daughter and her…" He trailed off and his eyes gained an odd flurry of emotions. He shook his head. "Anyways, I'm not going to be able to use it because she can't live on her own. If you want, we can go there right now and check it out. You can loan it from me."

"Thanks… I think."

He grimaced at him. "Don't mention it. I can't leave that place to rot after all the money I paid for it. You can pay me back at whatever time you want, but every year you don't, I'll be adding a 10% interest. Also, any damages done before you pay for it in full will be included in the bill."

"Wha—? But won't I be paying for the damages? Why do I still have to pay you back for those?"

"Idiot. It will still be under my name until you pay me off, so that means all expenses charged go directly to my account. And I have to be the one to surrender the money."

"Right…"

"You're lucky you found me, though. I think it's the only house left in Namimori. Unless, of course, you buy a plot of land and build a new one, although I'm assuming you need it now?"

"That would be… preferable."

"Good. Let's go, then. I think you'd want to check it out before anything else." Sasagawa started to walk briskly, but carefully so he would not jostle the infant he held.

Iemitsu managed to stay by his heels without much effort. "Why are you being so nice to me?"

He shot him an annoyed look. "I'm not being nice, and especially not to you. I just need that place off my hands. You're such a bother, telling me to do this and that as if you actually have the right. Why the fuck would I do anything nice for you? This just happens to be a convenient arrangement."

Iemitsu returned the look with a glare of his own. "I may not have the right, but I'm just following the number one rule taught to me. I get annoyed with jackasses who don't."

"And what's this 'Number One Rule'?"

Iemitsu knew the question was sarcastic, but he answered it anyway.

"Family is absolute.”

 


 

 

March 30, (Year Three)
Vongola Mansion and Main Headquarters, Sicily, Italy

Iemitsu had knocked on his boss' door many times before for one reason or another. This time, however, it was a more personal matter, and in light of recent events, he had only become more determined to ensure the Ninth granted his request.

After all the years he had survived, a lucky shot finally made its way to Enrico. After all the feuds he lived through in the name of the Famiglia, he lost his life in one. And even though the feud ended in Vongola's favour, it was a loss far greater than any victory.

The mantle of Heir to the Throne now passed on to Nono's second eldest, Massimo, and though he had potential, he was not a favourite candidate of the Vongola like his younger brothers Federico and Xanxus were. Iemitsu knew, though, that Xanxus was not even a true candidate for the position of Decimo. He also knew that things would become far more hectic from this point onward. They did not specially train Massimo to inherit the leadership of Vongola after his father and Timoteo wasn’t getting any younger. Many famiglia, both ally and enemy alike, would come to poke around for weaknesses in light of this tragedy.

This could be his only chance to make his request, and as Lal Mirch had pointed out, he had delayed it for far too long.

Iemitsu, when he heard no reply to his knock on his boss’ door, immediately grew concerned. He opened the door, entered the room, and took in the sight of the man within it.

The Ninth Boss of the strongest famiglia in the world looked nothing like the fearsome leader they painted him to be, and more like an old father that grieved for the loss of his son. He sat behind his desk, subdued, as a finger traced the urn that contained the ashes of what used to be Enrico's body. His grief made him appear frail, as though every year of his age weighed on him in a morbidly poetic form of torture.

Still, Iemitsu steeled himself. He needed to do this. Enrico's death had jolted him from his work-oriented mind-set and reminded him, very painfully, that he had his own son back in Japan. That he had another family. That he had a responsibility to protect that family as well.

(After all, his wife and son were far more fragile than Nono's own.)

"Iemitsu?" Timoteo murmured absentmindedly. "I didn't call for you… In fact, I remember saying that no one was to disturb me unless I called for them or until I leave my office…"

"I’m sorry, Nono, but I have a… very selfish request to make.”

 


 

 

March 31
Sawada Household, Namimori, Japan

In less than twenty-four hours, Sawada Iemitsu felt his heart break once more. However, it was not because the sight before him was that of a usually strong man reduced to a broken father, but rather something… joyful.

His wife knelt on the grass of their house's front yard, her arms stretched out in front of her. She looked beautiful, as always, with her pink knitted sweater, grey lounge pants, and long brown hair tied back into a low ponytail. She cheered words of encouragement to an adorable, two-year-old boy in a blue hoodie, dark brown pants, and socks. His brown hair was messy and his chubby cheeks puffed up as his tiny eyebrows knitted together in concentration. He stood up then, arms akimbo and shakily moved one foot forward without support. Their son then began to walk towards his mother.

Iemitsu’s heart broke because this… this was something he could have enjoyed with his wife. Their son’s firsts…

How many of them has he missed?

(You could not turn back time. You could only try to make up for what you have lost.)

"You're almost there Tsu-kun!"

Just when Tsuna was a step away from his mother, he grew lazy and instead tried to collapse onto his mother's lap. She caught him by his shoulders before he could fully fall onto her and giggled. She pulled him up and made him sit on her instead, and they looked at each other and smiled identical smiles.

That was when Iemitsu moved the gate and it opened with a loud creak. Nana looked up in alarm and her eyes widened even further as she caught sight of him. She looked at him as if she could not quite believe what, or who, was before her. Their son, though he imitated his mother's actions, continued to look at him incomprehensibly, and with more than a little anxiety.

Nana stood up, Tsuna clutched tightly in her arms. She approached him slowly. "A-Anata…?"

Iemitsu looked at everywhere but at her before he handed her some flowers in a manner that seemed oddly familiar. This time, though, he included a wrapped-up box with the bouquet. "Happy birthday Nana," he murmured gently, "and… I'm home."

Tears ran down Nana’s cheeks as she set Tsuna down and bypassed the gifts to wrap her arms around her husband. "Welcome back," she whispered, and though her voice was hoarse, it was just as he remembered it.

They stayed that way for a long time.

… At least, they intended to, but then Tsuna began to cry.

 


 

 

Iemitsu loves his famiglia. They gave him, not exactly something that made him a better person, but a purpose. He was someone important in that world.

Iemitsu loves his family. His cute wife and son give him something worth protecting: a home, a place with unconditional acceptance, and most of all a heart. His humanity would have been lost long ago if it were not for them.

However, whether he was in Italy or Japan... he never felt exactly like himself. He never felt whole.

What was one supposed to do when their heart is split in two?

Where does one go?

Can you really blame him for his choice to stay with what was familiar?

 


 

 

“He loved her, of course, but […]. Choice: that was the thing.” ~ Sherman Alexie

 

Chapter Text

"Oh, Tsuna! How about I push you on the swings?"

It didn’t take long for the two-year-old to cry because of the harsh motions of the swing. Iemitsu panicked.

"Okay, okay! Then, how about the slide? Looks fun, eh?"

When Iemitsu held Tsuna up to place him on top of the slide, the toddler looked down and his eyes widened at how the ground was suddenly so far away. Tears ran down his cheeks and broken sobs escaped his mouth.

Iemitsu panicked again.

Eventually, Iemitsu gave up and left his son to the crayons and papers they brought with them to the park. He sat dejectedly next to his wife on a nearby bench. Nana, for her part, simply looked happy that her husband was here to spend some time with their son. She was a little worried that Iemitsu's actions would traumatise Tsuna but dismissed the thought when she realised that he was still a toddler, and probably wouldn’t even remember this day when he grew up.

"He really likes to draw, huh," Iemitsu commented and Nana nodded happily.

"Tsu-kun rarely does anything else but draw these days. He's also rather good for his age," she added with a bit of pride.

"That's nice. Maybe I should get him some drawing books for beginners on his birthday. It's a good hobby to have."

"Oh, that sounds wonderful! Maybe we should buy a few storybooks for him too. I've been teaching him how to read and write and talk properly. He's not that good at reading and writing yet and he still refuses to talk to strangers, but we're working on it," Nana chattered on.

When Iemitsu didn’t reply, Nana tore her gaze away from their son to bestow the man an expression of confusion. She was surprised to see that he had a mildly depressed look on his face. She ran their conversation through her head again and belatedly realised her mistake.

"Oh no, dear, I… I didn't mean you were a stranger to him. It's just—" Nana bit her lip to stop herself. With the words out of her mouth, she found that she couldn’t deny the fact that she did not have a single defence for their son’s attitude towards his father.

"Sorry," Iemitsu said. "I guess I'm just no good at this parenting thing, huh?"

Nana smiled at him encouragingly. "Don't worry about it, dear. You'll get better if you spend more time with him! I'm sure Tsu-kun will warm up to you quickly if you do."

He winced and turned his head away slightly, as if he couldn’t bear to look at her anymore.

Nana’s smile dimmed. "What’s wrong…?"

Iemitsu coughed. "My, uh, boss only allowed me to return home for a day. Things are about to get a lot more hectic back at work, so I have to leave first thing in the morning." He paused then quietly added, "My boss' eldest son died two days ago."

Nana gasped, her dread swept away by a wave of concern and sadness. She could not even begin to imagine how she would feel if she lost Tsuna. If that was the case, how much worse was the man’s grief at his loss? "Oh my… How is he?"

"He'll be fine," Iemitsu said firmly and have her an exhausted grin. "He's amazingly strong for his age, you know! Though… that doesn't change the fact that he isn't getting any younger. We're all really worried about him." The furrow between his brows and the pinched look on his face emphasised his sentiment.

"Please give him my condolences," Nana replied honestly. She worried her lower lip between her teeth. "I guess I have no choice but to say 'Do your best', huh? It sounds like you're really needed back there," she tried to smile reassuringly and, with the way her husband's face relaxed, she was glad it came out genuine. "But… can you at least promise me something?"

He hesitated for the slightest of seconds. "What is it?"

"Can you at least stay until I wake up?"

Iemitsu’s face grew subdued. "I'll try," he promised solemnly.

 


 

 

Nana awoke from her dream (or was it a memory?) and her stomach knotted with anxiety as she turned to her side. Her spirits sank at the sight of the empty bed. She reached out her hand and, sure enough, that side of the bed was cold to the touch; it was most likely vacated many hours prior. Her heart felt heavy but no tears fell from her eyes. She was already much too resigned to the man's disappearances and she believed a part of her had even come to expect them.

Yet her feelings for him never changed. Love was somewhat cruel that way.

She sat up on her bed and caught sight of the calendar in her bedroom. She rubbed one eye, stretched, and stood up to walk over to it. She flipped it to the next month.

Today was the day after her birthday. April first.

She smiled to herself sadly, tiredly. ‘Happy April Fool’s day.’

 


 

 

 

October 14, (Year Three)
Sawada Household, Namimori, Japan

'That man… he's here again,' three-year-old Tsuna noted. In all honesty, he would have forgotten about That Man by now but something, a feeling, prevented him from forgetting. It told him That Man was someone he should know, someone important.

But Tsuna rarely dwelt on that feeling. It made him uncomfortable and, even if That Man brought out many conflicting emotions within him, his new books interested him more.

Tsuna didn’t like the book full of lines his Mama called "words". He liked the book with the pretty pictures. It was full of shapes and he liked them even if they were black and white and not colourful like the pictures he made with his crayons. Sometimes, though, some of the shapes had missing parts and had dots instead. The dots were terrible replacements for the lines that were supposed to be there. There were also some weird characters thrown in there but he could not understand the "words" they were making all that well.

Overall, he thought it was a weird book, but pretty.

He looked at the object in his fist. The "pencil" was something his mother placed in his hand. Was he supposed to use it on the book?

The feeling was back. It seemed to agree. He nodded to himself and placed the tip of the pencil on a dot in an incomplete shape… thingy. The feeling told him to connect the dots so that’s what he did. It also seemed to know where he should connect next. On one shape, he didn’t listen to the feeling and it turned out all wonky and... Wrong. His head also hurt.

Note to self: Always listen to the Feeling.

Tsuna didn’t know how long he sat there with his pretty pictures in his pretty books, but he must have fallen asleep because when he woke up, he was in his mother's arms. His mother didn’t look like she realised he was awake but he wanted to stay in her arms a little longer, so he kept quiet. She had a weird look on her face and her eyes were shiny. It made him hurt for some reason. Right in his chest, there was an achy feeling.

He wanted it to go away.

He turned his head slightly and realised his Mama’s eyes were on That Man—the one who gave him the pretty books. Something came out of his nose as he slept. That didn’t come out of Tsuna’s nose when he slept, did it? It made That Man look weird. Tsuna didn’t want to look like That Man.

'Why does Mama look at him like that?' Tsuna thought. 'Even back then,' he suddenly remembered. Before, That Man came to visit them as well, and then left the next day. And after That Man left, his mother had the same look—the same tight expression and shiny eyes. Tsuna couldn’t bring himself to forget it now that he remembered. It was so different from his Mama's usual faces. It was a face that hurt him… and it was because of That Man.

He wanted the hurt to go away.

He wanted That Man to go away.

 


 

 

One day, Nana taught her son about fathers. About how That Man was actually his Papa. Tsuna, curious, asked why he wasn’t around like his Mama. He believed her when she said he was a very busy man who kept them safe and happy in their house, and that he loved Tsu-kun very much.

She was his mother and he believed his mother was always right. He also noticed that when he acknowledged the man as his Papa, it made his Mama smile, and he liked that. So, he decided to give That Man a chance to prove himself as his Papa. He didn’t accept him as his Papa right away because the Feeling made his head throb when he thought to be nicer to That Man when they next met. He trusted the Feeling and liked it too because it made him surer of what he was doing. After all, it never failed him before, just like his Mama.

When the man visited again a few weeks after the New Year, Tsuna noticed that his Mama’s smile was brighter. She was happier with That Man than when she was with him.

He tried not to think about that too much. It hurt every time he did.

 


 

 

Tsuna loved to draw. He always thought that the things around him were very pretty and that he would like to make those pretty things himself. His drawings, though… they rarely ever turned out the way he wanted them to, so more often than not he usually redid everything. The Feeling never really helped him in these endeavours other than the occasional nudge or two but he didn’t mind all that much. He liked it when he discovered new ways to make his drawings better. He especially loved it when his mother would say that he drew better every day.

He was always happy when she acknowledged him. His mom was even happier whenever he showed her a new drawing.

 


 

 

Nana didn’t work as she opted to be a simple homemaker and devote her time and attention to her son. On days when she had no need to do chores around the house, and her son grew bored of drawing or playing alone, she taught him new things. On one of these occasions, she taught him about "birthdays".

"Dof Mama hab bithday?" Tsuna asked around the fist he had stuffed in his mouth. She removed it only for him to place it back there stubbornly.

"Everyone has a birthday Tsu-kun," she replied patiently and resorted to gentle slaps on her son's hand whenever he moved to place it in his mouth. "It's a very special day because… well, because it's the day you enter this world. The day your existence begins."

"Eks-sis-tans?"

Nana winced, as she realised that she made her explanation more complicated than it had to be. She hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to explain concepts to a child. Not for the first time or for the last, she wished her husband were around to make things a little easier.

"An existence is your life." She thought for a moment. "It's something that you call yourself from the day you’re born until… well, we'll talk about when an existence ends next time." Nana grew confused. Where was she going with this? Maybe she should try a different approach. "Have I told you what it means to 'exist'?"

Tsuna shook his head.

"Well, even when you're doing nothing, you still 'exist'. You can still talk, walk, breathe, and do plenty of other things. When you do all these things without thinking, you have what you call an 'existence'. Do you understand?" She added with uncertainty.

Tsuna scrunched up his face in thought then raised his hands and stared at them. "So… Tsu-kun's eks-sis-ting right now? And you call that Tsu-kun's eks-sis-tans?"

"I'm existing and my existence, Tsu-kun. But yes, that's what you call it."

Tsuna's nose twitched as he pouted. "Mama calls Tsu-kun, Tsu-kun. Tsu-kun is Tsunayoshi. Not 'boku'."

"Yes, yes, I know. But you can't say your name all the time, that's why little boys like you use 'boku' when they talk about themselves."

"Tsu-kun still don’t get."

Nana sighed but smiled fondly at him. "We'll work on it, then. Have to get you ready for school, right?"

He appeared to think for a long while. His mother let him be, as she knew that once he settled his still-spontaneous thoughts, he would voice his question.

"Why?"

"Hm? Why what, Tsu-kun?"

"Why people eks-sist? Why people live?"

Nana paused in surprise. She hadn’t expected such a question from her son, but he was a curious child and she wanted to support that curiosity. Still… "The answer to that… is something you'll know when you're older," she replied to him, full of certainty.

"Ehh? No fair! Tsu-kun wanna know now!" He whined.

Nana smiled gently. "It's something you need to figure out for yourself Tsu-kun. The answer is different for everybody."

He blinked up at her innocently. "What's Mama's?"

This was actually a question she didn’t need to think about. Her answer was the goal she set for herself when she started to plan what she would teach her son, "To raise you into a fine young man your Papa would be proud of."

There, an answer that showed she thought of what was best for her son and, at the same time, ensured that he would remember his father. After all, every little boy wanted to become their Papa when they grew up, right?

‘It’s a good answer,’ she thought to herself approvingly.

Unbeknownst to Nana, her son had shrunk into himself. For some reason, Tsuna felt disappointed, but the Feeling told him he should have expected it and to hide what he felt. He instinctively knew that any sort of negative emotion would upset his mother and that was something he never (ever) wanted to do.

Tsuna didn’t want to be the reason his Mama made that face. It was sad. It was as if she was going to cry and he knew how horrible you had to feel to cry since he did it a lot.

Instead, he asked another question. It had been on his mind the entire time he asked his other questions. This was safe, the Feeling told him. This would make Mama happy.

"When Mama's birth-day?"

Nana’s eyes widened and her smile broadened. Tsuna’s own smile grew in response. There, that face was much better, and he liked it when he made it come out. 'Course, they were never as bright as when Papa came home, but he liked the fact he made her smile more than Papa did.

Nana stood up to get a nearby calendar, then returned to the couch to begin a new lesson.

 


 

 

March 31, (Year Four)

"Mama, look, look!" Tsuna excitedly called out. He worked on his first-ever project for weeks with little to no breaks at all, excited to give it to his mother for her birthday. He noticed that she looked a little sadder every day since his father left after so, when he learned about her birthday, he was determined to give her a gift to make her happy again. It was a little hard to hide his drawing from her while he worked on it, and he had no experience with coloured pencils, but he knew it was his best work to date and he was satisfied with it… for now. He felt a little bad that he used so much paper for his first few attempts, though.

Tsuna grinned to himself. 'And Mama didn't notice a thing!'

"Ara, Tsu-kun? Are you finally going to show me what you've been so focused on drawing lately?"

'… Or maybe she did,' he pouted. He wondered if he would have been able to keep it a surprise if he had listened to the Feeling more.

"Hai~!" Tsuna happily shoved a piece of letter-sized paper folded in half to his amused mother. He bowed and yelled, "Happy Birthday Mama!" He made sure to pronounce the greeting carefully, so his mother got his message right.

Nana accepted the piece of paper with a delighted expression on her face. "Thank you, Tsu-kun!"

"Open it!"

"You must have worked so hard on this," Nana commented as she unfolded the paper. Her eyes drank in the sight of the vivid drawing.

The drawing was of a young woman who held onto a little boy's hand to keep him aloft, just a few feet above the ground. The boy's other hand held onto another's, a man, who did the same for him. They were surprisingly not stick figures and rather well proportioned, though they lacked detail. Their clothes, while colourful, looked flat and unrealistic, another indication that it was the work of a child. Even so, the woman's face appeared meticulously drawn, her eyes her most prominent feature, and that was when Nana realised that the woman was her, long flowy hair and all. She looked closer at the little boy's face and sure enough, light brown lines sprouted from the drawing's head to portray hair, and it somehow managed to emulate the vaguely star-shaped figure her son's own hair made. The boy in the drawing had his eyes closed in happiness and his mouth was wide open in a soundless cheer. She excitedly moved her gaze to the man she was sure was supposed to be her beloved and she froze.

Now that she looked closer, her son didn’t draw the man as well as he did the woman and child. By the marks on the paper itself, he constantly erased and re-illustrated the figure with more than a little frustration. His face and body, compared to the other two, appeared carelessly scribbled in, as though he were an after-thought and wasn’t meant to be included originally.

Tsuna unknowingly answered the question plaguing his mother's mind. "Sorry Papa looks weird. Tsu-kun tried thinkin' 'bout 'im for a long time but Tsu-kun can't really see hi–" His eyes widened as he stopped himself mid-sentence. "… Mama…?" He asked in a shaky voice.

Nana had her hand held over her mouth to stifle her sobs as tears ran down her face.

'Why?'

"Ma… ma?"

'Why are you crying? Is it that bad?'

"S-Sorry… if it's bad…"

'Is it me?'

"T-Tsu-kun can do it again!"

'Just please stop crying.'

Nana abruptly stood up and, with a whispered apology her son didn’t hear, she ran to her room.

Tsuna heard the door lock. After a moment, he gathered enough courage to walk up to the door. He hesitantly listened through the wood and his heart constricted when he heard muted sniffles.

'I don't want this pain. Make it go away.'

The child knocked on the wood. "Mama…?" He bit his lip. "You okay?"

No response.

His eyes prickled but he refused to cry. Crying won’t help him here, his mom always felt worse when he did. She never showed it on her face but he knew, because the Feeling let him know. "Tsu-kun… I," he changed his form of address to himself with the hope that this would make his mother listen to him, "can do it again. I can make somethin' better. So… please. Stop… crying…"

No response.

With a heavy heart, Tsuna returned to his room, locked his own door, and finally let his tears flow.

Dinner that night had been a stilted affair. Neither of them said a word to the other. They let their dishevelled appearances and red-rimmed eyes speak for themselves.

 


 

 

April 1

Tsuna was scared. So very, very scared.

The child had been quietly miserable when he woke up that morning and recalled yesterday's events. He prepared himself to apologise for as many times as needed even though he wasn’t entirely sure why his mother cried, only that it was somehow his fault. That was actually one of the reasons he was finally determined to talk to her—it was so that he could find out what he did wrong and make sure he wouldn’t do it ever again.

He was mentally prepared for anything that morning… that is, he believed he was, until his mother walked into his room and smiled as though nothing was wrong and told him that breakfast was going to grow cold if he didn’t go down soon.

That was why he was so scared.

Did something happen to his mother? Something had to have happened for her to forget about yesterday so suddenly. How could she go from a crying, silent mess to how she had been before? Did she really forget?

The Feeling told him she didn’t. Then why? Why was she like… this?

Tsuna didn’t understand.

... But…

Even so, when Nana asked if he was okay, with concern on her face and worry in her voice, he smiled back at her brightly and said he was alright. Even through his fear, his desire to do nothing to sadden his mother and everything to make her happy shone through.

 


 

 

They continued, then, as though nothing distressed their little family.

Tsuna still didn’t understand. At times, his curiosity would grow too large for him to hold back and he would find his mouth open, ready to ask about that day… but the Feeling always stopped him before a sound could leave his lips. He knew, through the Feeling, that questions would only make his mother sad.

That didn’t mean she didn’t scare him.

He promised himself that he would never forget. He did not want other people to be scared of him, like how the other kids at the playground always scared him. Even if his mother assured him that they meant no harm, which was something he didn’t understand because they pushed each other to the ground a lot and it looked really painful.

(And Tsuna didn’t realise it, but it was because of that day that he began to lose faith in his mother.)

 


 

 

Nana was worried. As weeks went by her son grew more and more withdrawn to the point he was surprised and at times hesitant whenever anyone, even she, would speak to him. Concerned, she brought him to the park instead of the playground, as many other families and children frequented this area more. She hoped that he would make a friend there and that whoever they were would bring her son out of his shell and return him to the cheerful boy he really was.

She could see that he tried very hard to play with the other kids and be like them but it seemed his efforts always fell short. It made his back hunch in timid defeat. A pang of pain went straight to her heart when she realised that their little outing only served to depress him more. It wasn’t fair. Her son was the best son a mother could ask for. He was thoughtful and helpful—he was considerate. She just knew he would make a great friend as long as he had the chance to prove himself.

So, Nana didn’t, couldn’t, understand why other children ignored him. Did they just not notice him? Was it because he was shy? Or did they see him as, in that odd way only children could, different from the rest of them?

Nana just couldn’t comprehend it.

All she knew was that her little boy was in pain.

She was sure that if he made a friend, even a single one, he would feel better. But not many children her son's age were interested in the same activities he was, and he was terrified of the roughhousing the others were preferred. She needed to find someone calm and easy-going, which was somewhat of a challenge as she herself was unfamiliar with the inhabitants of Namimori, let alone their children. Her husband, though…

An invitation for tea from a certain couple familiar with Iemitsu popped into her head. That day somehow felt like it happened an eternity ago, and a metaphorical fluorescent bulb lit up in her head.

Once they arrived home, Nana dialled the Yamamoto's house number. She couldn’t help but let her mind wander and wonder if Tsu-kun was the way he was now because of what had occurred on her birthday. Guilt pierced her heart. She hadn’t meant to react in such a way; it was just that the implications of how he drew Iemitsu struck a very sensitive chord within her. She had been brutally reminded that for her son… he might as well not have a father.

That realisation hit her so hard she couldn’t possibly hold back her emotions. She could still remember the wonderful times she spent with her own father and when she became conscious of the fact that her son lacked such pleasant memories…

It hurt. It just hurt.

Nana shook her head. At any rate, right now her son’s current state was more important. This was her life now, looking after her son's well-being was her single and most meaningful responsibility. Once again, the thought that she caused her son’s current disposition because of her negative reaction that day brushed against her mind, but she shook that off as well.

Even if that were the case, her son was still young. In time, he would forget, as all children eventually do.

"Hello? Yamamoto Amaya speaking, may I ask who’s calling?”

 


 

 

April 24
Apartment above Takesushi

Tsuna shifted from one foot to another uneasily. A few days ago, his mother told him they were going to a birthday party, then she took him out to shop for a gift. He hoped the birthday celebrant would like what he picked out. He really didn’t want what happened on his mother's birthday to happen again, since he was sure he would get in trouble with the adults if he made the birthday boy cry.

Then his mother would be disappointed in him. That alone exponentially increased how nervous he already felt.

Tsuna hid behind Nana, who carried the present, as they entered the relatively new sushi restaurant. Upon their entrance, a happy couple immediately welcomed them with friendly smiles on their faces. Tsuna almost relaxed at the pleasant atmosphere but then the woman called for her son, and his nerves took over again. He tightened his sweaty grip on his mother's leg.

Takeshi. That was the boy's name. They were about the same age, Takeshi just a few months older. Tsuna also noticed (when he got a good look at the Yamamoto family together) that unlike him, Takeshi took after his father in appearance.

"Tsu-kun," Nana gently nudged her son forward. At the same time, she held out the gift in her hands. "Go on and give Takeshi-kun his present."

Tsuna hesitantly detached himself from his mother and took the present from her. He held the gift delicately in his sweaty palms even though a part of him wanted to crush it in his hands as an outlet for the nervous tension in his body. Only, he did not want to crumple the careful package. Instead, he stiffly made his way to the other family in slow steps and used the time he took to observe the other boy.

Takeshi had the same messy dark hair as his father. The wide shape of his eyes, though characteristic of others his age, appeared to lean towards his mother but the amber of his iris was definitely a paternal trait. His casual wear consisted of a black shirt that displayed a Baseball bat and ball, dark green shorts, and white shin-length socks. His smile was bright and beneath the patient exterior he put on, Tsuna felt an excited sort of energy radiate from him.

It made Tsuna think of running water.

Tsuna also noted, with a pout, that like everyone else, Takeshi was taller than him.

When Tsuna finally stood in front of the birthday boy, he held out his gift shyly. "H-Happy Birthday, T-Takeshi-kun

Takeshi blinked but his grin didn’t falter. He looked up at his parents who smiled at him in encouragement. Then he looked back at Tsuna and tilted his head curiously. "Is that for me?"

Tsuna meekly nodded. "U-Uh-huh…"

Takeshi’s grin grew so wide it seemed to split his face. He was thrilled as this was the first gift that he got from someone who wasn’t his parents. "Uwah! Thank you!" He exclaimed in slight awe as he accepted the gift. It was round and soft, and he briefly wondered what it was.

"Take-kun," Amaya gently began even though there was a wild grin on her face at the endearing sight the two kids made, "introduce yourself."

"Sure! My name's Yamamoto Takeshi! What's yours?"

Tsuna looked down at the floorboards shyly and fiddled with the hem of his shirt, a blush on his cheeks. "Sawada… Tsunayoshi…" He mumbled incoherently, even to his own ears.

"Eh? Sorry, I didn't hear that."

He tried again, louder this time, "Sawada… Tsuna… yoshi…” He trailed off into a mumble.

They were silent for a moment and as each second passed, Tsuna felt the atmosphere grow more and more awkward. Then, Takeshi abruptly let go of his present just so he could use his hands to pinch Tsuna's pink, chubby cheeks. "Cute!" He looked up at his mom. "Hey mom, he's what you call cute, right?"

Amaya giggled behind her hand while Tsuyoshi rolled his eyes good-naturedly. Meanwhile, near the entrance of the restaurant, Nana hid her smile as she stifled her laugh with her own hand at her son's adorably confused and pinched face.

"Yes, Take-kun," Amaya finally replied. "He's what you call cute."

Takeshi stopped pinching Tsuna's cheeks so that he could grab the other boy’s hands instead. Then he pulled Tsuna up the staircase. "Let's go to my room, Tsuna! We can play there!"

Tsuna periodically stumbled as the taller boy dragged him up the stairs, but every time he did Takeshi somehow managed to keep him balanced before he could fall. Takeshi didn’t even seem to notice his own actions, as though it was natural for him to help Tsuna with his clumsiness.

"Tsuna…?" Tsuna’s Papa called him that. He never really liked it, though. “Wait…”

"Ne, Tsuna, what do you usually do for fun?"

Tsuna blinked when Takeshi turned to give him his full attention and his mind drew up blanks. "I-I usually… draw…"

Takeshi’s eyebrows scrunched up in thought. "Draw…?"

Tsuna grew nervous again. He forgot, at the suddenness of the question, that most kids didn’t like what he liked. And even if they did, it wasn’t to the extent that they would spend most of their time drawing, as he was wont to do.

"Sounds fun! Can you teach me how to do that?"

Tsuna blinked again as he processed the other’s words. Before he knew it, he swept away in Takeshi's pace, and strangely enough, he found himself happy about it. Takeshi’s exuberant yet soothing energy gave Tsuna a peace he didn’t know could exist.

 


 

 

Amaya, Nana, and Tsuyoshi shared identical smiles as they spied on the two boys' activities and listened in on their conversation.

"—and then you give them clothes," Tsuna explained.

"They don't look like clothes, though. There aren't any… um… folds! Yeah, that's what dad calls 'em."

"… I dunno how to make those."

"Don't give up! Mom always said you never know 'til you try!"

It was silent for a long while, though the adults could hear the faint sounds of pencils and crayons as they scratched on paper. Suddenly, Takeshi's somewhat forced laughter broke the quiet.

"I guess you're right Tsuna! We failed," he said in embarrassment.

"I-It's okay. A-At least we tried, right, Takeshi-kun?"

Nana couldn’t stop herself any longer. With a bright grin, she remembered enough of her manners to knock on the door politely before she opened it and entered Takeshi's bedroom, a camera clutched in her hands. "Tsu-kun, Takeshi-kun! Smile for the camera and say 'Cheese'!"

Both boys looked at her than at each other in surprise. Then, they shared equally happy grins and smiled at the camera.

 


 

 

"Ne, Tsuna, why does your mom call you 'Tsu-kun'?"

"… It's just… her nickname for me.”

"Oh. Should I call you that too?"

Tsuna thought about it. His Papa called him Tsuna and he never really liked it all that much. But when Takeshi used it…

"… No," he finally answered, "Tsuna’s fine.”

 


 

 

Sawada Household

"Mama?"

"Yes, Tsu-kun?"

"Can we visit Takeshi-kun again tomorrow?"

Nana gave him a soft smile, silently happy that he seemed to regain his previous cheer. "We'll see, Tsu-kun."

Tsuna pouted but nodded his acceptance on the matter.

"Mama?"

"Yes, Tsu-kun?"

Tsuna shyly looked down at his feet. "… Can I have that picture you took?"

Nana blinked, then smiled at him brightly. "Of course, Tsu-kun."

After dinner and after he was tucked into bed, comforted by his covers and in the privacy of his bedroom, Tsuna grinned at the picture of him and his first-ever friend. The two of them smiled happily, surrounded by papers full of drawings and crayons as they clutched pencils in their tiny hands.

Something like this… he would love to create happy drawings like this. To make something so beautiful would be amazing.

'I feel… warm,' Tsuna thought, and without his knowledge, his brown eyes shone in the dark recesses of his room, a hint of orange fire in their depths. 'I like it… this feeling.’

 


 

 

October 13

Tsuna couldn’t sleep. How could he? He finally knew why his Mama always gave him a present on the same day every year. It was his birthday tomorrow!

But that wasn’t exactly the reason he couldn’t sleep. Earlier today, Tsuna and Nana got a postcard from Iemitsu that said his birthday gift for his little Tuna-fishy would be delivered tomorrow and that they should look forward to it. The mystery bothered Tsuna so much that he felt incredibly impatient for the day to pass and for the sun to come up on his birthday. Not to mention the fact that, according to his mom, the Yamamoto family closed Takesushi for the day so that he could celebrate there and play with Takeshi, which was something they didn’t get to do often since Takeshi started to play Baseball.

That made Tsuna sad but he perked himself up with the thought that, since it was his special day tomorrow, they could play together as much as he wanted!

Tsuna was upset that he couldn’t sleep, though. His Mama explained that he needed all his energy for tomorrow or he wouldn’t be able to play with Takeshi, so he needed to sleep. Like, right now!

As Tsuna mulled over his problem, something bright flashed in the periphery of his eyes. He blinked at his clock and read the time. A smile split his face and he ducked his head underneath his blankets to smother his face into his pillow. It was midnight now and his Mama taught him that when midnight strikes it actually meant the next day already started. Not to mention she told him he was born at exactly the midnight of October 14, which meant that it was already his birthday!

Now he definitely won’t fall asleep anymore. Tsuna scrambled out of bed. He deliberated whether he should wake up his mom, get a glass of milk, or just walk around the house when he realised that a bright, white light shone through his window. He looked outside and what he saw left him in awe.

His mother taught him about the moon and the stars. He saw pictures of them in the storybooks she would read to him, so he knew what to call the objects in the sky, even if they didn’t exactly match the pictures. The point was, he knew what they were, but he usually fell asleep before they came out so he never really saw them in person before.

They were beautiful.

Tsuna rushed towards his bedroom window and excitedly climbed up his chair and then his desk. He fiddled with the lock on the window panel for a few minutes but eventually unclasped it and slid the glass open. He shivered when a blast of chilly autumn wind hit him but he did not let it deter him from his goal.

'Mama was right! They're really pretty!' His fingers itched to draw the sight before his eyes. He frowned, however, when he noticed that the electric poles and the other houses blocked his view of the spectacular scene.

'Higher… I need to go higher…' He thought as he carefully looked out the window and then around it. 'There! The roof… but Mama told me not to climb high places when no one was watching me…' He bit his lip uncertainly, conflicted. He looked up once more.

The sky continued to shine invitingly.

'But Mama… doesn’t really have to know… Plus, it’s my birthday! I’m a year older… I can do it… I can just… step over here and climb up there… and the roof's not far from my window…'

His lips stretched into the mischievous grin all children seemed to be capable of doing naturally. Then he descended from his desk and ran to his closet to throw on a hoodie over his pyjamas. He returned to his table to grab a small bag he asked his mother to buy for him so he could carry his art supplies wherever he went. He slipped it on his back and climbed up his furniture again. Then he took a deep breath to calm the excited beats of his heart and stepped out his window and onto the ledge.

Tsuna carefully held onto the wooden frame as he reached up to grab the window's upper ledge. He tiptoed, jumped a few times, and reached out with his arm until he finally managed to grab it. After that, it was a simple matter to bring himself up and stand there.

He grinned even as he panted from the exertion. Then he reached for the edge of the rooftop. It was higher up than the upper ledge of his window had been but he was confident. He managed to do it once, so why not a second time?

Decision made, Tsuna tiptoed, jumped, and reached for the edge of the rooftop again. He gave one big jump and finally managed to get a grip on it with both hands. He grinned widely and then…

And then he looked down.

Tsuna panicked and one of his hands lost its grip.

Suddenly, he realised that he was hanging from the edge of the roof by one, small hand. He couldn’t let go because his last jump brought him far from the window ledge and he had nothing close to land on. He understood then, as he looked at the ground, that it was a terrifyingly long way down. He fell many times before, and it always hurt, but from this high up, it would be an instant…

'Death…' The single word pierced through his frightened thoughts. 'Mama’s scared of that… and she's always sad… when I get hurt… she said that, if you get hurt enough, you'd… die… and we'd never see each other again…' His mother’s sad face flashed through his mind, and Tsuna’s eyes widened and he began to thrashed. His single hand tightened its grip on the roof.

'I don't want to die!' He yelled in his head, eyes squeezed shut as tears gathered at the corners. 'If I die… if I die… Mama will be sad! So I can't… I can't die!'

A spark within him flickered and roared in tandem with his desperation. Warmth burned through his body and his eyes opened to reveal searing orange irises. His mouth moved to let out a silent gasp. His mind calmed and his flails gradually halted as he looked down at his body and saw embers surround him. Even though part of him was astonished and confused, he grasped onto the instinct he found within himself, his will to survive.

Fire enveloped his body and he suddenly found the strength to raise his other arm and get a firm hold on the rooftop's edge with both hands. Somehow, he knew how to increase the strength of the fire and he suddenly found it easier to bring his entire body to safety. When his mind realised that he was finally safe, the comforting heat left him slowly, as though it were reluctant to return to wherever it came from.

Tsuna laid down on his back as he caught his breath and stared at the sky full of stars, all the while ignoring how his bag dug into his back. When his rapid heartbeat slowed and his mind had exhausted itself with replays of what had just happened, he shot up as though electrocuted. He sat there and touched different parts of his body in disbelief, eyes full of wonder.

'Just now… what was that?'

An awed grin stretched across his face. 'So—'

"—cool! Like those huge robots on TV!”

 


 

 

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars, to change the world.” ~ Harriet Tubman