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the world's on fire but we're all smiling (though it's all our fault);

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but life is short so we resort to smiling through it all.


A child learns most in the first three years of their life. Something about developing brains and neurons. Connections. Hayato tried to explain it but Tsuna never could manage to understand complicated stuff like that, even now.

But knowing this, he wonders what his life would have been like if he had been left alone. If he would have been less useless, less dame.

Maybe.

Maybe that would’ve been nice.

* * *

They say that children don’t often remember their childhood, when they grow up. Infancy, especially.

But Sawada Tsunayoshi remembers. No good, useless Tsuna remembers. He remembers watching everything that moved, remembers reaching for everything that moved. He remembers trying to say things Nana said, things he would hear on the radio, or a the television.

He remembers a gentle warmth inside him, fueling a desire to absorb and learn and grow

All it took was one finger. One touch. A little scar on his forehead, under the fringe of his hair.

* * *

”Was I a useless baby too, mom?”

“Tsu-kun! How could you even ask something like that?” His mother looked hurt. Personally. She looked hurt and worried and upset. Then happy, and sad. “You were a wonderful baby, Tsu-kun. You started walking and talking so quickly! Such a wonderfully talented baby boy. I was almost worried you would grow up too quickly and leave me.”

A wonderfully talented baby boy.

But now he couldn’t even go to school without tripping over his own feet at least twice.

“Ah, Tsu-kun, you’re still my wonderful baby boy,” she said, as though she knew what the downcast look on his face meant. “Mama is very proud of you.”

“Even though I’m no good at anything?”

“Tsu-kun,” Nana smiled, ruffling through his seven year old head of fluffy hair. “You’ve never stopped trying. And that makes Mama very, very proud.”

He’s been cold for a while now, ever since that day. There’s no fire in his eyes anymore- not the kind he would read about in stories, or see in movies. Not the fire of life. Tsuna is plenty alive, he makes sure of that. But his hands are never quite warm enough, he always gets butterflies in his stomach, and all the sounds of people around him and cars passing by and everything just- just-

Tsuna used to feel so warm and safe in Nana’s arms, in his own house. In his own body.

* * *

When he’s 8, the school nurse recommended that Nana have him evaluated professionally.

The doctor’s tell him he can’t pay attention in class because he has something called attention deficit disorder and give Nana a bottle of pills for Tsuna.

He wants to tell them you’re wrong, but he isn’t a doctor, and Nana just seems so happy to have a solution to help her baby boy.

In two weeks, he starts doing a little better in class. He runs better, throws better, keeps up with his classmates better. But the pills also make him even more jumpy and nervous whenever the whistle blows, or when someone shouts pass the ball, dame Tsuna!, and while it makes him feel nice sometimes, the anxious, gnawing sensation in his stomach gets worse. He doesn’t eat lunch.

It takes another three weeks for Nana to find out that he stopped taking them. Three days later, Tsuna to learns how to pretend to swallow his medicine when she’s around. To keep his mom from worrying.

His marks are back to normal. Everything is back to normal.

* * *

He trips again for the third time that day, on his way down the stairs, and can only thank his lucky stars that he’d had the foresight to walk next to the railing and avoid cracking his head open.

Useless Tsuna, the students around him laugh and jeer. It’s their last year in primary school. Stop catching yourself and just fall already.

* * *

He won’t fall. Not if he can help it. If everyone else can walk without falling, if they can get good grades and have friends and eat ice cream without knocking all the scoops over (they don’t even need to shove him for that anymore, he just knocks them off all by himself), then Tsuna can too.

He tells himself he won’t be useless forever, and digs out more of his allowance change for another ice cream cone.

* * *

By the time he is 11, Tsuna more or less accepts that others will be better than he is at just about everything. Everyone gets better marks on their tests than he does. Everyone runs better, runs farther, runs faster.

Everyone pays attention in class better. Everyone plays instruments better than he can. Everyone can walk past their neighbor’s chihuahua without squeaking and shrieking every time it barks at them from behind the house gate. Everyone can talk to others without fidgeting or getting distracted by the clop clop clop of someone walking by,

Everyone can hang out when their friends in parks and cafes and game stores without feeling a desperate need to get away and just go home.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t keep trying (Mama is so very proud of him) but nothing he does happens the way he wants it to, his body doesn’t listen to him and somewhere deep inside he knows his body doesn’t work right

But.

He can still smile. He can still try.

Tsuna trips, but he learns how to sprint and get back up quickly before the bullies catch up. His marks are bad, but every now and then he remembers something from class and manages to score something in the 20s. (That’s good, right? No one else seems to think so. But Mama is always happy when he gets something better than a 10.)

He learns to never give up.

So when Nana tells him that this baby was sent to be his home tutor, Tsuna thinks there’s no way a baby can be that smart. But he knows just be looking at the infant that it isn’t a lie. The body is small and those eyes are large, but any innocence in them is a farce. A baby does not move that well, talk that well, dress that well.

And when Reborn says he is the world’s greatest hitman and plans to make Tsuna into a mafia boss, he thinks

Ah. So that’s who he must have been.

But he says:

“That’s impossible! I can’t join the mafia, I can’t be a boss!”

“It’s an order I got from a certain someone,” the child tells him in a tone that suffers no arguments. The rifle pointed at him does it’s share, too. “You’ll be an astounding mafia boss.”

“But I’m—” I’m no good, he wants to say. “..I’m-”

“Tsunayoshi,” Reborn chirps. Tsuna hears something on the rifle clicking. “I’m the world’s strongest hitman and home tutor. I’ll train you to death.”

Sawada Tsunayoshi, age 13, does not shriek as a bullet flies past his ear and out the open window.

(Except, he does. He so does.)

* * *

Tsuna has never thought about confessing to Sasagawa Kyoko.

He likes her. He likes her smile, the color of her eyes, likes the way the sun shines on her hair. He likes how kind she is, how she helped him up once when he’d fallen over in front of her. He likes the way she knew something was wrong when he started shaking after getting away from the usual after-school bullies, breathing like he’d just run a marathon and unable to stop gasping for air.

Likes the way she helped him calm down. Even if she didn’t know what to do, or what she did, she let him hold her hand and focus on the warmth of it, the heat of her skin, how smooth her hand was. He likes the way she looked so relieved when he said he was fine now, and thanks for not chasing him off. She said she would never do something like that, and he believed her.

He wishes he could have thanked her properly before the bullies found him again.

When Reborn tells him to confess one school-day morning and plants a bullet right in his forehead, Tsuna does not, in fact, lose his clothes.

Except he does. Sort of.

* * *

Reborn is the greatest, strongest hitman in the world. The greatest, the strongest.

Strong, of course, doesn’t necessarily equate to physical strength, although Reborn has that too. A hitman must be clever, tactical, quick thinking. He must have good senses, to know when to accept and when to decline a hit, when to call it quits, when to not give up.

The strongest and greatest, not only in body, but in mind. He is invincible.

..He is also a baby now.

Reborn has spent enough time coming to accept this Arcabaleno curse that it gets tiring waiting for others to accept it, that he’s more than the average baby.

Sawada Tsunayoshi’s reaction to seeing him for a first time does not match up with his profile.

(13 years old. 152 centimeters. 46.5 kilograms. Blood type, A. Sheep. Barely passing marks in class, sub-par participation, what looks like a case of social anxiety and occasional panic attacks. Officially diagnosed with attention deficiency and currently being treated with medication and weekly visits to a therapist. His teachers don’t seem to be very helpful, but as far as the reports go, Sawada Tsunayoshi doesn’t dislike his therapist. He’s ‘improving’.

Reborn looks through the summary of his newest student’s test marks and sighs. There’s a lot of work ahead of him to train a child for the seat of Vongola Decimo.

He observes Iemitsu’s child from afar for a day and adds ‘squeaks too much’ to the paperwork.)

This same no good, squeaky Tsunayoshi does little more than look at Reborn with all the attentiveness of a Decimo. Reborn starts to think the profile report on this supposed attention deficit fluff of a brat is a little off.

“My real job is to make you a mafia boss,” he states. Tsunayoshi does not call him a liar, does not ask if he’s joking, does not think it’s a game.

Instead he says that’s impossible, I can’t be a boss.

(Well. There was a lot more squeaking and panicking when Tsunayoshi said it.)

“I’ll train you to death.”

Then Sawada Tsunayoshi does shriek, and Reborn can’t help but wonder why the boy doesn’t flinch away from the bullet grazing his cheek.

When he finally does shoot Tsunayoshi with the Dying Will Bullet, he’s surprised to find that his student does not lose his clothing like he’s supposed to in Dying Will Mode.

Or, well. He does lose them. But then he gets up and puts them back on, muttering something about modesty and when did I even take them off, anyway?!

The flame is bright on his forehead, but there is only a small flicker of fire in his eyes.

And then Tsunayoshi runs off, leaps down the mountainside road, and somehow manages to lose every article of clothing again aside from his boxers, just as he lands.

“Sasagawa Kyoko!” he yells, the fire on his forehead flaring even larger and brighter. “Thank you!!”

The girl looks like she’s in the middle of screaming and running away when she stops. Tsunayoshi goes through the process of putting on his clothes again as they flutter down from above.

“I’m- sorry! Sorry you have to see me like this, I don’t even know how I-” He squeaks again and Sasagawa Kyoko goes from shocked to a soft kind of amusement. Happiness.

“..That was a pretty cool jump, Tsuna-kun. Are you alright though?”

“Oh- I’m fine! I’m perfect. Somehow.” Tsunayoshi is a lot calmer than he should be, but still.. the same as always. “Anyway, Kyoko-chan- thank you!”

“Hm? What for?”

“For, ah- um, do you remember, a few months ago... when I was running away from some people and bumped into you and you helped me calm down again? Well I, um, I wanted to thank you! Really! I’m sorry I ran away so quickly and I always regretted not thanking you properly for it, and I-”

The girl laughs. Not in a mean way, Reborn concludes, but in a nice way.

He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Tsunayoshi walk so far without falling over at least once. But good things never last, and the moment the Dying Will Flame goes out (6 minutes and 23 seconds), the boy manages to stumble over the slightest bump in the road and Kyoko has to catch him to keep him from greeting the ground with his face.

Reborn makes another note.

Good control over his Dying Will Mode. Training may progress quicker than expected.

He looks through his binoculars again just in time to hear Tsunayoshi yelp and see him trip once more at the school gates.

...Maybe.

* * *

“Weren’t you supposed to confess to her?”

Tsunayoshi gives him a confused look.

“..I said I liked her. I never said I had a crush on her in.. that way.”

Reborn makes a sound. A baby-ish sound. Kyoko giggles and links her arm with Tsunayoshi’s, back in his school uniform again.

“I like you too, Tsuna-kun.”

“As a.. friend?”

“Mm! As a friend.”

He finds that their smiles of newfound friendship seems to suit them just as well as ones of newfound romance would.

 



 

“Hey, Reborn?” Tsuna asks the infant once they’re at home again. “What did you do to me this morning?”

“I shot you with a Dying Will Bullet, Tsunayoshi.” Small hands hold up a familiar bullet that Tsuna remembers sneezing out when he’d tripped over. “Anyone who gets shot with this bullet dies. If they have any lingering regrets, they’ll come back to life and fulfill those regrets.”

Well, Tsuna thinks, I did want to thank Kyoko-chan at least once before I died.

“..Wait, so if I didn’t have any regrets then I would have—?!”

“I’m the World’s Greatest Hitman. You would have died splendidly.”

Tsuna lets out a muffled squeak of protest and fear, more for how pleased Reborn looks than of dying itself.

“What if.. what if my regret is something that can’t be done easily?”

“Like what?”

“Like, um- say I really regretted not being rich, or powerful, or... traveling around the world.. or something really really impossible!”

Reborn doesn’t say anything for a while. Tsuna fidgets with his hands, not shrinking away but still squirming uncomfortably in his seat under the baby hitman’s heavy gaze.

Then:

“Dying Will Mode lets you do the impossible, dame Tsuna. So, whatever foolish regret you have right now, you’ll try to fulfill it with a Dying Will. With those examples you would probably try to rob a bank. Usurp the Prime Minister. Hijack a plane.” The child smiles, eager and vindictive, gun clicking in his hand. “Doesn’t matter if it can’t be done. You’ll try to do it anyway as though you were to die.”

Tsuna squeaks. It’s a terrifying thought.

But it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it? It’s effort. His Will.

This tiny, flickering warmth in his chest.

* * *

Reborn puts Tsunayoshi through Dying Will Mode training quickly and frequently. Partly because his student is making so much progress even without any guidance (8 minutes and counting), and partly because, as he’d told the boy, if I don’t keep shooting, I’ll get rusty.

Still. It’s remarkable how unafraid Tsunayoshi is. For all that he squeaks and shrieks and runs away from bullies, he doesn’t try to escape from this training.

“You’re going to make me a mafia boss, right?” Tsunayoshi says, the flame on his forehead rising higher and higher and higher. “That means we’ll be going to Italy at some point.”

“You have business in Italia, Sawada Tsunayoshi?”

“Ah, my dad works in Italy.” That’s not entirely a lie. But it’s also something Iemitsu would never tell his family. So then, how does Tsunayoshi know? “He’s always too busy to come home, so I thought, maybe...”

“You want to visit him at his work?”

“Oh, as if,” the boy snorts. “I want to go to Italy and drag him back home.”

That’s a bit of a surprise.

“I know he’s working hard and everything.. mom never talks about it, but she never worries either. How else can we live like this without either of us working? So, I want to take care of mom. If I do become the boss of Vongola or whatever, I’m going to drag that dad of mine back home so she can be happy again.”

Soft. Too soft. Like a marshmallow soft.

Reborn knows what happens to marshmallows when you heat them though. They puff up. The melt. They burn. They catch fire.

He looks at the flame on Tsunayohi’s head and smirks as it finally dies down (10 minutes and 32 seconds)-

“Soft thinking like that won’t get you any closer to being a mafia boss, Sawada Tsunayoshi.”

-and flickers back to life.

Yes. Action is what draws attention in the mafia world. But intent, resolve, Will.. that is what drives it.

Tsunayoshi may not be as useless as his moniker would claim.

* * *

As the training goes on, the more that becomes apparent.

Then Reborn is jumping onto the wall of a gated house while his student trips head over heels again on the way home from school. Tsunayoshi scowls at his feet, muttering as he gets up and dusts his pants off.

There’s a brighter flare in his student’s eyes now than there was two months ago, something calmer and more collected. There’s less squeaking (Reborn has almost come to miss that darn sound), less shrieking. Tsunayoshi only has his panic attacks once every few days, if once a week, rather than every other day.

Reborn has never taken a course in first aid before, but with Sasagawa Kyoko’s help, he learns how to help the boy calm down from his attacks.

“What is it that you’re so scared of, Tsunayoshi?” Reborn asks one day, more contemplative and curious than demanding. The boy is laying on his back on one of the park benches, and Reborn perches on his chest now that it has resumed a slow pattern of rise and fall.

He doesn’t expect an answer, not really. Reborn is a hitman, not a doctor. He doesn’t know much about these panic attacks, what causes them. But he’s pretty sure panic attacks don’t just end by lighting the Dying Will Flame.

Then Tsunayoshi props himself up. Looks Reborn in the eyes with the kind of look that Luce used to wear, Sky Flames and all.

Everything,” the boy say, in a tone that Luce sometimes used. But more subdued, more rueful. “I know it’s pathetic of me, but I can’t help it.”

It is, Reborn would have said a few weeks ago, before taking on this child as his student. It really is pathetic.

“Depends,” he says instead, scooting backwards to keep from falling over, and also to let his Tsunayoshi breathe a little easier. “What do you mean by ‘everything’?”

“I mean just that. Even more now that I know someone wants me to join the mafia; there must be some that don’t want me to join, right? I.. I can’t help worrying if anyone’s going to come after me, or after mom, or- well I don’t really worry about them coming after you. And I know I shouldn’t be scared, with you around. But I..” Tsunayoshi worries on his lower lip, flopping down onto his back again. “..I’m still scared. Terrified of it.”

“As you should be,” the infant chirps, flicking the rim of his fedora. “The mafia world is not for soft-hearted animals who would die from the slightest shock to their hearts.”

“Please don’t use that as an excuse to wake me up with electrocution again.”

“Your training isn’t over, Sawada Tsunayoshi.”

* * *

If Reborn was surprised at how quickly Tsunayoshi was adapting to the training to lengthen his time in Dying Will Mode, he’s even more surprised to see how quickly the boy learns to handle it.

Vongola, Reborn sneers. Hyper Intuition. And it seems to be manifesting quite well. Enough to require a test subject.

He calls in Smoking Bomb, knowing just the best way to bait the other hitman.

“So it’s true then? If I kill this guy, I get to be the next Vongola heir?”

“Wha-” The confusion on Tsunayoshi’s face goes from comical to disbelieving to actual confusion.

“Alright.” At Reborn’s nod of assent, Smoking Bomb whips out a handful of dynamite, already halfway through lighting them with the end of his cigarette when Tsunayoshi squeaks again.

“Wai- wait! If you can be next in line that means you’d have to be- you’re not- wait, dammit-!”

It’s something else, though, to watch Tsunayoshi doggedly and determinedly extinguish the fuses on every stick of dynamite after being shot with the Dying Will Bullet.

Smoking Bomb is undeterred, pulling out more and more dynamite with each round that is snuffed. Double. Triple. Reborn doesn’t think it’s possible to carry all that and a Quadruple Bomb on one’s body. His thoughts are more or less confirmed when Smoking Bomb’s hands slip.

There’s a long, long, long moment, one full second, where Tsunayoshi’s movement stills, eyes following the movement of each and every stick of dynamite falling towards the ground. As though gauging whether he has the time and speed to defuse them. There’s an aborted movement, one half moment’s step lurching towards Smoking Bomb himself.

Then Tsunayoshi darts forward, arms outstretched and shoving Smoking Bomb out of blast range.

Leon shifts into a gun, but there is no need. By the time Reborn has his hand around the handle of it, Tsunayoshi is calmly, carefully, diligently snuffing out every fuse in sight.

The Flame sizzles away, and in the midst of watching Smoking Bomb bowing down and declaring his unashamed allegiance, confessing that he never had any intention to become the heir, Reborn does not fail to notice that Tsunayoshi has not lost a scrap of clothing.

(only 7 minutes and 20 seconds this time; but only because Tsunayoshi seems to have dispelled it early, which is a whole other report to write home about)

“We’ll start by being friends. That means, um... you have to call me Tsuna, not Juudaime.”

“But- but-!”

“And I’ll call you.. Hayato.”

Juudaime-!”

Tsuna!” His student frowns. “Not that I’m too interested in being a mafia boss, but I don’t want everyone else finding out, too.”

Smoking Bomb goes white as a sheet and starts sputtering out apologies while Tsunayoshi attempts to calm him down, rather than just ordering the other to get a grip like a true boss should.

Marshmallow soft.

* * *

“Are you sure it’s safe for us to train like this? In broad daylight?”

Unable to fire a bullet in his direction, Tsuna instead yelps from a smack to the back of his head, far too powerful for something delivered by an infant, hitman or otherwise. It makes him stumble a few steps before he regains his footing and continues their current training session: laps around Nanimori with his Dying Will Flame lit.

“I mean..” Tsuna continues in between breaths. His endurance and stamina have gone up considerably since Reborn’s tutoring began. “If I really am the heir to the Vongola, isn’t it dangerous to stand out? I feel like I’m broadcasting it to the world.”

“That’s why I’m training you, Tsunayoshi.”

Tsuna groans, both internally and outwardly, and not at the thoughts that the word training evokes.

“Can’t you just call me Tsuna, Reborn? Everyone else does.”

“Everyone else calls you dame Tsuna. That isn’t the same thing.”

“But Tsuna fits me better. Tsunayoshi was a shogun, you know? I’m nothing like that.”

“Tsunayoshi was raised as a scholar instead of a warrior. That fits you perfectly.”

“I can’t even really be called a scholar..”

“No,” Reborn chirps, but not in a cheery, nonchalant way. “But you are a civilian rather than a mafioso. What do you think about that, Tsunayoshi?”

“..That my father wanted me to live a normal life, I guess. There were heirs before me, weren’t there?”

“Correct. They are now either dead or ineligible.”

“So I’m kind of a last resort, haha. Dame Tsuna as usual.”

“You’re quite reserved about all of this, Tsunayoshi. I was expecting more shrieking and refusing the title.”

“I.. I don’t really want to think about the title. You’re here to tutor me, even as useless as I am. If someone really wants to make me a mafia boss, they’re going to have to work really hard at it,” Tsuna laughs dryly. “..Wait, but that means my family has mafia blood.”

“Of course. A boss doesn’t just pick some random brat off the street and decide to make them an heir.”

“What about my dad? I mean- why not my dad?” Tsuna asks. Then he remembers the last time Iemitsu came home, got drunk, and passed out on the floor in his under clothes. He shudders and shakes his head. “Never mind.”

Thoughts enter his mind unbidden, the flame in his chest wicking higher and spreading out. Does his father know about the Vongola? Had he ever been considered for the title? Did his father know Tsuna would be the heir one day? Did Nana know?

Who was the elderly man with warm hands and cold, cold fingers?

“You’d be better off asking Iemitsu those questions, Tsunayoshi.”

“I- wha-?”

“I can read minds.”

* * *

2 months into training the young Vongola heir, Reborn comes to realize that Sawada Tsunayoshi is never quite in a state of calm. There’s a constant, faint furrow in his brows, as though everything around him were a daily nuisance that he’ll never accept.

It is, for lack of better term, constant. The jittery, almost trembling air around him. A hitman knows to read the atmosphere, taste fear and anxiety, see the slightest change in expression and deduce what it means. A twitch, a sigh, a shudder.

Tsunayoshi sits still, but he doesn’t sit still. He doesn’t seem to be able to pay attention to anything his teachers are saying, teaching, showing. It’s a far cry from how focused he is during training.

Not unlike one of his classmates, the one they call a baseball freak. Reborn notices Yamamoto Takeshi is too engrossed in his sports and athletics to pay attention in class. But Tsunayoshi...

Leon transforms into a pistol and Reborn takes the safety off with a click, barely audible from his safe spot in the classroom wall.

He is not surprised to see Tsunayoshi twitch, breath catching, the scratching of his pencil pausing for just a moment.

Reborn takes aim and releases just the slightest amount of killing intent.

Tsunayoshi makes an aborted movement, as though he wants to look over but is trying not to. Smoking Bomb, however, falls out of his feet-on-the-desk relaxed pose with a clatter. Yamamoto Takeshi does the same, jerking up out of his well-concealed nap to look around sharply.

Only Tsunayoshi looks in Reborn’s direction. A quick glance, perhaps exasperated, out of the corner of his eye.

Soft.

But Yamamoto would make for a decent guardian.

* * *

At least, until a second year student runs through the halls yelling something about Yamamoto jumping off the school roof.

Reborn has never seen Tsunayoshi run that quickly, that well, without tripping over himself, and without a flame on his head.

Or is there? A fire in his eyes, instead?

* * *

Tsuna feels cold again. Cold, icy cold, a chill that burns in his chest and in his hands as he shoves his way through the crowd at the rooftop.

This isn’t funny, they say. You’re taking this joke too far.

It’s infuriating. To think that these people were Yamamoto’s so called fanclub, his friends, people who claim to be close to him but understand nothing about him. Who don’t want him to jump but won’t try any harder to stop him.

Nana used to ask him why he never brought any friends over from primary school anymore. As if he had ever brought any over before. Tsuna may not be able to read minds like Reborn, but he knows. He knows, with the heat inside him, which of his classmates would make good friends.

Now that he thinks about it, maybe he was just looking for good allies.

And he would have trusted this instinct if it hadn’t pointed him primarily towards anyone besides Sasagawa Kyoko and Yamamoto Takeshi. Two idols, two popular students. He brushed off this instinct as little more than wishful thinking.

He wishes he hadn’t, now.

The crowd sneers and snides, jostling him around until someone manages to shove him into the centerfold, into the 10 meter gap where no one dares to enter. Just like in the movies, or at the edge of the swimming pool. No one will approach, lest it have the very opposite effect of stopping someone from jumping.

Well. In Tsuna’s case, he only remembers the utter delight in his classmates trying to scare him into jumping when they knew full well that he couldn’t swim. The water’s only 4 feet deep. He can’t possibly drown.

The other side of the ledge is a lot deeper than 4 feet. Anyone could drown if they jumped there.

“Well, if it isn’t dame Tsuna,” Yamamoto remarked snidely, bitterly. Mockingly. But not hatefully. “If you came to stop me it’s no use. I’m sure you of all people understand my feelings.”

Do I? Tsuna wonders to himself.

“Being useless and frustrated to the point of wanting to die.”

That struck a chord in him, somewhere deep, deep inside. Deep.

 

 

He is 5 when the fire dies out. Ices up. Leaves him cold and empty and stranded amidst a world of too much sound and color and light.

Someone talks to him and he can’t stop watching the shape of their mouth, his child mind wondering how muscles can work so complexly, how sound can be made so fluidly. Shaped. Constructed. A hand comes up and he doesn’t flinch because he sees it. It ruffles through his hair.

It feels the same as it always has, but this time he can’t stop thinking about how large and heavy that hand was, how perfumed, how aged. Bright red nails.

‘What a cute boy you have, Nana.’

When Tsuna is 6, he trips for the first time because they’re playing kankeri and there was an ant in his way.

‘There’s nothing on the ground, Tsuna!’

He trips again, like he’d caught the toe of his shoe on the sidewalk. Ants. Skittering.

‘Dame Tsuna! Trips on nothing! Dame, dame!’

Trying to move the can wasn’t allowed. It was cheating. They’re just ants, after all.

Tsuna remembers his small hands curling into fists, the childish set of his own jaw. He kicks the can as hard as he can, but is caught and sent to the holding pen anyway.

They start taking his shoes when he’s 7. He brings a spare in his bag.

Halfway through second year, they take that too. Plus his homework. No one’s in the classroom during break time.

‘I’ll keep a spare copy for you to pick up after class, okay?’ his teacher had said when he told her the first time. He kept his shoes in a drawer of her desk too.

Bad. Teacher’s pet. Favoritism. But his marks stay stable enough.

He is 9 when things start coming alive. Someone shoves him for the first time. They have a new teacher who doesn’t want to bother with the extra work of keeping an eye on Tsuna’s homework and shoes. Or Tsuna in general, it turns out.

Tsuna starts squeaking at 10 and has his first panic attack after shoving Nana back from a car that swerves too close to the sidewalk while they’re shopping. The sound of rubber squealing on the road carved itself into the scrape of his elbows on the pavement. He had never heard anything so terrifying before, so loud. Even the adults around him were frightened, so of course he would be.

‘Are you okay, Tsu-kun? Oh, you’re all scratched up! Hold on, Mama has some bandages- let’s get you cleaned up before I put these on.’

She pulls him aside and dabs at his elbows with a wet cloth while his racing pulse slows down. The sting makes him let out the same sound that car had made, only softer. And squeakier.

And he never stopped since.

He starts losing the lunch Nana makes for him around the same time he starts having to swallow pills. It’s fine. They make him... not hungry.

But.

 

 

“No,” he says softly, a quiver in his lower lip and a fire in his eyes. Just loud enough for Yamamoto to hear over the breeze blowing past them. “No, I’ve never been like that.”

“Yeah?” But he doesn’t scoff. “I guess you’re all high and mighty now just because your grades are going up, unlike mine.”

No,” Tsuna repeats, more firmly, and chances one step closer. “I have never thought that I would be better off dead. I will probably always have regrets until I’m on my actual deathbed.”

Yamamoto doesn’t say anything. Tsuna licks his lips and continues, stumbling over words, because. Because.

Because.

“Know why?” His shoulder comes up and he slants a smile towards the ground, embarrassed by fond. “My.. my mom barges into my room sometimes. You know? I mean-” No, he wouldn’t know, probably. “Well. She does. Usually I’m reading Shounen Jump or something. You know what she says to me sometimes?”

(”You don’t have to go to a good high school or college. I just want you to live feeling, It’s great to be alive!)

“She says.. she doesn’t care if I’m no good, or useless. She doesn’t care about my grades or my friends. She says as long as I’m glad to be alive, nothing else matters. I’m not.. like you. I’m not amazing at anything. All I know is that as long as I keep trying, as long as I keep doing what I like.. it’s okay. That’s why I told you that.. you just needed to try harder, practice more. I didn’t mean it like.. that, really. Like you weren’t trying hard enough.”

Tsuna ignores the calls of ‘what the hell, Sawada, this is all your fault!’and steels himself before Yamomoto. Fidgets with his hands and shuffles closer. He’s sure Reborn is around somewhere, watching.

“That’s why, Yamamoto... ah, Takeshi? Can I call you that? It’s, um. It’s okay. You’ll heal, your arm. Then you can play baseball again, but take it easy next time, okay?”

“Why do you care?” Yamomoto mumbles back after a moment of silence. “Why do you even care?”

“We-well! I. I feel sort of responsible, for.. your arm, to be honest. So..” Tsuna draws himself up fully, shaking and tone hitching to a near squeak, but determined. It’s really high up and everyone is muttering and cursing him behind his back, but that’s nothing new and he really needs to stop Yamamoto because that fence looks like it’s about to give any moment now- “So. I won’t let you die. Even if everyone else thinks you’d be better off dead, even if you think it, I’ll... I’ll be there. Um! To listen. If you’d like an ear.”

For a long, long while, Yamamoto doesn’t say anything and just looks at him with eyes that are sharp and calculating, but with some of that pain that Tsuna has gotten too used to seeing in his own eyes.

Yamamoto laughs, suddenly, bringing his good hand up to the back of his head. There isn’t a hint of mirth to it.

“So, are you saying that if I fall, you’ll catch me, Tsuna-sama?”

A teacher will be here soon, probably, and that will just make things worse, but Tsuna knows from experience that if you’re in too much of a hurry to run away from the edge of the pool, you’ll-

“E-eh?”

slip and fall.

It’s like something out of a movie. One moment Tsuna hears the door to the roof slamming open, someone barking an order to move out of the way, this is no time for your games, Yamamokoto-kun. One moment, Yamamoto is about to heave himself back over the fence- probably. Probably.

The next thing he knows, Tsuna is watching that blasted fence creak and give way, snapping at the rusted ends, taking Yamamoto with it.

Tsuna is hit all at once with the fear of pushing falling shovesplashdrowning and good god they are high up but Yamamoto is falling and had all but asked Tsuna to be there to catch him, maybe, and

The fluttering warmth in his chest tells him he cannot let Takeshi die.

Tsuna jumps, too.

* * *

Reborn is waiting on the third floor, right by the window where Tsunayoshi will be falling past. He doesn’t need to hear the cracking of the fence or the alarmed gasps or the screams from the rooftop to react to the sight of his student falling- no, running down the side of the building.

Looks like there was no need for a shinuki dan after all.

Reborn shoots one into each leg anyway as Tsunayoshi streaks by. He’ll need all the help he can get.

* * *

Instinct.

That’s what Tsuna will call it. Instinct and intuition. The fire on his forehead blazes bright and strong as he pushes off from the side of the school building and manages to get his arms around Yamamoto’s torso.

Tsuna!

He sees the light reflected in Yamamoto’s eyes, wide and dark and terrified but also not and Tsuna can’t see why--

I won’t let you die, Takeshi.

--Ah.

* * *

He is. Still not quite sure how they survived that landing. All he knows is it had left him immobile from the impact for a good moment, half kneeling with Yamamoto laying across his legs, and Yama- Takeshi. Takeshi.

Takeshi was very patient. Maybe the landing impact had reached him too. Either way, it took a few minutes for the Dying Will Flame to sputter out and for his hands to move again. He can’t say much more for his legs.

’My knight in shining armor,’ Takeshi had laughed, sheepish and awed, shaking his arm back to life.

’Um,’ Tsuna had squeaked, just this shy of dumping Takeshi on the ground so he could collapse himself. ’I think we should get back to class.’

He’s just glad he didn’t lose his clothes that time.

Now he’s having lunch on that very same roof with that very same Yamamoto Takeshi, his arm still in a cast, but looking much less dejected about it now. There’s even a few scrawls of well wishes on the plaster. Nice joke, they say. Really head us going there. Hope you get better though!

“So...” Takeshi clears his throat with a laugh. “So, you really did save me, Tsuna!”

“Aa... I guess I did.” Tsuna still can’t believe it himself. Surviving a 3-story drop isn’t unheard of, but given that they were on the room it was probably more like 4 stories. 4 stories, “..At least you didn’t climb the clocktower.”

“I could barely get over the fence with one arm, haha!” They have a bit of a laugh, nervous and relieved. Tsuna’s glad no one went through his stuff and took his bento during that whole thing. “..You were really amazing back there, Tsuna.”

“A-ah, um-”

“I mean it. I was.. watching. Couldn’t really do much else. You jumped down after me. No one’s really done that for me before.”

“Well I better not have to do it again. I could barely walk after that.”

“Haha, I know! You were all wobbly and shaky, I think you fell over three times on the way back to class. It was great.”

Just what about that was great?

“Thanks, Tsuna.” Takeshi throws an arm around his shoulders and leans them back against the wall, an easy smile on his face. A smile that doesn’t look so easy, given what happened just an hour ago. “I don’t know what I was thinking, jumping off the school roof. So, thanks. I mean it.”

Tsuna feels warm. Warm and bright and cozy, and not just because of the sun shining down on them. He’s glad.

“..Takeshi.”

“Hm?”

“Remember when I talked about my mom earlier?”

“About her being okay with dame Tsuna?”

“Yeah.” He leans back on Takeshi’s arm, far too comfortable with a boy he has seen around campus for 4 years and spoken to a total of two times over a 24-hour period. “I’m.. I’d only thought about it for her before. But now I feel it for you, too. That I’m glad I’m alive. Because if I hadn’t been there.. maybe you wouldn’t have jumped, but maybe you would have and no one would have stopped you. So... I’m glad to be alive right now.”

A beat.

“And I’m glad you are too.”

“..Yeah. Me too, Tsuna.” Takeshi’s head lolls onto his own, burying into the fluff of his hair in a way he should be giddy about.

But they are on the roof of Nanimori and there is no one else here, because they passed by the Disciplinary Committee on their way up and Tsuna promised not to let Takeshi jump again if they could just spend a little time up there alone and away from all these people trying to ask them questions about it-

“Me too.”

* * *

Hayato manages to barge his way up to the roof anyway. A right-hand man indeed.

* * *

Maybe when puberty hits, he’ll finally stop squeaking whenever he’s startled and start yelling in a manly fashion instead.

* * *

“Aren’t you letting people join the family a little too easily, Reborn?” Tsuna sighs in defeat, slouched over in the lifeguard’s seat of the pool. The infant floats nearby with his ice cream and tray of desserts and.. drinks. “Takeshi is.. a civilian. He plays baseball for a living!”

“And yet, you saved his life.”

Tsuna has no response.

“You risked your own life to save his.”

Tsuna.

Has no response.

(The mafia boss, the book had said, a leader who rules a criminal organization

able to move a number of trusted members with one hand

willing to risk even his life for the family

Risk his life. For the family.)

Tsuna learns and cherishes this word. Famiglia. It settles in his heart and beats alongside the staccato flickering of his flames.

 

 

(”You will need guardians, Tsunayoshi. They will be there to protect you. But you need to show that you are willing to protect them first.”)

 



 

Smoking Bomb and Yamamoto Takeshi are facing off, the day after the incident. The incident being Smoking Bomb finding Tsunayoshi and Yamamoto huddled up together on the school roof on a warm sunny day that had no need for sharing body heat.

Rude, Gokudera calls it. He watches the swing of Yamamoto’s arm around Tsunayoshi’s shoulder, sees the casual way they lean against each other on the way into school this morning, and calls it rude, nasty, clingy.

If Reborn was not quite certain about Gokudera’s own fascination and, dare he say it, infatuation with the young Vongola heir, he would have pulled the boy aside for a stern lecture about how improper and immoral it is to be so prejudiced in this day and age.

As it is, he thinks Gokudera is just jealous. Which is equally dangerous.

“You can complain to me all you want, Smoking Bomb,” Reborn says, feelings the beginnings of an afternoon nap creeping up on him. “I am Sawada Tsunayoshi’s tutor. He’ll be the one making the final choice about his guardians.”

The unspoken you don’t really have a say in the matter goes unsaid.

Gokudra snarls on his cigarette and stubs it out angrily under the heel of his shoe. Reborn does not miss the furrow of his brow, an expression of more than just anger. Worry. Fear. Apprehension.

Reborn follows and watches.

* * *

He doesn’t understand it.

He can’t see what Juudai- what Tsuna sees in the baseball freak. The guy just plays baseball like a.. a freak! That’s all he does! His grades are piss poor, his smile is fake, Hayato even hears he tried to kill himself not too long ago.

No one like that should be allowed around Juuda- Tsuna! Tsuna.

Ah, Tsuna. Tsuna-sama, if Hayato is feeling bold. Which he is, usually, but- but this is an actual Family, a Famiglia, and Hayato has been accepted into it.

It is amazing, and it is wonderful, and Juu- Tsuna, Tsuna is amazing and wonderful for taking in someone like Hayato who was not even born mafia and had only spent the last 5 or 6 years digging his way in. Or blasting his way.

Hayato supposes, for a moment, that he could be considered Tsuna’s senpai in mafia related matters, but the thought makes him sputter and want to bash his head against a wall. Hayato is a mafioso, yes. A soldier. A caporegime at the most.

Tsuna will be the boss. The boss of bosses. Il capo di tutti capi.

There is, of course, something suspicious about making a civilian the boss of the largest, greatest, strongest Famiglia in all of Italia (if not the entire world), something that screams wrong wrongusedlikeapuppetwrong. Wrong and unfair.

Hayato hadn’t been lying when he thought that a pathetic civilian child like this would be the end of the Vongola.

He has never been more glad to have been proved wrong. Tsuna is so.. accepting. So kind to him, to want to be his friend (soft, Reborn mutters) despite the attempt on his life. Staged or otherwise.

It was a long, hard road getting here, to take the place of the Vongola Decimo’s right hand (even if self-titled). Hayato doesn’t want to lose that, doesn’t want to go through the whole process of it again. He’ll do a good job. He won’t give anyone reason to doubt his abilities and capabilities if it will keep him his position and off the streets and please don’t dismiss me, Juudaime.

He’ll start with cross-checking the idiot known as Yamamoto Takeshi and see if the boy is even worthy and capable of joining the family, civilian that he is. No one gets to join a Famiglia that easily. Not the Vongola Famiglia, anyway.

* * *

And the boy is weak. Weak, nasty, rude! Shoving Tsuna around like that. Then pretending to be friendly and pulling Tsuna closer. For shame! That isn’t how one treats a boss! Their boss!

Yamamoto needs to learn more restraint. Respect. Honor.

“You,” Hayato says, cornering the other boy between classes when he isn’t following Tsuna around like a lost puppy. Or a guard dog. “You, me. After class, in the courtyards.”

Hayato makes a gesture with his hands, a universal (mafia) signal for I’m watching you. Or was it you better show up. He might have meshed the two together at some point.

He is definitely a guard dog.

Unfortunately, the baseball freak seems to have guard dog tendencies too. He’s tall. He’s lanky. He’s got a lopsided smile and a slant to his brows that screams careless.

He’s got a carton of milk and is suggesting that Hayato treat his frustration with calcium instead of blowing all 177 centimeters of Yamamoto Takeshi sky high.

There’s a glint in his eye though. Hayato doesn’t like it.

“I won’t accept this,” Hayato growls around his cigarette. “There’s no way someone as weak-looking as you can protect Tsuna.”

All at once, the weak-looking pieces of Yamamoto Takeshi are cast off like flaking rust. Weakness that strips away to reveal something sharp underneath, worn and stained and probably in dire need of practice.

Nasty.

“Tsuna, huh?” The look darkens to something like self-pity, self-anger. Self-hatred. “Yeah. There’s no way I can protect him like I am now.”

“Then you can just beat it and leave him to-”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t try,” Yamamoto says with a smile that isn’t really a smile, not really (because Hayato seems him smiling all the time and it’s not really a smile unless Tsuna is in the vicinity). “Just because I’m weak-looking doesn’t mean I’m actually weak, right?”

The dip of the other’s posture reminds Hayato that this boy is, was, and likely will always be the ace of Namimori Middle’s baseball team. That meant a physique capable of striking a ball at upwards of 100 kilometers per hour.

(Hayato still isn’t sure if that means the speed of the ball coming at him or the speed of the ball being struck away. Either way, it’s demonic.

Luckily Yamamoto can’t aim worth a damn.

Not that you’d need to aim much when it comes to using the bat itself as a weapon.)

“Doesn’t mean you’re actually strong, either,” he snarls. “Soft-skinned civile like you will just put him in danger, and as his right-hand man, I won’t allow that.”

“I could say the same to you, Gokudera.” Here Yamamoto grins. It’s as much sharp as it is off-kilter. “Talking big and walking big, but you’re not all that strong if you have to shove yourself at Tsuna like that. I heard you tried to kill him as soon as you met him? And he had to save you from being killed by your own weapon.”

Hayato’s jaw aches where he grinds his teeth together, fists curled. He is not ashamed. He is not ashamed-

“Well, not like I can talk!” The baseball freak laughs then, and it seems a little more real than before, and a little more rueful. “I did end up making Tsuna jump off the roof to save me, after all.”

His first reaction is to snort, scoff, serves you right and of course you shouldn’t talk, you don’t know anything about this.

His second reaction is to stop breathing entirely.

Tsuna. Sawada Tsunayoshi. Vongola heir. Juudaime. His precious boss, jumped off a roof to save this mangy rat

No. No, Tsuna wouldn’t do that. Tsuna wouldn’t risk his life for someone so- so beneath him, so civilian, so worthless-

But Tsuna did save Hayato himself from his own foolish blunders.

Which brings him to:

“—How dare you put his life in danger like that-!”

“What are you talking about?” Yamamoto chortles darkly, adopting a stance both relaxed and tense, like he both does and doesn’t find Hayato’s presence and threats to be.. threatening. “You’re the one who wasn’t there to stop him. Where were you, anyway? What kind of right-hand man lets his boss jump off a roof to save someone else’s life?”

Hayato doesn’t know how to start breathing again because as loathe as he is to admit it, Yamamoto is right, Hayato has no excuse to have not been at Tsuna’s elbow, no excuse to leave his boss unprotected even for a few minutes. No excuse.

“You didn’t even know, did you?” There are no punches being pulled. Everything comes at Hayato straight and center, metaphorically speaking. A jab aimed straight for his gut. “Some right-hand you are. He didn’t even tell you.”

He was never in. Was never considered part of the family to begin with. It’s all his own lies and imaginations, claiming himself as the Vongola heir’s right-hand man of all possible things. Hayato isn’t suited for such a title. He never was. Never will-

His thoughts are interrupted by a muffled yelp and the sight of Juudaime- of Tsuna skidding face down on the ground from around the corner of the building. Hayato rushes over immediately and is only mildly pleased to find that Yamamoto is doing the same.

“Juu- Tsuna, what happened?”

“Tripped,” Tsuna says simply. Most people would also mention why, but Hayato has already learned that his boss is well capable of tripping on practically nothing at all.

Pathetic, he thinks automatically. Then watches Tsuna check his nose for bleeding, only to be reassured by Yamamoto that it isn’t.

That should be Hayato’s job, and he kicks himself for it. How dare he think his own boss incompetent just because of a stumble? Just because normal people don’t trip that often, just because mafioso are always the epitome of elegance and grace and deadly murder-

Tsuna stumbles just from trying to get back on his feet and Hayato feels crippled inside.

His marks are better. His athleticism ability is infinitely better. His demeanor is more suited for a boss-to-be than Tsuna’s. Hayato is, in every way, better and more worthy of any heirship, and he had said as much to Tsuna’s face. And yet.

And yet.

Tsuna still saved him. Him. Him. As though he were worthy of saving.

(Of course he is. He is Hayato Gokudera, Smoking Bomb of the streets of Italia. He’s known about the mafia since he was old enough to understand the word mafia. He was on the streets alone at 9. He knew how to make explosives out of empty candy pouches and fertilizer filched from anyone who was dumb enough to leave their bags open. He knew how to make them before most kids even made it out of primary.

He is 14 and he is going to be un uomo d'onore.)

“Hayato?”

He blinks. Juudaime is standing now and dusting off the the leg of his pants while Yamamoto (Yamamoto) does the same for his shoulders. Like an underling does for their boss.

Hayato hates how picturesque they look.

“Were you two fighting? Erm. Arguing.” Tsuna’s brow pinches as though he’s trying to find the difference between the two. “..Were you?”

Hayato says no at the same time Yamamoto says yes. They shoot each other a look. He doesn’t want to worry Tsuna about this feud of theirs.

Tsuna looks at them both expectantly.

“Yeah,” Yamamoto says again. “We’re fighting over who gets to be your right-hand.”

Again, Tsuna looks at them. Owlishly. Hayato can’t help but gawk. The nerve of him...

“We were not!” He almost squawks. “I am his- yours! Your right hand. Tsuna. I’m not fighting over anything of the sort. He’s the only one trying to steal it away!”

Hayato points a finger accusingly and wishes it was a stick of dynamite he was pointing with instead.

“I’m not even the boss yet,” Tsuna whines, “and you’re already fighting over it? C’mon, guys.”

It’s that damned kicked puppy look again. Hayato makes a strangled sound and finds himself unable to resist being pulled down by Tsuna’s too scrawny hand while the same thing happens to Yamamoto, much to Hayato’s distaste. They are too close together like this.

Tsuna’s patting them both on the back like a proud parent would, and sighs. “You’re both great, okay? You’re amazing. You’re cool. Both of you. No one’s better or stronger or greater.”

“What about smarter?”

Neither of you is smarter than the other.”

“But I- he- he-!”

“He what, Hayato?” Pulling back, Tsuna frowns at him with all the disapproval of a... disapproving Vongola heir. “He’s less smart because of his marks?”

“I- that’s-”

“Then are you going to call me stupid, too, Hayato?”

That shuts him up quickly. Even if the look on Tsuna’s face isn’t quite hurt or upset or accusing in any way, like he knows what the answer is and he expects it. And that is something Hayato cannot stand to see.

(Both the fact that his boss— or boss-to-be —has been subjected to such declarations so much, and that Tsuna is.. not bothered by it. Because Hayato is always bothered by it. Even though he knows that he fucks up and messes up and is a half-blood that no one wants, not even his own family, no one except

except Tsuna.

And Reborn, by extension of invitation, but like the infant said, ultimately it is Tsuna’s decision, and Tsuna is the one with an arm around his neck right now, patting him on the back, ruffling a hand through his hair like he’s a child who needs to be calmed down and placated and

and         )

“No,” Hayato says, muffled into Tsuna’s shoulder. His hands twitch at his sides, unsure whether to pull out dynamite in response to this sudden unexpected contact or to wrap around his boss-to-be, around these small, thin shoulders that seem to want to take on the world, consequences be damned.

“No,” he says again.

Because according all reports and rumors, Sawada Tsunayoshi must be a ringer for dead last in just about anything and everything. A dead last mafia boss. It’s pathetic. He’s pathetic.

Hayato is. Not even sure where his thoughts are going anymore.

“Hayato, you’re thinking too much.”

He makes another strangled noise and buries his face into the cloth of Tsuna’s shoulders, ears heating up to the sound of Yamamoto’s laughter too close by. Too close.

“Better now?” Tsuna asks when they’re finally released. Hayato sniffles and rubs his nose, blinking moisture away from his eyes as he nods. He holds back yelp and manages to only grunt manfully when Yamamoto smacks him on the back, grinning. “Good. If you’re going to be in my famiglia, we’re going to have to cut back on some of the fighting, okay?”

“Okay.” Hayato exhales, and it feels like a relief, though he doesn’t know why. “..He’s still a baseball freak, though.”

“Hey!”

“That’s enough coddling, Tsunayoshi,” chirps a voice from above. When did Reborn even show up? And what is he doing on Tsuna’s head like a bird in a nest? “Aren’t you here for another reason, Gokudera?”

“Ah! That’s right.” Clearing his throat, Hayato points once more at Yamamoto, less accusingly this time. “I still don’t accept your joining this famiglia, Yamamoto Takeshi! Reborn and I are putting you through a family entrance test.”

“Don’t lump me in with your power fantasies, Smoking Bomb.”

To which Hayato can’t help but turn pink in the ears, teeth grinding down harder over the cigarette.

“But I will help you with this because I’m also curious about Yamamoto’s abilities.”

Success.

“Is that your little brother, Tsuna?” Yamamoto has his arm around Tsuna’s too-small shoulders again, jostling the hitman’s perch slightly. Hayato wants to punch him.

“He’s not my little brother, he’s... ehm-”

“I’m Tsunayoshi’s home tutor.”

“Ah?”

“I’m also contracted by the Vongola mafia famiglia. You’re going to join.”

“I am?” Yamamoto looks playfully amused.

“He’s not!” Hayato hisses.

“The 10th boss is going to be Tsunayoshi.”

“It is? Ow! I mean. Yes. It is. I am.”

“Oh.” Yamamoto makes a show of being in deep, deep thought, hmm-ing loudly while Tsuna rubs at the spot where Reborn yanked on his hair. “Well, that’s certainly a good choice for a boss. I can see why Hayato’s so dead-set on being the right-hand man.”

“Don’t use my first name so casually!”

“Okay.”

Hayato blinks.

Yamamoto grins. “Okay, I’ll join.”

No!

“Good.” Reborn’s chameleon shifts into a gun and the safety comes off with an ominous, gleeful click. “Let’s start the entrance test, then.”

Then he shoots a bullet right past Yamamoto’s ear and Hayato doesn’t know whether to cheer on the hitman and kill him kill him kill him or jump to Tsuna’s shrieking assistance.

 



 

Tsuna is not ungrateful for Reborn’s tutoring. He doesn’t think he’ll ever be. If it was possible to be home-schooled by someone this talented and knowledgeable, he would ask Nana if she could make it happen.

It’s far quieter in his room than in the classroom. There’s no scratching of other pencils, other murmurings, no rulers cracking down on tables. No one’s whispering behind his back, no one’s laughing silently at him, no one is... here.

No one else is here.

“You’re surprisingly not as dame as your marks say you should be.”

Tsuna sighs softly, chin propped up on his arms folded underneath it on the table. Reborn is going through some practice tests and homework there Tsuna sees a marked increase of red compared to the times before. It’s gradual, but noticeable. Maybe having a tutor isn’t so bad.

But.

“Am I still hopeless?” He murmurs placidly, barely twitching when Reborn levels a gun at his head. “Because if I am, you can always leave. No need to tarnish a sterling reputation as a spartan tutor.”

“That rather sounds like you’re trying to get rid of me, Tsunayoshi.”

“I mean it though!All my.. other teachers were the same, you know. They gave up on me after my test results came in. Said it was a waste of time. So if you have anything pressing to do, like.. I don’t know, finding another heir.”

“There’s no reason for me to waste my time doing something like that,” Reborn says in an idle tone. “You have plenty of potential as it is. I’m starting to think Nono didn’t make a mistake in choosing you as his heir.”

Tsuna finds himself absolutely flooded with warmth in his chest, relief like a bursting dam in his throat. He doesn’t want to be a mafia boss, not really. It was never going to be possible anyway, but he could at least use the tutoring to raise his marks and reputation, maybe.

Or so he had thought.

His reputation is still kind of shit and his marks are going up. And it looks like he really is cut out to be a... a boss. A mafia boss.

Don Tsunayoshi. Or Don Sawada? Ew, no. Tsuna. Tsunayoshi. Don Tsunayoshi.

That sounds kinda badass.

He’s shaken out of his thoughts quite literally by a “What are you smiling about?” and a kick at his head.

Tsuna doesn’t bother answering. Just smiles again, and hums.

* * *

They’re interrupted not long after by someone shouting through the open window “Die, Reborn!

Tsuna’s first reaction is to be surprised that he hadn’t noticed anyone climbing the tree in plain sight. His second is confusion when there’s only the empty clicking of a gun.

His third reaction is why is there a child on the tree outside my window?

Needless to say, after one forced introduction and two more assassination attempts, Tsuna excused himself and the child (so-named Lambo) to pick up some groceries Nana had forgotten to get.

Which is a load of cowhide because Nana never forgets to pick up anything, but seeing as Lambo will probably be staying for dinner (definitely, if Nana has anything to say about it), she needs some things to make another dish so that there’s enough to go around. Slips him the bills to buy all that any more.

He reaches the market 10 minutes later and the empty handbasket Nana had given him is slowly filling up.

“So, Lambo.. What brings you to Japan?”

“I.. Lambo-san’s dream is to be the capo of the Bovino famiglia,” the child sniffles, cheek stuffed with candy from the kitchen cabinets. Who knew how old it was.

“That’s.. a nice dream.” He guesses, anyway.

“Lambo-san wants to make tutta l'umanità bow down to me.”

Tsuna has no idea what Lambo just said but it doesn’t take a genius to guess what a child would want to make bow down to him. Maybe it’s time to learn some Italian. He’s going to be a mafia boss, after all.

...How does Lambo even know Japanese at all? Tsuna assumes he’s full Italian. And also 5 years old? How?

“That’s a very big dream,” Tsuna says instead. “Does your boss know you want to overthrow him?”

“Boss says Lambo-san has to defeat Reborn first, because he’s a super first-class hitman and only the strongest can defeat him! Lambo-san will!”

“A-ah... but Lambo-” Tsuna’s not sure how to break this to him, because he’s pretty sure there’s something wrong with that kind of ultimatum. “-um. Reborn is working for the Vongola right now.. Won’t they be mad if you kill Reborn?”

“Not kill! I only have to defeat him. But it’s hard to defeat Reborn without killing him.. Mm, why is Reborn with you anyway, Tsuna?”

“He’s, um.. teaching me?”

“To be a hitman?!” Lambo almost falls off his shoulder. “Tsuna, you’d be a terrible hitman. Not like Lambo-san! Lambo-san is a great hitman, Lambo-san will defeat Reborn!”

“No, I’m not going to be a hitman! I’m, um. Going to be the 10th boss of Vongola..?”

“Ooohh...” The child frowns. “But you’re so old.”

“Well, yes. You have to be at least this old to be a boss, Lambo.”

Never mind that he doesn’t think Lambo would be capable of defeating Reborn anyway. That isn’t the point. The point is that Lambo is 5 years old and being told that he has to defeat the Greatest Hitman in the World if he wants to be the boss of his own family. The point is that he is a child with a goal, and if there’s anything Tsuna knows, it’s that telling Lambo no, you can’t do that isn’t going to help. At all.

The point is that Tsuna doesn’t like children, usually, because children can be cruel without ill intentions. And even crueler with them.

The point is:

”I don’t associate with those of lower rank.”

Which should make him feel good about himself. Should make him feel proud, glad, that he is being acknowledged, that Nana is being acknowledged and that Hayato and Takeshi are being acknowledged.

Tsuna doesn’t even like children all that much.

Which is why he’s filling the handbasket with a bag of Lambo’s favorite grapes and packets of candy, because Lambo likes candy and grapes and Tsuna’s candy stash needs to be restocked.

Lambo himself goes on and on, talking about how he met Reborn at the bar that his boss took him to for the first time, how he decided then that he wanted to be like Reborn, a great hitman and a great boss, great enough to make everyone worship him.

“Ah, no, Lambo! You can’t put the candy in your hair.”

“Why not? Lambo-san always puts candy in his hair.”

“I have to pay for it first.”

“But then I won’t know which candy is mine!”

“We’ll sort it out after we pay, okay?”

“But I want my candy now!”

Sighing, Tsuna digs another piece out from his back pocket. Luckily he’d brought extra before leaving the house.

“You’re eating dinner with us, right, Lambo? Don’t have too many candies.”

“Lambo-san loves candy!”

“My mom makes reeaaalllyyy good food...”

The child gulps audibly, unable to choose between candy and Nana’s cooking- which is understandable, because Lambo hasn’t had Nana’s cooking. Yet.

“You can eat candy after dinner, okay?”

“O.. okay....”

At least he didn’t look ready to cry again.

“Good.” Tsuna pauses for a moment, then reaches up to give Lambo a pat on his fluffy head. Still doesn’t understand how the child can fit an entire bazooka and armament of grenades and still have hair like a cloud. Maybe it’s that hammerspace thing that always shows up in stories and movies.

Like clowns in a car.

* * *

One loud but otherwise subdued dinner later, Tsunayoshi has managed to wrangle Lambo into helping Nana clean up with promises of candy from his own stash. And grapes. Grape dessert.

“You’re housing another hitman here?” Reborn tries not to grouse about it. He doesn’t feel any sense of rivalry or competition. Not at all.

“Nana’s house, not mine. Lambo’s 5, Reborn.”

“He’s a hitman. Don’t baby a hitman.”

“I’m not babying him!”

“You bought him candy.”

“I bought candy for all of us. Here.” And so saying, Tsunayoshi tosses a dark brown bag in his direction. Reborn resist the urge to shoot it down. “Coffee flavored.”

Candy. He hasn’t had candy in... a long time. Adults don’t eat candy.

But, well, he is not quite an adult right now. What’s the harm in it?

“I prefer espresso,” he says, already opening the bag to try one.

“Imports are too expensive.” Tsunayoshi makes a thoughtful sound. “...Maybe we can open better trade relations if I become head of Vongola.”

Reborn chuckles. “Vongola is powerful, Tsunayoshi, but we don’t control Italy.”

The smile on his student’s face is mischievous and enigmatic. His reply sounds like equal parts humor and seriousness. “Won’t we?”

It sounds like a promise.

* * *

“Lambo-san likes Tsuna! He looks like a wimp, though. Wimps can’t be bosses.”

“Oh, Lambo-kun,” the nice woman called Nana giggles, handing Lambo another clean plate to be dried. “Tsu-kun is very gentle and kind. He always has been.. it’s a shame that this world isn’t nicer to people like him.”

“Tsuna says he’s going to be a boss!” Lambo knows better than to say too much. He’s 5, but he knows the omertà. He was born into it. But Tsuna’s mom already knows, right? Of course she does. Even Lambo’s mom knew. “Tsuna needs to be strong. Nice bosses don’t last long, they get taken down and hurt and used and Lambo-san doesn’t want to see that happen to Tsuna.”

“That’s so sweet of you, Lambo-kun. I think Tsu-kun likes you too.. he doesn’t usually like children.”

“That’s because Lambo-san is amazing.”

“You must be!” Another plate, and one last bowl. The towel on Lambo’s lap is almost completely soaked through now. He needs a bath. “Will you be staying the night, Lambo-kun?”

Sì, signorina!” Lambo gets the feeling that this woman should be asking if he has his own mama’s permission to stay over. But he’s grateful that she doesn’t ask, because he doesn’t know where his mama is or how to contact her. Or his papa. He could ask his boss though. But... “My boss says I can’t return to Italia until I def- ehm. Make friends with Reborn! So. , I will stay.”

He thinks she looks a little sad there, but he’s not sure why. This is a mission. His mission! Lambo is a hitman, and he won’t give up.

“Good luck, then, Lambo-kun. And you can just call me Mama, okay?”

“...Maman.”

Her smile is bright. So bright, like the sun. Lambo can sort of see how Tsuna could be as nice and kind as he is, with a maman like this.

Lambo still asks for grapes, though. They’re his favorite! But he asks nicely. Because Lambo is a hitman and hitmen are always gentlemen, especially to women.

* * *

They don’t have the spare futon set up in time, but Lambo doesn’t seem to want to sleep alone anyway. And anyway, it’s Saturday. Tsuna lets the child curl up in bed with him- after unloading the more dangerous and trigger-happy paraphernalia from Lambo’s hair.

Lambo smells of salt and tears and sweet, sweet ozone. A little brother he’s never thought about having.

 



 

Turns out that Fuuta de la Stella is right about Tsuna being ranked first out of mafiosi who are unable to turn down a request.

* * *

It begins with a Chinese child who mistakes him for the target of a hit. After a full day of trying to get through his day without being killed, Reborn finally discovers that the child is horrifyingly near-sighted.

I-Pin decides to stay in Japan and train rather than return to Hong Kong. She’s against wearing glasses at first, because no one else around Tsuna seems to wear them and Tsuna can see the beginnings of self-doubt creeping up.

He calls Hayato over and smiles as I-Pin watches Hayato go from raging delinquent to cool and charming and studious-looking with only a pair of spectacles.

“He’s very smart,” Tsuna whispers to I-Pin. Maybe when she’s older, they can get her some contacts instead. But Tsuna thinks she looks just fine with glasses.

For now, he’ll just continue to be not-shocked by all the children around him who seem to be more or less passingly fluent in a language they probably should never have had a chance to learn.

..But then again, they are hitmen. Maybe it’s a shared trait. Being good at languages.

* * *

It begins with a boy named Fuuta de la Stella, whom Tsuna finds being pursued by men in striped suits on school campus during P.E. It takes two seconds to guess who or what they are.

Tsuna’s coordination is and probably always will be absolute shit, so he thanks his lucky stars (haha) that he manages to aim the soccer ball well enough to knock one of the men down. It distracts them long enough that he can pull the boy aside and into the bushes.

Do they have guns?

Ah, hell.

He takes a deep breath and covers the boy's ears.

HIBARI-SAN!” And shouts, because let it never be said that Tsuna doesn’t have the lung capacity of an elephant. “INTRUDERS ON CAMPUS!

And let it never be known that, as much as everyone in school is terrified of their resident prefect and Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee, they are all extremely grateful for Hibari’s preternatural ability to locate any calls of distress by sound so long as it originated on campus grounds.

Like Tsuna’s.

It isn’t Hibari who shows up first, though- no doubt he’s too far away and already dealing with other herbivores playing truant from class. No, it is another member of the DC, two of them. Three. Four. Tsuna never did manage to find out just how many of them there were, but they’re here.

They have batons. They are students. There are witnesses. Unless the mafia wants their presence made known to the yakuza, their best option is to do what they’re doing now.

Attempt to retreat.

And it is attempt because by the time Tsuna manages to convince the boy with the book to scoot on out of here, Hibari is making his rounds to the entrance and is waiting. With teeth.

Tsuna hears Italian swears and curses. He sees the boy cringing out of the corner of his eye and makes a note to really, really learn some Italian at some point.

* * *

“Reborn,” he says slowly, upon returning home to find that same boy, now named Fuuta de la Stella, in his room and asking to stay. “I think I should learn some Italian.”

“Eventually, Tsunayoshi.” His tutor is distracted for all of a moment. “..Why so eager?”

“I feel the urgent need to tell them to at least fuck off before I set Hibari-san on them. Ah-- sorry, Fuuta! Pretend you didn’t hear that.”

Reborn looks a little proud of him.

* * *

It begins with Hayato’s sister, chasing after a lover who isn’t really a lover.

She shows up with vongola pizza, and even his now-crude Italian can understand that as a pass towards the Vongola itself.

The gas mask is the second hint.

Tsuna immediately dives back and slams the door to the next room over shut before the children can run in to greet the new guest. Usually he would be on the other side, but given Reborn’s notice earlier today that there was another hitman in town and everyone knows Tsuna and Reborn are the only people worth killing in this town, the woman’s target is either Reborn. Or himself.

He isn’t going to let some children get caught up in something like this. That’s how grudges are built. That’s how regret is born.

That’s how nightmares begin.

Maybe Poison Scorpion thinks he’s being a fool. Maybe she thinks he’s clumsy, unable to even open the door in his own home the right way. Maybe she’ll think he’s just trying to save his family, maybe-

Maybe she won’t hear the small voices yelling and pounding on the door he’s trying so hard to keep shut. Maybe she’ll kill him and leave, just like that.

A mile a minute. That’s what they say about the mind when the body is in danger. It takes barely a few seconds for the poison in the air to circulate numbingly through him. Faintly he can taste fresh air again, clear his lungs, but- but by then they’re only just working, small, frantic gasps. His vision swims but his mind is clear and calm, eyes burning with the will of the dying.

It doesn’t fade completely into darkness, but the last thing he recalls is the soft flickering of flames, a quiet sound. A gentle sound.

A lullaby.

* * *

Sawada Nana comes home to a house that smells strange and a son out cold on the couch, a flame burning bright on his forehead. And a suspiciously toxic-looking pizza box in the garbage bin out front.

She hums. There’s a number in her phonebook for discreet cleanup of toxins and other chemical agents.

“I’m home!” She calls out, a cheerful announcement that she knows there’s someone in the house, she has pepper spray, and she’s not afraid to use it. “Hello? Ah, Tsu-kun!”

“Maman.” Reborn greets her from where he is perched on the arm of the couch. Tsuna looks pale. “Welcome home.”

“Thank you, Reborn-chan. Is Tsu-kun okay?”

“Science experiment at school. The fumes got to him, but the teacher said it should be harmless.”

“Hmm.” Her smile doesn’t falter. “And his forehead?”

“Temporary.” The child peers up at her from under his fedora. “We took him to the nurse’s office before taking him home. He’s fine, Maman.”

“Oh, that’s good to hear!” It’s a practiced thing, her lighthearted ignorance. Something she and Tsuna had agreed to keep up long, long ago. “Are the children home still?”

“I put them upstairs to sleep. They wore themselves out worrying over Tsunayoshi.”

Now, there, she smiles truly, a soft and fond thing.

“..I’ll get started on dinner then. And put a kettle on for tea, for Tsu-kun, when he wakes. Would you like a cup as well, Reborn-chan?”

It takes him a few seconds to reply. She knows he would usually take espresso, regardless of the time of day or night. Italian to the core.

“..I prefer espresso, Maman.”

Nana giggles.

“Coming right up!”


It begins like this.


Iemitsu is not there when Tsuna is born. He calls from an international number and coos over the phone, and Nana is too exhausted to be mad at him. The baby is named Tsunayoshi, out of respect for the tradition Iemitsu’s side of the family had begun long ago.

Iemitsu is not there when Tsuna first opens his eyes. He does not see how bright and lovely and clear their boy’s gaze is. Nana had read that babies are born with blue eyes, usually. They change as time passes.

Tsuna was born with amber. They are so beautiful, Nana almost cries. She calls Iemitsu. He has the most beautiful eyes, she tells him. I wish you could see them. I wish you were here, honey.

Iemitsu does not come home until Tsuna is 6 months old. He stands in the doorway, awestruck, as Tsuna slowly crawls his way over, cooing and bubbling happily. His hair is so fluffy. He is so fluffy. So gentle, so soft.

Tsuna’s eyes have dulled to a normal brown by then, but they light up when he smiles, and they still do. They still do.

Then one day, Tsuna actually lights up. Like a Christmas tree. On fire.

Nana remembers dropping the newly-washed plate in her hands in surprise. A shard nicks her exposed ankle and she winces- and just like that, the fire on her baby boy’s head goes out as that happy, gurgling laugh turns into a confused and worried mumble.

She isn’t sure if she should tell Iemitsu. Babies aren’t supposed to... light themselves on fire. Or just their foreheads. Or anything? She’s quite sure? She did a lot of reading while pregnant. Lots.

Happy babies with burning foreheads was not mentioned anywhere in those texts.

Nana immediately checks for burns, for heat, for anything to prove that she hadn’t been hallucinating, but there’s nothing. Not even a single singed hair on her child’s head.

Fatigue, she decides. Just fatigue.

Then it happens again. Usually, Tsuna is smiling or laughing, and every time Nana checks, it doesn’t seem like the fire is.. hurting him. He doesn’t even seem to realize it’s there. Every time, her child’s eyes glow again, with that same soft, gentle amber color.

Happiness, she realizes. Pure, unadulterated joy.

“He’s the light of my life,” she whispers to Iemitsu one night, with a teary smile. Tsuna is almost 2 years old. “He’s so beautiful. I wish you could watch him grow, Iemitsu. I wish you were here.”

She doesn’t say anything about the flames.

Tsuna grows. Tsuna learns. Tsuna learns fast. He starts making word-like sounds far sooner than he probably shoulder, starts trying to walk when he should still be crawling. She almost shrieks when she sees him bumbling in an attempted run in her direction.

To soon, she tells herself, her instincts screaming against all pride and wonder she might be feeling. He’s running too soon. Not yet. Slow down, Tsuna.

Tsuna does everything too quickly. Nana has a timeline written out for her own sanity, and a calendar right next to it. It doesn’t help that Tsuna isn’t following this timeline at all.

“He’s barreling through them like a bull in a China shop, ‘Mitsu,” she sighs over the phone, both proud and worried. “I think he’s trying to read those books you brought back last year.”

“But they’re in Italian,” Iemitsu sputters.

“He said ‘boo goorno’ to me this morning, honey.”

“That’s not even in those books!”

Tsuna’s 2nd birthday is spent in a day of nonsensical baby babbling of Italian-Japanese between father and son. She has a hunch that Iemitsu doesn’t even really know how old their child is.

Nana learns how to correct Tsuna’s pronunciation of buon giorno. He says it every day now while giggling and cooing happily at the Italian books Iemitsu leaves lying around. She can’t wait for him to start school, though she’s a little nervous about it, too.

She takes Tsuna to the park frequently, when other mothers are out with their children too. None of their neighbors have kids Tsuna’s age and Nana is wary of letting Tsuna start school without knowing how he acts around other children. She needn’t have worried. Tsuna teaches half of them how to say ciao within the first day.

They flock around him like birds of a feather, building sand castles and playing make-believe. The power of the imagination is strong.

“He’s so small for his age,” they tell her as they watch the children from the benches. “Is he starting school soon?”

“Oh,” Nana says, hesitant and forlorn. She’s proud of Tsuna, but she won’t deny that his progress is... very advanced. “He’s turning 4 this October.”

“So young!”

“So young and so clever! I wish my boy were so wonderful... Tsuna looks so well-behaved, too.”

He is. Such a lovely, wonderful child. Her wonderful son.

“‘Mitsu, he’s starting school next year! I know you can’t be there for that.. but can’t you come home for his birthday this year at least? It’s been 3 years since he last saw you. I don’t want him forgetting his father’s face!”

“Nana, dear, you know I’m busy at work.. Construction projects can’t just stop for a few weeks because I want to take a vacation and visit my adorable wife and super adorable baby boy. Ah, I miss you two so much!”

“Oh, honey, you’re making me blush!”

Iemitsu chuckles on the other line.

“I’ll see what I can do, Nana... Take care, okay? Love you!”

“I love you too, ‘Mitsu.”

He’s not in construction. Nana knows some mothers whose husbands are actually in construction and they don’t make nearly as much money. Her husband is also home for a few weeks after projects are done, and her husband has never heard of construction projects going on for years and years.

Nana suspects Iemitsu is lying about his work. Or he’s working on some really, really, really big construction project back to back. He could be a manager.

He never talks about it. She doesn’t ask. The money is deposited like clockwork every week. She doesn’t even know what to do with it all.

Iemitsu comes home a week before Tsuna’s 5th birthday with an elderly man behind him wearing what looks suspiciously like a tacky Hawaiian tourist shirt.

“Nana,” he says carefully, “This is my boss, Timoteo.”