Tsuna felt gross when waking up, his neck aching and his mouth dry, like it had been stuffed with cotton. He was sat upright, propped against something warm. Something equally as warm and heavy as anything was spread over his legs.
Looking down was easier than looking up. Skull's cheek was pillowed on Tsuna's leg, just above the knee. When he caught Tsuna looking, not even feigning sleep, he grinned up at him. One of his arms was tucked under Tsuna's opposite knee, Skull's chest was sprawled across his shins.
Skull's arm around his knee tightened as an arm lowered over Tsuna's shoulder, the forearm and hand hanging by his chest. Tsuna wasn't sure if it was good that he could identify his summons by their hands.
"Sorry for falling asleep on you Verde," he mumbled, licking his lips and letting his head tip back against what he now knew was Verde's side and chest.
"It's quite alright," Verde replied evenly, his warm breath ruffling Tsuna's hair. There was the sound of a page turning. "Not many find the magical science behind the formation of barriers to be too riveting, after all, and if you are tired it is only human nature to sleep."
"It was rude," Tsuna rubbed at his eye briefly and for a moment, dropped that hand to cover Verde's, before he stretched and ruffled Skull's hair, more out of control than Tsuna had ever seen it.
From his position, he couldn't see the clock, and it was still disorientating to see that he wasn't in his old room anymore.
"What's the time?"
"Four-forty-five," Verde immediately responded. Tsuna couldn't remember anything past three, when he'd returned from his lessons and dropped onto the sofa next to Verde, who he hadn't seen in what felt like days.
"You're still working with the headmaster?"
"Yes. We might have results to our work soon. The academy building as it is, sits nearly directly over the focal part of the ley-line. It'll help bolster the defence of the grounds."
And keep Byakuran out was unspoken between them.
"I suppose I should get up if I want to make dinner before the hall closes," Tsuna mused, hand still loosely resting on Skull's hair. He felt tired still, as if he could sleep for another few hours.
A hand dropped onto his head gently, mimicking the pose he was holding with Skull. If he hadn't been so tired or trapped, Tsuna might have flinched.
Even though he hadn't shown any signs of being frightened, Fon's soft voice still murmured, "Sorry for frightening you. If you're reluctant to waking up, I know how to cook."
Somehow that wasn't surprising. Every one of the Arcobaleno Tsuna had met was horribly versatile.
He was awfully comfortable.
Fon's fingers gently scratched at his scalp and Tsuna felt his eyelids lazily drifting. He had homework to think about, work he could squeeze in before food but…
He wriggled, prompting Verde to lift his arm and Skull to shimmy off of his legs. When he had freedom of movement he flopped onto his side, back against the sofa, head on Verde's legs. Skull immediately sprawled over him again. It didn't look as if he should be able to fit in the space between Tsuna and the edge of the sofa, but he managed it. Verde was unruffled by the new additions to his lap as Skull squirmed into place.
"Lazy," Tsuna heard Verde murmured, but the hand that had previously hung over Tsuna rest gently on the side of his neck instead, thumb gently coasting over the edge of his jaw. With Verde's hand lulling him softly, and with his head tucked under Skull's, Tsuna felt safe and warm.
He couldn't remember falling asleep again but here he was, waking up to the smell of something wonderful and his stomach grumbling angrily.
Skull had graduated from next to Tsuna, to over Tsuna. Verde had snuck away at some point and Tsuna's head was now cushioned by actual pillows.
"They haven't dished up yet," Skull murmured against Tsuna's collarbone. "You don't need to get up if you don't want to."
Tsuna would have happily stayed there, comfortable as he was, but with a yelp, Skull was removed from his lap, and Tsuna blinked up at Reborn whose face turned from chastising to warm.
"You need to eat," Reborn said in way of greeting and before Tsuna could arrange himself upright, Reborn was already reaching out to straighten him up. Tsuna was quite glad for it, considering his limbs didn't want to listen to what he wanted them to do.
As soon as he was upright, feet on the floor, back to the sofa, Colonello, apparently having waited for a strategic moment while Reborn was organising Tsuna's noodle arms, threw himself into the space next to Tsuna.
"You looked so cosy, kora," Colonello slung an arm around Tsuna's shoulders and while normally he would be annoyed by the coddling, Tsuna was grateful for it as it helped him feel as if he could stay up and not face first into the coffee table.
"Was your day busy?" Reborn asked, his concern greater than his frustration of Colonello getting in the way. "You're not usually this lethargic."
Tsuna shrugged, lazily. "Maybe I'm coming down with something?" he suggested, leaning into Colonello's warmth. He didn't feel unwell, but it would explain the tiredness.
"Have some food. Shower, too, before you decide to go to bed. Do you have anything due tomorrow?"
Tsuna shook his head. "Day after. Two page paper. I have a few free periods tomorrow. Exam season."
"I know it's exam season. I'm a teacher." Reborn sounded fond. "Do you want to eat off your lap or at the table?"
"Table," Tsuna said decisively. If he ate off of his lap, he'd probably careen straight into it.
Reborn's hand reached out, the back of it pressing to Tsuna's forehead. "No fever. If you're no better by morning I'll collect the work for you and you can stay here."
That same hand lowered and Tsuna took it when it was offered to him, Colonello's hand around his shoulders slipping to his lower back to give him a gentle, guiding push to his feet.
When standing, Tsuna felt much better, his jaw cracking with a tear inducing yawn. He stretched his arms above his head and felt the tug in his back of tight muscles. His shoulder ached and he rubbed at it. With Reborn's attention, the scar was no longer a snarled mess of tissue but still hurt on occasion or with reason.
It seemed sleeping on the sofa was one such reason.
Reborn's hand closed over his shoulder, thumb digging in hard enough to be just shy of actually painful. And before the pain could take root, relief flowed out instead. A breath Tsuna wasn't aware he had been holding sighed out of him.
"Give it a few years and there'll be nothing left," Reborn promised, and kept his hand on Tsuna's shoulder to guide him to the table. There was only place set – the others didn't need to eat after all – and upon seeing the food, Tsuna's stomach grumbled almost angrily.
Taking his seat Tsuna dug in with fervour. Fon had made dumplings, easy to eat and filling and they tasted divine.
"Are they nice?" Fon asked warmly, taking a seat at the table too, the rest of them having dispersed back to the sofa or other rooms.
"Very," Tsuna held a hand in front of his mouth as he spoke, so his half chewed food wouldn't be seen. Swallowing quickly, followed by a sip of cold water, he added, "Thank you Fon."
"It is very much the least I can do." Fon shrugged easily, amiable smile in place. "The others look after you in their ways. This is mine."
"I always assumed it was the other way round," Tsuna mused. "That I should look after you."
"Let's think of it as a mutually beneficial relationship then," Fon acquiesced. "It's nice to look after someone. Luce wasn't entirely dependent, but she wasn't quite as…"
"Soft?" Tsuna asked wryly.
"Soft," Fon agreed. "Luce was...she was hardened, by personal loss and war. If we're lucky, and Byakuran isn't a harbinger of things to come, your life should be the complete opposite."
"Smells nice," someone mumbled from behind Tsuna, and a hand reached forward to snatch at the last dumpling, faster than Fon could stop them.
"Mammon," Fon chastised. "You don't even need that."
"Mmhmm," Mammon agreed, making the noise around a mouthful of food. "But he wasn't going to eat anymore."
Tsuna felt ready to protest before he realised Mammon was telling the truth. He sat further back, supported by the chair. The back of his head bumped Mammon.
"Thank you, Fon," Tsuna remembered to say. "It was very nice." And it wasn't a lie, very filling and tasty. He felt as if he could go straight back to sleep right there.
Mammon's hand curled under his chin, palm pressing to his throat and tilting his head further back. Something in Fon's face went shuttered, lips pressed tight and the corners of his eyes tight. Mammon's thumb swiped the curve of his jaw and then he let Tsuna go, his warmth stepping away.
Fon's sharp expression followed him as he left.
"s'everything okay?" Tsuna asked, feeling oddly out of the loop. Fon's face softened as he made eye contact.
"It's okay," Fon replied easily.
Tsuna wasn't convinced, pressing his elbow to the table, jaw resting against his bent knuckles.
It only took a few moments for Fon to acquiesce to what Tsuna wasn't even asking.
"Mammon took a...gap year, as it were. He hurt and killed a lot of humans."
"You think he'd hurt me?" Tsuna asked languidly. The room was startling in its silence. Fon's lack of answer was enough to Tsuna's question.
"He could try - " Colonello began, boisterous.
"If that's his nature," Tsuna steamrolled right over him. "Then I'm not going to deny him that. This is a contract. Not slavery. Besides, you said so yourself that it was a gap year. It doesn't make the person that he was the person he is now."
"Naive," Fon said and then looked mortified, as if hadn't meant to let it slip.
"I'm trying to be realistic, Fon." Tsuna sagged in his seat, letting his eyes close. "Any one of you could snap me in half with a breath. Any one of you could reduce this school to rubble and not even break a sweat. I'm not going to tell you or expect you to be any less than you are."
When he opened his eyes again, the room suspiciously quiet, Fon was looking at him like he'd seen something particularly interesting in a museum.
"Every time you come out with something a little more unexpected," Fon commented as if the seething ball of Colonello in the corner hadn't been about to rugby tackle him for bringing Tsuna into doubt.
Tsuna was touched by his loyalty, honestly. It just sometimes became a little overbearing.
"I'm not going to pretend I can change the world," Tsuna said without preamble. "If I tried I wouldn't be remembered for being me, but for having you. I like things to happen under my own power. I just also understand that my wellbeing depends on keeping you guys around. Also, you know, you've started to grow on me."
Fon's expression softened into amusement.
"'Keeping us around'," he said fondly. "I'm sure there's some of us you can't get rid of."
Tsuna's eyes automatically crossed to the troublesome corner, containing Skull, Colonello and Reborn.
"That's true," Tsuna admitted.
"And don't think, despite my views, that I'm averse to staying," Fon added.
When he reached over to take Tsuna's empty plate, Tsuna automatically looking up to make eye contact, Fon leaned down to kiss him as if it wouldn't set a bomb off on the other side of the room.
"You've started to grow on me too," Fon said cheerily as he pulled away, amused by the shock on Tsuna's face as he turned to run the taps to fill the sink, dropping the plate into the bubbling water.
Tsuna was groggily awoken as the bed sank under new weight. A hand on his arm manhandled him until a back was pressed to his chest and he took the hint, letting his arm flop over the bulk of the body he was now spooning.
Mammon was just as gangly as the rest of them, but if he wanted to be a little spoon, Tsuna wouldn't deny him.
"Fon was telling the truth," Mammon said after the silence had dragged long enough Tsuna was almost once again on the cusp of sleep. "That I've hurt humans. Killed them."
"You don't have to explain," Tsuna replied, aware his voice was muzzy with sleep. Had he been more aware he might not have let Mammon get away with cuddling so easy, not when so many of the others would complain.
"I called myself Viper," Mammon continued, unperturbed by Tsuna's offer. "I like animals, better than I like humans. Easier to understand. Snakes were even more uncomplicated. Cold blooded. Venomous in most cases, still deadly in others."
Tsuna wanted Mammon to turn around, wanted to see more than the black blur of the back of his head. He wondered, how much it was of Mammon wanting the comfort, against Mammon showing his back to Tsuna, a perceived weakness.
"Not all humans are like you," Mammon's voice went soft in a way that made the hairs on the back of Tsuna's neck rise, goosebumps pebbling his skin. "They don't know the meaning of respect, of courtesy. After Luce, I felt it prudent to correct that."
"Did it help?" Tsuna asked, suddenly feeling as if his words were too loud in the bedroom.
Mammon's hand lifted to where Tsuna's was hanging limp in the space between his ribcage and stomach, pressing it flat to his body as if in invitation, both holding Tsuna close and letting Tsuna hold him closer.
Tsuna adjusted, let his knees tuck behind Mammon's, and Mammon obligingly lifted his head to let Tsuna stretch his other arm under the pillows and consequently Mammon's head.
"Summoned creatures don't die unless their Aether is damaged beyond autonomous repair, but their physical forms still feel pain." Mammon was trailing one finger in nonsensical patterns against the back of Tsuna's hand before he reached to clasp Tsuna's wrist, fingers overlapping the mark he'd left there through the contract.
"For a long time we didn't know that," Tsuna said softly.
"Humans are stupid. Blustering about like they hold all the knowledge, all the power, as if they could get anything done without stepping on someone else." Mammon's bitterness was tangible. "So I stepped on them."
"You helped others," Tsuna surmised. Mammon's hand gripped tighter at Tsuna's wrist, nails briefly biting in.
"None have seen it that way. They're indoctrinated, believe that our power comes from being on this plane, with Summoner's who don't know the true value of what they have in their greedy little hands. So they all turned their heads, miserable, even up until the point I'd finished choking out every last breath from every miserable human who used force."
Mammon's voice took on something vicious.
"Aether can be damaged by mental abuse, even if physical abuse does nothing to us except hurt. Our spirit can only take so much. They begged me to stop even as I'd kill the humans who had tied them down."
"Mammon, I - "
"Don't you dare apologise." The stiffness in Mammon's shoulder, the tightness that had wound up more and more as he spoke eased away. "You're not using me. I'm using you. Just remember that."
With the sharpness of his words Tsuna expected him to pull away. Instead, Mammon adjusted, to get more comfortable. A soft light erupted from in front of his face, and Tsuna wasn't surprised to see the dim glow of a phone in Mammon's free hand, inches from his nose.
"Goodnight Mammon," Tsuna murmured.
But sleep was not to come.
"I had to check," Mammon said eventually, once again when Tsuna was on the edge of sleep, dreams prickling at his eyelids. "I had to check that when the other's started to contract that - "
"That I wasn't going to hurt them." Tsuna couldn't help the twitch and flex of his arm around Mammon, inadvertently hugging him that little bit tighter.
"It doesn't matter the distance. The time. They are more than my family, no matter what they think of me and my actions." Mammon was resolute, even with his eyes focused on the screen, thumbs tapping away. "It was one, that was fine. Then it was two, it was three. There was a fourth."
"Were you afraid I was coercing them?"
Mammon's thumbs paused.
"I was afraid you'd be another Luce." The admittance startled Tsuna enough that the sleepiness seemed to be slapped away from his eager hands. He wanted to sit up, wanted to see Mammon's face.
"But Luce was…" he began, bewildered.
"Wonderful. Compassionate. Too compassionate. We were tools. A gun. Point me here, watch me shoot. But she teased just enough, made us all feel as if were useful, worth something and then she died without feeling the same, as if we weren't good enough for her that, despite the fact we gave ourselves to her she only saw as means to an end and nothing...more."
"You wanted it to be more." Tsuna didn't even phrase it as a question.
Mammon stayed quiet. The soft light disappeared and there was some shuffling as he turned to face Tsuna. Even lying side by side, it was like he was towering above Tsuna.
"Everything has a price and she found ours."
"Companionship," Mammon corrected. "But in the end it was a lie."
"Am I lying to you?" Tsuna asked. He'd gotten his wish, to see Mammon's face. He was almost regretting it.
Mammon's hand lifted, the backs of his knuckles touching Tsuna's cheekbones. His previously warm skin, from where they'd held hands, however brief, was now cold.
"Not yet," Mammon murmured, eyes searching for something in Tsuna's face. Tsuna kept his expression open, trying to display understanding, honesty.
"Have I paid the price?"
Mammon considered him for a long moment, eyes softly lit by some otherwordly power in the dim of Tsuna's bedroom.
Then he rolled over, prompting Tsuna's arm back over him and primly said, "Ask me again in thirty years."
Tsuna hid his smile between Mammon's shoulderblades.
HAS IT BEEN A LIFETIME? YES.
Thank you all for being patient! This is entirely filler because my life is a mess, like this chapter. Hope you enjoy it anyway!