Adding Magic to the list of things Tsuna was researching felt like he was living a balancing act. He was digging into the mystery of his flames, looking for any sign of the Magical world AND living life as his regular old self all at the same time. With that in mind, Tsuna grudgingly allowed himself some time to simply rest, and make sure he was well and truly recovered from the stunt that had him turning into a teenager. The Calming Down trick he'd learned following his epic meltdown more than helped. He could now safely wind himself down from the frizzing heights of energy his Healing and Energy 'trick' brought him up to.
Good thing too, as he'd never quite noticed just how badly that particular ability was winding him up emotionally. He wasn't jumping at the slightest surprise anymore and his anxiety levels dropped down to an all-time low. He could safely practice his newly discovered abilities and utilize them whenever he wanted to, in between folding to the urge to nap.
The sleepy-time was most likely the cost of the temper tantrum that had turned him into a teenager. As much as he'd like to grumble about it? This was the payback for letting his emotions run out of control; he needed the sleep. He'd needed the forced down-time and not even he could argue just how amazingly lucky he'd been to get away from the accident without a scratch.
He was going to pretend a healer had ordered the bed rest and sleep off the effects like the good boy he really should be, but totally wasn't. He was going to be happy that he hadn't done himself any permanent damage and try not to tempt fate by being thankless to whatever god had been looking out for him at that particular moment. He made sure to show how appreciative he was the next time he visited the local shrine and dropped the entirety of his pocket money into the donation box for the favour.
Bless and thank you.
He purposely made himself wait until he was no longer falling asleep in random places before he started 'playing' with his flames once more. This time though, he wasn't about to tempt fate or whatever, he made sure he was tucked away in his bowling alley each time and didn't dare to try using his flames at home anymore.
People could sense flames.
That meant he couldn't give into laziness anymore and practice in his room. No more simply closing his curtains to make sure no one caught him playing with fire. There were people out there that would know what was going on anyway, and he had no idea how they'd react to him. Would they fall all over themselves like Bucket-man and his friends had? Or would they be like the bullies he had to duck every day?
Or would they be like the Hitman who'd wanted to use him against his own father?
It still didn't make much sense to him, but the pieces of that particular puzzle were slowly coming together and once he had enough of them they would eventually fall into place to form a full picture. Given his luck, that would probably happen right before he needed to save his own skin again. He really was starting to step into Harry Potter's shoes, wasn't he? Pulling off all the death defying stunts and solving deadly mysteries all before he was even physically a teenager! Without even wanting to get caught up in it at all, damn his curiosity!
Regardless, the revelation that people could sense flames was something that had him wondering if he should pull up the flowers in his garden. At one point, he'd found himself standing in his garden, trowel in hand, wavering over which flowers he should start with. Did he want to get rid of the poppies first? The sunflowers? Get the big ones out of the way before getting to the little ones? Or should he get rid of the roses his mother fawned over each morning? Do the hard part and get it over and done with before his mother found out he intended to clear the garden of the plants touched with his flame?
In the end he hadn't been able to make himself choose, or even start prying up the goddamned petunias, which were the flowers he was the least fond of. Instead, he absently weeded the garden as he tried to convince himself he was taking the time to choose where he was going to start. He let the gentle warmth coming off the flowers soak into his body and tried very hard not to wonder what he'd do without the comfort of his garden so readily available to him.
When he tried starting with his little vegetable patch, his traitorous mind turned to thinking up excuses as to why he shouldn't pull up his garden.
His mother would pout forever over the loss. The neighbors would notice too and wouldn't it be more suspicious if his house was the only one on the street without flowers? He'd been trading seeds for plants with everyone so maybe he could keep his sunflowers at least, they'd been there the longest and practically everyone had those! He might keep the roses too; his mother loved them too much to just let him pry up the bush without a fight… Did he even have to get rid of the garden at all? It WAS hidden behind a rather tall wall and the effects weren't all THAT noticeable.
Hadn't 'Zhou' mentioned having to land 'face first' into a patch of them to notice?
Maybe all he had to really do was make sure his sunflowers really were all over the place, grow them in areas of Namimori that were bare of them and make his house the proverbial needle in the haystack. He could do that while looking for Bucket-man and his friends, couldn't he? He'd be walking around town anyway; it would be taking care of two birds with one trip.
A whole month passed by while Tsuna turned the idea over in his head and tried to poke holes in his own reasoning. He planted sunflower seeds everywhere that looked like it could use a touch of brightening up, and scoured the internet and bookshelves for any information on magic. He looked for Bucket Man and his restaurant. He gave his own house another look-over for anything on his father or his father's boss. The words Cedef and Vongola still meant nothing more than a made-up word and a type of seafood.
He was almost two months away from his kidnapping when the peaceful investigating he'd been doing was abruptly shattered with the introduction of a new presence in his life, one he really should have seen coming. He'd known it would happen eventually, but he'd been hoping against hope that his mother might put it off for a while. His mother had made a friend one day while shopping, bumping into a woman who also had a little boy of her own and the two had gotten along like a house on fire.
The following day, Tsuna was at home and jolted out of a justified nap and realized someone was standing over him. Every individual strand of hair on his body stood on end. This was NOT his mother. This also wasn't Hashimoto-san. Chinese. Dark hair worn in a thick braid with a straight fringe and bangs framing her face. Formal kimono. Blue eyes. She wasn't anyone he recognized but this woman was in his house. Leaning over him. Watching him sleep and the frantic expression on her face at getting caught in the act was setting off his widgy-meter into overdrive.
Tangled up as he was in his bundle of blankets, he couldn't give the woman the kick to the face she so dearly deserved so instead, Tsuna did the next best thing. He scrambled for the pepper spray he kept under his pillow as per his mother's insistence. He hadn't known pepper spray could give him the comfort he didn't know he'd needed until the exact moment he reached for it and it fit into his grip like an old friend. You learned something new every day.
The woman who'd been leaning over him reeled back screeching and clutching at her face, having caught a thoroughly earned and deserved face-full of pepper. Tsuna rolled out of the confines of his bed, shook himself free of his bedding and was out the door and running. He took the stairs at a breakneck pace and scrambled to get out of the house before the woman could regain her bearings.
"Tian! Wait, I'm so sorry! Please forgive me!" The nutcase called out, staggering out into the hallway after him. Right, he wasn't about to fall for that, not when the woman was somehow navigating without her eyes with enough accuracy to follow after him.
He ducked her blind and wandering grasp, and forced his fumbling fingers to dig into his scarf for his flask. He scrabbled at the cap with trembling fingers gone numb in fear and mostly busy also holding the pepper spray. What was this woman doing in his house? He did NOT want her anywhere near him! The reaction was primeval, nearly violent. It was instinctive and Tsuna was shaking from it. The sensation felt like it was coming from so deep inside him it might as well have been radiating from his bones.
No, no, no, no NO!
Was this someone else sent to capture or kill him? He wasn't ready! It hadn't even been a year yet since his kidnapping! Tsuna gave up trying to open up his flask in favour of making sure he made it down the stairs alive, slipping it into his pocket for easy access but making sure to keep a good hold on his only 'weapon'.
He was so focused on what he was doing and what he was running away from that he wasn't really paying much attention to anything outside that immediate goal. As such, when he hit the bottom step and turned for the front door, he bowled over the formally-dressed kid who'd apparently been waiting for him there. Tsuna got the impression of dark hair and wide grey eyes and suddenly he was rolled over, a moment of dizzy motion later and the familiar looking boy had him pinned to the ground with one arm while the other—
A wooden tonfa was descending.
Rolling desperately to avoid it, Tsuna broke out of the hold pinning him and pushed himself up against the wall for leverage. He gritted his teeth, brought up the pepper spray and… froze.
The boy he'd met at the police station also froze, just a few millimeters away from slamming his weapon down on him. There was a long pause before he pulled back the tonfa and slipped it back into the voluminous sleeve of his Haori with a slightly impressed "Wao~".
"Tsu-kun~! You're awake! I found a friend for you to play with!" his mother's voice floated from the direction of the kitchen. She giggled, popping out from the relative safety of the kitchen to kneel down to eye level with the other boy and introduced him. "This is Hibari Kyouya-kun, he's Yun-san's son, remember I told you about her? Kyo-kun this is my son Sawada Tsunayoshi, treat him well~!"
"Y-Yun… san?" Tsuna stuttered, feeling the hair on his arms rise and bodily stiffening as the enormity of what he'd just done hit him.
What the hell? Had he just pepper-sprayed his mother's new friend!?
"TIAN! I'M SO SORRY FOR STARTLING YOU!" The dark haired woman exclaimed as she staggered down the stairs. "PLEASE FORGIVE ME!"
Tsuna jolted into action and rolled over onto his hands and knees, scrabbling back up the stairs on all fours with a yelp. Dropping the pepper spray, he went to stop the woman from dropping into a kowtow halfway down the stairs. "I FORGIVE YOU! I'M SORRY! PLEASE GO WASH YOUR FACE!"
Tsuna's official introduction to Hibari Yun and her son Hibari Kyouya left a little something to be desired but honestly? He'd probably needed the warning that their introduction had provided him and now he had some understanding of exactly what kind of crazy he could expect from the pair. He didn't think he was ever going to forget it.
Sitting crouched just outside the bathroom door on his heels, Tsuna half-hid behind the doorjamb, listening to his mother and her friend apologize to each other along with the sounds of muffled whimpering coming from the bathroom. He bit down the urge to join in and apologize again, knowing from the last ten minutes that the woman would stop washing the pepper out of her eyes in order to comfort him. She really had quite a strong 'mothering' personality, trying to comfort him even though she had to be in quite a bit of pain, poor woman! How had he ever mistaken her for an assassin? He was never going to live this down!
"I—can you ask her never to wake me up like that again?" he mumbled at his 'play date', clamping down another apology and wondered how the taller boy could just lean on the wall opposite the bathroom and just watch the proceedings with such amusement. "Also I just pepper-sprayed your mother, shouldn't you be angry instead of laughing?"
"She should have known better, even Small Animals bite when startled."
"Small Animals? … Is this you calling me a herbivore again?"
Having an occasional playmate didn't really change much in Tsuna's life as far as his regular day to day activities were concerned.
Play-dates were arranged sporadically and with several days of prior warning. Doubtlessly so as not to overly startle him again. He would sometimes spot the older boy walking to school and back, and would occasionally join him, taking the other boy's appearance as a silent invitation to walk with him to school. The dark haired boy was oddly relaxing to be around and joining him on the walk to school and back gave him the added benefit of a bully-free journey.
The dark haired boy never demand anything from him and being 'friends' with Hibari Kyouya was almost like having a particularly aloof cat. He had his snacks when he came over, entertained himself with the colouring books he brought and left when he had enough.
Though the boy's personality might be rather feline, his thought process wasn't anything cat-like at ALL. The boy had the mentality of a werewolf, well… almost. Everyone, according to Kyouya, was either a Herbivore, Carnivore, or some variation there-of. It was, at first glance, such a simplistic way to view the world but the more time he spent around him the more he came to realize how vividly rich that imagination was.
The colouring books gave it away.
He would never just pick up a pencil or crayon and start colouring in. Kyouya would look at the picture as a whole, flip through the book, think about where the animal was and what it was doing, and THEN he'd start. Sometimes he'd incorporate the picture on the other page of the colouring books, turning two separate pages into a bigger picture.
A tiger with blood around its mouth and on its paws, fur dusty in some places and muddy in others. Claws added in with exquisite detail. The horse on the next page over sporting great big bite marks all along its rear. A trail of blood connecting the two pictures. Just sitting next to the boy and colouring in with him took the both of them on a journey with the animals they were colouring in and when they came out of it they were finished with a 'story' and it always felt like waking up after a long, restful nap.
"Why didn't the tiger go for the neck?" Tsuna had asked that time, pausing in the middle of 'bandaging' the poor horse.
"It's not dead yet." Kyouya replied with a smirk.
"… what a sloppy tiger." Tsuna tsked, "Lucky horsie."
He managed to startle a snort out of Kyouya and the other boy had to look away for a long moment before he could school his face back into indifference. Tsuna muffled his own amusement at the reaction behind the colouring book.
All in all, having a play mate… didn't take as much out of him as he'd been expecting. He enjoyed 'playing' with Hibari Kyouya and the other boy liked keeping his distance most of the time. He fit into Tsuna's world like a jigsaw puzzle piece snapping into place. Tsuna didn't have to adjust his own life one whit to make room for him; he made room for himself just fine and ended up bringing something to the table on his own. Tsuna might never have learned how to relax in the presence of another child had it not been for his first playmate.
Kyouya might never become the shielding presence in his life that Ron and Hermione had been, but he didn't have to be. Tsuna wasn't in such desperate need for a wall to hide behind or famous.
At least he hoped he wasn't, he didn't think he could deal with being the next 'Boy Who Lived'. If he ended up getting invited into the Magical World and then told he'd survived a Killing Curse as a baby, he might just choose to walk out there and then. Regardless… he didn't need a Ron or Hermione to hide behind, much as he might want them at times.
He would stand against the world on his own two feet and face it without flinching. He'd been going about his life wrong for a long time and he hadn't even realized it until he calmed down. He could now recognize exactly how miserable he'd been making himself. Now that he was able to think clearly without having to burn off the warmth he needed, he was always coming up with ideas on how to improve his situation.
He didn't have to pretend to be useless if he didn't want to be or maintain the facade of idiocy. It was years past the time his flames had been sealed, and his decline in health and intelligence were a matter of public record. He would keep English under his proverbial hat for now but there was absolutely no reason he couldn't improve his grades to match his classmates.
He didn't have to dumb himself down to match a non-existent Dudley, there were no Dursleys looking over his shoulder. The rumour that he was a body double for the real 'Sawada Tsunayoshi' was out there and any Hitmen looking at his grades would see a slow improvement if he started now. It would look like the 'body double' he was pretending to be had learned enough Japanese to match school records.
He was making himself suffer needlessly for no reason; it was about time he started picking himself up.
The first break Tsuna had in the multiple of mysteries he was chasing came in the form of one of his classmates. Yamamoto Takeshi already stood out of the crowd for being one of the more popular kids in school; he was athletic, his grades were constantly in the top tier of their class when he actually put in the effort, and on top of that he was NICE. People flocked to the hazel-eyed boy by the droves and not a single one was ever pushed back or ignored.
He'd have gone insane within three days of the attention Takeshi got; the other boy had the patience of a saint.
Tsuna, who didn't particularly like the crowds and spent more time than he liked to admit actively trying to avoid his peers, noticed something one lazy afternoon in the middle of a PE class that had him joining the crowd for once.
Tsuna had been working on the ability to sense flames, now that he knew such an ability existed, he couldn't help but try it himself. He'd so far only 'sensed' his flowers and he'd half-convinced himself that had been wishful thinking. An argument had broken out amongst the kids playing baseball and Tsuna had been in the perfect position, benched on the sidelines as he was, to play witness to the faint ripple of blue flames that washed away from Yamamoto halfway into the argument he'd waded into.
Tsuna folded his notebook over his pencil and immediately decided the homework he'd been working on wasn't urgent anymore. He didn't need to free up time after school, he could do his homework later. Instead he focused on the sensation that had caught his attention and the ripple of colour he'd caught in the corner of his eye. The colour was faint; Tsuna would have almost believed it to be a trick of the light, would have blamed the washed-out and barely-there rippling of blue on a heat haze had it not been for two things. Firstly, he'd sensed it before seeing it and then… the reactions of the people who'd been arguing told their own tale. The two teams that had been arguing over a foul stopped raising their voices. All of a sudden the group energy seemed to fall completely flat. Some of the kids even struggled against yawns and more than one sported the long-distance stare of the extremely sleepy.
Yamamoto Takeshi had just done to his classmates what Bucket Man had done to him and the teenagers that had been fighting in the alleyway outside that restaurant. It didn't look like he'd done it on purpose, if anything it looked like a bout of Accidental Magic, but it had the same effect as the bucket of water Tsuna had been hit with, albeit a hell of a lot weaker.
More importantly… the kid bore a striking resemblance to the Bucket Man he'd been searching for. Takeshi was a carbon copy of Bucket-Man in miniature and it had taken literally being slapped in the face with the clue for him to recognize the resemblance.
He was going to have to do something about the Tunnel Vision. He couldn't believe he'd missed such an important clue with it staring him in the face every day. Literally staring him in the face every day. Takeshi had been one of the kids who'd been hit rather heavily by what he now knew was correctly called 'Sky Attraction'. Before that, all he'd previously noticed was that the hazel-eyed boy was that he was the tallest kid in his crowd of stalkers.
This was one of the downsides to using his flame to keep himself awake and aware that he hadn't really anticipated, though it should have been obvious. His regular flame had him focused on a single goal or task, watered down as it was... wasn't it lucky that the singular focus didn't filter down as much with the warmth? He'd take a bit of tunnel vision if that was what it took to function day to day.
He'd just have to work on keeping a broader outlook. Observe his surroundings and take a better note of who he was surrounded by, what they looked like and what they were doing. It would be difficult to learn but… he needed to know how not to shut out the world. The Hitman that had kidnapped him had done so after weeks of observation, had broken into his house at one point and had even stolen pictures out of the family album all without anyone noticing.
That wasn't something Tsuna wanted to happen again. Ever.
He could set up a warning system, leave little things around the house in specific locations that would warn him of an intruder in the house. Wind-chimes at all the windows so he'd know which ones were open and which were closed and would have a warning should one open without him knowing it. Simply locking the doors wouldn't do any good, his mother came in and out of every room without a care in the world, she'd simply unlock any door he locked. He couldn't exactly rely on her to notice something out of the ordinary either; she'd proven herself not-so-competent on that aspect. Maybe that said something of the level of stealth skills the Hitman in question possessed but Tsuna had a feeling that it hadn't taken much to break into his house at all.
Great, he'd just added Home Security to his already long to-do list. He could do that when he got home though, there wasn't any rush. Any hitman that tried to confront him as he was today would get a rather warm surprise. He was topped up on flames, his wits were sharp with it and he would be keeping an eye out. For now he could put home security aside while he followed the one useful 'lead' he'd 'found'.
He was going to follow Yamamoto Takeshi home and see if that lead him to Bucket Man and his restaurant. There had to be a familial relation there somewhere. The two looked far too alike to be anything other than immediate family.
Tsuna left the classroom as quickly as he usually did at the end of the school day.
Instead of retreating to the library this time though, he tried something he'd been practicing in his bowling-alley hideout. Hiding in a utility closet, Tsuna closed his eyes and compacted the flames in his system into a tiny ball. His mental grip on that ball of heat was tight, the practice he'd put into it giving him a firm grip even as his body felt like he'd just doused with a bucket of ice-cold water. Allowing himself a small trickle of flame, he took a moment to adjust to the difference being nearly flameless had on his perception and took a deep, steadying breath before leaving the closet.
He had to take a moment to steady his spinning head by the time he got to his seat by leaning his forehead on his desk but… Not a single blessed soul paid any attention to him when he'd stepped back into the classroom.
Digging his scarf, gloves and jacket out of his bag, Tsuna wrapped himself up as tightly as he could and waited, eventually following his target when he came in to collect his things. Keeping the grip he had on the flames became something of a trial in patience when he remembered Takeshi was on the elementary school baseball team; luckily the baseball field had a sheltered seating area. It wasn't so hard to keep his attention on the other boy when he was protected from the elements.
Tsuna bought a can of warm tea from the vending machine nearby and sat himself down in the bleachers as the baseball team set up practice, knowing that if he tried to drink his flame-tea the grip he had on his flames would slip. He watched Bucket Man's younger clone ran around the baseball field and squashed the tiny seed of budding jealousy that rose up in him at the sight. There was a kind of liquid and boneless grace to the way Takeshi moved and he made running, throwing and hitting baseballs look effortless. Simple joy for the game and easy cheer washed off of him in waves. Seeing him like this, it was easy to picture how the other boy had become so popular; that kind of charisma was amazing. He enjoyed being around other people and was full of enough bouncy energy to put a puppy to shame.
Sipping at his can of tea Tsuna tried to imagine being able to go through life the way Takeshi did, easy in his own skin and… completely surrounded by people unknowingly attracted to his flame.
Would he have been like this if his flame never been sealed away from him?
He… didn't think he'd have enjoyed that. For one, he'd have never learned how to control his flames, not in the way he could now. Takeshi showed no sign that he even knew he had flames, let alone know how to use them. He wouldn't call the seal a blessing in disguise but it had cut down on the number of people Tsuna had to deal with on a daily basis.
More than likely his life would have continued along the same vein as it had been going in had he not been sealed. Bullies hounding him all the way to school, during class and then following him all the way home. There had been a marked difference in the number of people who bothered him when he'd had full access to his flames and now. For all the problems he'd had since, even he had to admit he'd noticed the sharp decline in the numbers since his flames had been sealed.
The intensity of such incidents had also taken quite the nosedive.
People no longer got as much of a kick out of trying to bother him these days, with the majority of the ones bothering him learning he wasn't such an easy target anymore. He supposed no longer feeling the subconscious flare of his flames had a little something to do with that. Had people acted that way around Fleur Delacour before she'd managed to get some measure of control over her own allure? Poor Fleur. If he ever met a Veela he was going to offer his most sincerest sympathies. At the very least he'd figured out a way to 'turn off' the 'allure', so-to-speak. He could do whatever he wanted, so long as it didn't cost him too much energy-wise. Like let himself fade into the background like he'd always wished he'd been able to do when he was smaller. Veela, as far as he knew, couldn't do that.
There was probably an easier way to do this but Tsuna didn't have the patience to try and figure it out just yet. One of his mysteries had just dropped a lead right in front of him, if he didn't chase it now he wouldn't be able to concentrate on anything else until he'd solved it.
So for as much as he disliked letting the creeping edge of cold return him back to the time in his life before he discovered the ability to flip the seal… he could endure it for a bit. It wasn't as bad as it had been when his flames had been sealed; he knew exactly what was going on now and what he was doing. More importantly, he knew that the sensation was temporary. All he'd had to do was let his grip on the loose flames go and he'd be warm, the fire would run through his system and able to protect himself again.
Takeshi's baseball practice lasted almost three hours.
He knew this because it was the only thing he could focus on while keeping the flames in his system compacted. With only a very small amount floating freely through his system to keep him alert, he had to concentrate all his attention on either watching Takeshi or his own wrist watch. Tsuna went through three cans of tea, a packet of crisps and a candy bar before the practice game was over and everyone was packing up to go home. He visited the bathroom twice, once to actually use the facilities and then again to wash his face with warm water. Watching the practice had gotten boring somewhere in the half hour mark so he'd tried working on the homework he'd abandoned during PE but that had been a dumb idea. He'd given up trying to decipher the mathematics work sheet as impossible to finish in the condition he was in and shoved it back in his bag.
Then, when Takeshi was finally, FINALLY ready to leave, the boy abruptly took off at a fast sprint. What kind of kid their age could still run after school, three hours of baseball practice, with a school bag on his back and an added sports bag clanking over his shoulder? Tsuna allowed himself a bit more flame in order to keep up with the boy, but no more than he absolutely needed to make sure he didn't lose him, however when he actually caught up with the other boy— He was walking into a public park. To be greeted by a sizable group of other kids. Who were setting up for a game.
Takeshi spent another two hours playing baseball.
Tsuna barely made it, he'd been desperately holding the flames inside him down for over five hours already and had actually thought about sneaking away to release his hold for a bit but had stubbornly held his ground. Surely Takeshi wouldn't stay out playing baseball all night? He had to go home at some point for dinner at some point, right? He had to be getting all that energy from SOMEWHERE, right? Even Tsuna was starting to feel hungry and he'd had all those snacks just a couple of hours ago! He was close to the breaking point when everyone finally announced they were going home.
Takeshi then decided he was going to continue swinging his baseball bat around the park.
Tsuna could no longer hold back the flames and at the rate he was going Takeshi would probably still be swinging that baseball bat around for another few hours. Tsuna looked at his watch. Looked at the clock on the bathroom wall and then looked back at Takeshi again.
Who was no longer there.
Startled into darting out of the bushes he'd been hiding in, Tsuna wildly looked around for the other boy. Tsuna allowed a tiny bit more of his flame out and approached one of the onlooking parents that had been watching the kids play.
"Excuse me, did you see which way Yamamoto Takeshi went?"
The young mother who was helping her toddler into a pram gave him a distracted look. "Sorry, I was a little busy. Come back tomorrow if you want to play with him, I'm sure he'll let you, he's such a nice boy!"
Tsuna grimaced; now that he had an idea of what kind of insane schedule his Target kept he was going to have to think of another way to work on this particular mystery. He couldn't keep up with Takeshi the way he was without drawing the other kid into Sky Attraction and he didn't want to go that far.
Calling it a day, Tsuna staggered away to hide himself away in the shelter of the boy's toilets, slung his backpack to the floor and let the tight grip on his flames go. Warmth washed back through him in a strong wave, one that warmed him head to toe. He felt the flames dance over his skin, erupt from his forehead and— felt his clothes disintegrate.
Freezing stock-still, he stared wide-eyed at his reflection in the polished silver surface of the toilet door. His forehead was on fire, his eyes were glowing the hot-orange as they usually did when he was using his flames and… he was left standing in only his underwear. A pair of black boxers with multicolored polka dots all over them.
Snatching his bag off the floor, he flung the door open and ran. Home. All the way there. He didn't stop for anything. It was only when he was slamming the door to his room closed and the flame on his forehead fizzled out that he remembered something. Stumbling over to his bed, he dropped his backpack to the ground, burrowed under his blankets and buried his face into his pillow in embarrassment as exhaustion swamped him.
He'd had a change of clothes in his bag. He hadn't needed to run home like a half-naked nutcase at all.
Tunnel Vision. Again. Goddamn it.
Recognizing where he'd gone wrong with trying to track Takeshi home, Tsuna reviewed his strategy and took a long, hard look at his own motivations. Approaching Takeshi for the sole purpose of using him to track down Bucket Man wouldn't be fair to the other boy at all. Tsuna also recognized his own longing, knew he'd wanted to be friends with the hazel-eyed boy before that but hadn't had any reason to push himself forward before discovering Takeshi's Flame.
Tsuna's reasons to avoid making friends were still valid; he didn't want anyone caught in the crossfire should someone come after him again. Didn't want to have to lie about where he was when he disappeared. Didn't want to leave anyone behind when he started magic school or lie about his flames. If he was being completely honest with himself, he didn't want to use his flame to sway him either. If he couldn't earn Takeshi's friendship the old fashioned way then he didn't deserve it in the first place. His own moral compass wouldn't allow him to compromise on that at all.
Coercion wasn't friendship. Couldn't take the place of friendship and just because he'd been born with the ability to draw people to him, it didn't mean he had the right to keep them, much as he might be tempted to sometimes.
He had his mother. He had Hashimoto-san looking out for him, and he had Yun-san and her son Kyouya pop into his life every now and then. Himura Saito still chased people away from him when he hid out in the library and even Detective Hibari Minoru, who turned out to be Kyouya's uncle, popped up every now and then to make sure he was okay.
Tsuna was busy anyways. He was bringing his grades up, looking for clues about his father and the old gentleman who'd called himself his grandfather. Cedef and Vongola. Magic. His flames. He was now adding hidden security measures that would tell him when someone other than himself and his mother came into the house. He was working on his Tunnel Vision and searching for Bucket Man and his restaurant, and sleeping like the dead when he wasn't doing anything else.
He didn't have the time or energy for another friend.
Besides, what would they have in common? Tsuna would end up killing himself if he joined the baseball team. He only knew enough of the sport to know you hit the ball forward and ran like hell till you reached Home Base. He was still in the process of bringing his grades up so Tsuna was still scraping the bottom of the ranking boards. They were worlds apart in social standing and imagining being surrounded by Takeshi's other friends made Tsuna's head spin a little.
He'd never be able to remember all their names and some of their number included people who called him Dame-Tsuna.
Following Takeshi from behind had been an epic failure and Tsuna felt like crawling into a hole every time he remembered the consequences of squashing his flame down that hard. All that did was make his flame rush back up hotter than ever. Like it did when he flipped the lid on the seal. Possibly a bit hotter than it did when he flipped the seal because of all the squashing he'd done, he'd never had his clothes vaporize off of him before!
If Tsuna tried getting to the park where Takeshi played baseball at the end of the day and squashed his flame down then… that could lead to another set of problems on its own. He could get accosted before Takeshi showed up. Takeshi could decide not to play baseball there, unlikely as this scenario was. Tsuna could get caught by Takeshi's other friends. He could end up having his clothes burned off him again… that wasn't something Tsuna wanted to repeat either. Once was enough for him thanks.
Before Tsuna could twist himself up into knots trying to figure out ways to track down where Takeshi lived without breaking his morals, too many school rules, (he'd briefly contemplated breaking into the teacher's office), or any laws, he was handed an opportunity to learn more about the kid in a friendly setting.
Sasagawa Kyoko was having a birthday party and she'd invited the entire class.
Usually, Tsuna wouldn't have touched that invitation with a barge-pole but— Sasagawa Kyoko, he recalled the last time he really remembered her. Their last significant meeting, which was when her older brother Ryohei had earned himself that scar in his eyebrow. That had to be his Tunnel Vision at work again; he'd only been peripherally aware that they shared a class.
He was so self-absorbed it wasn't even funny.
Sasagawa Kyoko didn't seem to recognize him as the blond foreigner that had helped her brother beat back the bullies from her. Thank god, but she still gave him an invitation. She gave him an adorably sweet smile at the same time, asking him if he was going to come to the party. He hadn't had the heart to give his usual excuses as she was one of the rare few people who were completely unaffected by him. She was so innocently pure that it made him feel like a heel just thinking of disappointing her. Would he be able to do so on her upcoming birthday?
Tsuna, having already been hit with Kyoko's sweetness, was dealt the finishing blow. Yamamoto Takeshi agreed to come. He now had a reason to attend. It was a legitimate way to learn more about him without exerting too much effort. If the opportunity arose he could follow Takeshi home after the party and hope the kid didn't go off to the park or something. Maybe Bucket Man would save Tsuna the effort by escorting Takeshi like the good maybe-parent Tsuna thought he was.
The party sounded like it would be the best place to gather information; all he'd have to do was show up.
He could totally handle a birthday party.
Party. He could do a party. Cake. Games. A couple of kids his age. Adults watching everyone. Hopefully watching with an eagle eye, the other kids wouldn't dare try to start anything at a birthday party! If he was lucky Takeshi might even leave early.
His simple plan to track down Bucket Man and his restaurant by following his target home after the party started to unravel the second Tsuna brought the birthday invitation home.
His mother found it.
As far as his mother knew he'd never been invited to a birthday party before, he'd always managed to ditch the invitations before coming home from school. They'd usually been thinly disguised invitations to join the Gardening Club and the Book Club, who were still dogging his steps even after all that time spent declining invitations to the clubs. Tsuna had accepted the invitation, told himself he could always call the number on the card if he didn't want to go and had taped it to the wall near the door so he wouldn't forget about it.
Fat chance of that. His mother got so excited when she saw the glittery and ribboned invitation she'd nearly screamed. Before he realized what was happening, she'd ripped it off the wall and was down the stairs and confirming with Kyoko's mother over the phone that "Of course Tsu-kun will come! He wouldn't miss it for the world!"
If Tsuna hadn't already wanted to dig himself into a hole for disintegrating his clothes off of himself and then running home half-naked, this would have done it.
His mother was on the phone to Yun-san after that and Tsuna started to wonder if perhaps the adults involved in this whole fiasco were more excited than the children attending— but that was before he actually arrived at the birthday party and discovered just how wrong he was. He'd been expecting a small party. Kyoko's house. Two or three adults. A handful of kids. Some board games and a cake. What he was frog-marched into was something that blew that expectation out of the water and annihilated it.
There were screaming kids everywhere. This was more than his entire class put together. This had to be at least two classroom's worth of kids! Sure there were parents but they were all on the sidelines with cameras and doing nothing to tame the wild romping. There was a cake but it was easily as large as the table holding it. Loud, bouncy music. Equally loud laughter. Streamers. Balloons and confetti all over the place.
Looking at the table of presents holding the birthday girl's gifts, Tsuna's own carefully-wrapped gift, a pair of hair-clips decorated with plastic sunflowers, was suddenly too simple a gift. Even with the live flowers he'd brought with him. He was overdressed for the party too; every other boy was wearing shorts and tee-shirts or sneakers with jeans. His mother had went out and bought him dress shoes and pants, a charcoal blazer and crisp white shirt. She'd even tried to slick his hair back, though that hadn't done much more than tame it a little.
Feeling his spirit start to quail, Tsuna did an about-face on instinct and walked into his mother's legs.
"Tsu-kun~! Don't be shy~! Look, say hello to Kyoko-chan! Happy birthday, sweetie~!" His mother cooed over his shoulder as she knelled down to his level.
Oh god. No. This was not happening. He— he was NOT shy damn it! He just didn't want to be eaten alive by the unholy menagerie Kyoko had invited over to the event hall her parents had hired to set the party up in! Feeling his face burn through several shades of red, Tsuna thrust his gift at the birthday girl with the armful of sunflowers he'd cut from the garden.
"Happybirthdaysasagawasan," he mumbled in a rush and swept the large room for exits with frantic eyes.
"Oh! These are so cute! Can I wear them now?" Kyoko asked, having eagerly torn into her gift when presented with it. She was all dolled up like a little princess, her dress was a lacy white and pink fluttery mass of fabric; she was also wearing a little sparkling rhinestone tiara and had white glittering wings made out of stockings and wire pinned to her back.
Tsuna nodded jerkily, not trusting himself enough to speak. He'd only been here for less than three minutes and he already wanted out.
"Thank you, Tsuna-kun!" Kyoko chirped, clipping them into place with a bright smile. She then did something terrible.
She kissed his cheek.
Adults cooed and laughed.
The little girls giggled.
His male peers— did not.
Accepting that birthday invitation might have been a mistake. Sasagawa Kyoko was popular among the boys in the same way Yamamoto Takeshi was popular with the girls and she had just kissed him on the cheek. He'd be safe for now, everyone was on their best behaviour, it was a birthday party and all the adults were watching. Hopefully something would happen between now and Monday before class so that everyone would forget that little kiss had even happened, he didn't fancy being eaten alive by his male classmates.
Kyoko giggled and spun around and back into the party to flitter around like the social butterfly she was, leaving Tsuna with his mother. That would have been fine with him if his mother had actually let him continue hiding behind her legs. Unfortunately, she decided he was being too 'shy' and gently pushed him out into the mess of children.
"Go play now, Tsu-kun, mama is going to go find Yun-san!"
Abandoned by his own mother to survive the wilds of Sasagawa Kyoko's birthday party, what was the world coming to? And he was spending way too much time colouring stories with Hibari Kyouya if this was where his brain went when he panicked.
Play? Play where? There were kids glaring at him at all sides of the hall! It wasn't like he'd asked her to kiss his cheek! Also their fault for buying gifts too big to open immediately if they wanted it! He gave the hall another look over, still looking for exits but this time looking at the different play areas and games set up.
There was a balloon castle in the corner Tsuna wasn't going to go near. A long table across the entire length of the room that was probably set up for kids when it was time to cut the cake. He tried hiding under a table at the far end of the hall but a little girl with long, wavy dark hair hissed at him when he tried crawling underneath.
"Go find your own spot monkey; I found this place first!" Kurokawa Hana spat, looking frazzled, annoyed and like she was a hair's breadth away from defending her territory with claws. "Should have said no! Can't believe I said yes! Never again! Knew there were going to be monkeys everywhere! Can't be content with just one or two, she has to invite the entire neighborhood—"
Tsuna crawled back out from under the table as fast as he'd gone under. She clearly needed the space more than he did.
Okay, there had to be more places than just that one spot.
Parents were watching the presents table and wouldn't let any kid near there that wasn't the birthday girl herself. There was a colouring table but the kids there weren't colouring peacefully like he did with Kyouya, they were jumping up and down in their seats, throwing pencils and crayons, ripping up paper and generally being crazy. He wasn't going to apple-bob either and as tempting as the fairy floss looked he'd rather not wait in line. Not with that glaring group.
Damn it, Kurokawa had found the perfect spot to hide; no one was going to disturb her there! Tsuna was contemplating the merits of snagging some of the candy from one of the tables to bribe her with into sharing her hiding spot when he found the perfect place.
There were large silver barrels that stood taller than Tsuna that were filled half full with ice and water arranged in a row with soft drinks inside them. Adults only went near when they needed pull out a new bottle or to bring one back. There was a gap between the barrels and the wall large enough to hide him. He'd even brought a book with him and he could peer around the barrels to look for Yamamoto whenever he wanted.
He went unnoticed until about halfway through the party, whereupon Hibari Minoru spotted him peeking around his hiding place. The man took one look at where he was hiding, shrugged off his jacket and dropped it around him to wear. "Look after this for me?" The man asked, loosening his tie as if he were overheated. "I have a feeling if I put it down somewhere without making sure someone is watching it, I might lose it."
Giving the man a look that conveyed how much he believed this thinly veiled excuse to make him more comfortable, Tsuna snorted. "Okay, but it'll cost you."
"Oh? Do tell?" Minoru smirked, so highly amused in that moment that he looked exactly like an older version of his nephew.
"Bottle of tea, I saw one of the adults put one back earlier." Tsuna mock-demanded, pointing up at one of the barrels he was hiding behind.
"You drive a hard bargain, deal!" the man snickered as he leaned over the barrel and fished out the bottle in question. "Would you like fries with that?"
"… they have food that isn't sugar?"
Minoru snorted and vanished for a bit, returning with a small basket of fries and chicken nuggets that he held onto for a bit. "Let's do an exchange, food for information."
"What kind of information?" Tsuna asked warily, eyeing the food offered with a critical eye. None of it that was worth talking about the Hitman for.
"Have you seen Kyouya anywhere?"
"No, I haven't seen him, he's probably hiding somewhere like a sane person! Also why would you even bring him here?" Tsuna gaped, horrified at the idea of his maybe-friend also trapped somewhere in this horrific so-called party.
"It's called 'socializing' and I didn't, his mother did. I'm just here 'cause his father is in Tokyo and made me promise to keep an eye on them."
"… I can try to find him for you? Later though. Just— please pretend you didn't see me."
"Saw who, where?" Minoru asked airily, looking up and away even as he handed the basket of bribery over. The man straightened up and left, looking for all the world like he'd been talking to himself the whole time.
Tsuna snuggled under the jacket for a while and let the sounds of the insanity roll off of him like water off a duck's back now that he could somewhat enjoy himself. That half bottle of sweetened oolong tea the Detective had gotten for him went a long way into soothing his frazzled nerves. Tsuna snarfed down a few chicken nuggets and a handful of fries, and wondered how Kyouya had even gotten invited. Had Ryohei given out invitations too? It would explain the sheer mass of kids, more than half of them being older than the birthday girl herself.
Poor Kyouya, he must be feeling miserable wherever he'd holed himself up at. He probably didn't have anything to distract him with, and since his uncle hadn't found him yet he probably didn't have anything to eat either. Speaking of people in hiding… Kurokawa was hiding too. Tsuna squirmed guiltily until he decided he could probably visit her without too much trouble and see how she was doing. Maybe she'd seen where he went, might be worth visiting her to ask now that he had a bribe. He wasn't about to eat that much fries and chicken himself. He might ask her if she'd seen Kyouya, it was worth a shot and if she did know then it would be catching two fishes with one net.
The arrival of a clown gave Tsuna the opportunity to move without being noticed too much and he bolted out of hiding with his bounty of bribery material. When he made it to the table she was hidden under he leaned close and carefully lifted the dark blue table cloth.
"What? Didn't I tell you to find you own place? Go away or I'll bite you!" Kurokawa hissed, every inch on the defensive.
" C… can you bite this instead?" Tsuna stuttered, he pushed the basket of fries and chicken nuggets under the table cloth. He coughed, trying not to feel so much like he was dying inside at the way he'd stuttered the beginning he hoped his face wasn't as flushed as it felt. He was so wired he felt like he'd snap if he bent the wrong way. He'd have almost preferred a kidnapping to attending another party like this! "I got a question, have you seen Hibari Kyouya?" he asked, pulling up the table cloth to gingerly look her in the eye. "Ah, do you know who that is? He's two years older than us and—"
Kurokawa whisked the basket under the table cloth and then yanked him under without any more warning than that, he had to catch himself rather quickly in order not to overbalance and faceplant. "Everyone knows Hibari Kyouya." She replied, ignoring his flailing to daintily pick a chicken nugget out of the basket that was now in her lap. She nibbled the fried crust off it before eating the actual chicken. "Monkey kicked me out of my first hiding spot, the table inside the entrance hall."
"Thanks…" He mumbled, crawling weakly back out from under the table. That had been mildly terrifying; he hadn't expected her to yank him under like that at all.
Tsuna made a pit stop at the colouring table where he swiped the first bit of stray paper he could get his hands on, a crayon and a rubber band. He scribbled a quick note about Kyouya's possible location, folded the note up into a pellet and used the rubber band to send the message flying across the room to the boy's uncle where it hit him in the arm. He mimed for the man to read it when the man tracked where the projectile had come from and then hastily ducked back behind his barrels.
No one else noticed in the chaos.
Mission accomplished, or at least one mission accomplished. He had yet to locate the original person he'd been looking out for. Stupid, should have asked Kurokawa if she'd seen Takeshi… Then again he didn't want anyone knowing he wanted to make friends with— he didn't want anyone knowing he was stalking Takeshi to discover what his relationship to Bucket Man was. Right. He wasn't making friends with Takeshi. That wasn't the plan. He was just going to follow him for a bit and without making contact. Easier on him and fair to both parties. He was going to stick to his plan because if he didn't make plans things went sideways like it had here. He was never going to another one of Sasagawa's parties ever again. Kurokawa was right, this was insane!
Snuggling back under Detective Minoru's jacket, Tsuna went back to his book and keeping and lookout, only deeming it safe enough to venture out when cake was being served and everyone was behaving in order to be served their slice. Tsuna lined up for a plate and was about to return to his spot when he realized Kurokawa hadn't abandoned her spot. Not even for cake.
Chocolate cake with buttercream and iced in ganache, whipped chocolate swirls on the top with sprinkles and glace cherries. With the cake being cut, you could smell it all over the room. Minoru looked like he was ferrying a piece of cake out to Kyouya so that was taken care of but…
Looking around to make sure no one was paying attention Tsuna slid his plate under Hana's table and took a quick peek to make sure she noticed it.
"… this doesn't make us friends." Kurokawa mumbled as she dragged the plate towards her.
"Stay strong, I think we might just make it." He whispered, making sure the tablecloth was still hiding her as he retreated.
"Famous last words…" the girl muttered and Tsuna grinned for the first time that night. He went back for another plate, feeling mildly better about being forced to attend a party he hadn't wanted to really go to.
Looking for a spot to sit that wouldn't have him dropping the cake on himself he searched the busy table for a place to sit at and took a gamble when a one opened up at the main table. The birthday girl had apparently finished her heaping serve of cake in record time and was off to the bouncy-castle while it was still empty enough to be enjoyed.
He carefully slid his plate onto the table, sat himself down while making sure the people he was sitting next to didn't get jostled and picked up his spoon. He turned the plate around to view the entire slice, chose a spot and dug in with gusto. It was a long time since he'd enjoyed a good chocolate cake and he'd been looking forward to this the entire night!
Looking to his right, Tsuna searched the table full of kids for Takeshi and blinked when a hand reached out and grabbed his left hand. Turning to see who'd grabbed his hand Tsuna gave Mochida Kensuke a quizzical look that was lost to the boy's closed eyes.
"Kyoko-chan… I— I've been meaning to say this to you for— for the longest time!"
Tsuna's eyes widened. Mochida didn't know Kyoko had gotten up already and Tsuna couldn't tell him because he'd just stuffed his mouth full of cake! This wasn't what he thought it was, was it? This couldn't be Mochida trying to Confess to Kyoko was it? Kyoko had only just turned seven, Mochida was nine! He was WAY too young to be thinking about romance! Why was he even trying to confess in front of everyone anyway!
Mochida's hand was shaking over the insanely tight grip he had on Tsuna's left hand and in any other position than the one he was in right now he'd have found the older boy's bravery commendable. Right now though he was just desperately trying to chew his way through a mouthful of cake. Tsuna dropped the spoon in his right hand and lunged for a pile of napkins in the center of the table, meaning to spit out the mouthful so he could clear up the misunderstanding before—
Mistaking the tug at his hand for Kyoko trying to get away Mochida pulled him back, finally letting go of his left hand but whipping out to catch Tsuna's face with both hands. How was he doing that with both eyes close— "KYOKO-CHAN! I LOVE YOU! PLEASE GO OUT WITH ME!"
Tsuna couldn't clear his mouthful of cake in time to warn Mochida of the mistake. He was roughly pulled up and forward into a parody of a passionate—
Tsuna kicked and clawed to get away from the iron grip the older boy had on his face but Mochida didn't release him until help came from an unexpected direction. Kyouya swooped in out of nowhere and booted Mochida away from him with a powerful looking flying high kick.
"I'LL BITE YOU TO DEATH!"
Tsuna gagged and scrabbled at the table, grabbed the wad of napkins he'd been reaching for and spat the now sodden mouthful of cake out of his mouth. Tears gathered at the corner of his eyes as he coughed his throat clear and he scrubbed them away even as he tried to tell himself that was from nearly asphyxiating.
"KYOUYA! NO!"he heard Detective Minoru shout over the sounds of abrupt chaos as everyone reacted at once.
"KYOUYA! YES!"Hibari Yun screamed over everyone else."PROTECT TSUNA-KUN!"
Kids ran and screamed. Adults ran forward to grab their kids or contain the pandemonium. Tsuna scrubbed at his face and lips with more napkins and bolted out of the hall, ignoring the shouts and sounds of chaos he left behind in his wake.
He was never, ever, never going to another birthday party again!
Adamantly refusing to go to school for a solid week, Tsuna spent the time he had on his hands out of the house and away from his giggling mother, doubling down on the amount of internet searching he was doing. She cooed over his 'first kiss' like it had been something adorably cute and not hugely traumatizing.
Tsuna couldn't eat a single bite of chocolate without remembering the complete and utter fiasco after that.
The only good thing that came out of his refusal to go to school for the week was the arrival of a laptop. It was apparently a gift from his father after his mother had phoned the man about all the time he spent in internet cafes. Workmen came into the house, set up an internet connection, gave his mother the password and left. The computer came out of the box already set up and loaded with more security than he'd ever heard of on a laptop but Tsuna didn't mind. He now had portable access to the internet.
The only catch? His mother kept the password as insurance that he would actually go to school the next day. Bribery money, so to speak. Fine. He could pretend it never happened. Ignore anyone who brought up the incident. He was Slytherin enough to know a good deal when he heard it. He endured the teasing and the catcalls he got when he returned to school and weathered it out like it was something he didn't care about. In return he got the password. A password he changed immediately the second he figured out how.
The one thing he couldn't ignore?
Fate was MOCKING him.
The day after getting the password from his mother, Tsuna picked up the newspaper on the kitchen table to throw it in the recycling after breakfast when a pamphlet slipped out of it and onto the floor. When he went to pick it up, the picture on the front had him freezing.
There on the front cover of the little piece of folded paper was Bucket Man, posing with the two other workers and more beside them. Yamamoto Takeshi was standing in front of the group dressed in a traditional Japanese chef outfit. Behind them was the restaurant Tsuna had searched for this whole time.
The pamphlet had the name of the restaurant, Takesushi. A phone number. A little map and it even had the owner's name and a blurb about the family owned business. Yamamoto Tsuyoshi was the owner and he ran the store with the help of his team and young son Yamamoto Takeshi.
Slumping forwards in his chair Tsuna started hitting his head against the surface of the table.
He really hated his life sometimes.
Seven pages of me writing like I'm pulling teeth and then fifteen pages of smooth, uninterrupted story. Muse! Where have you BEEN this whole time! *GROSSSOBBING* *CLINGS*