AN: The last…chapter…..15,000 WORDS….
Like Yamazaki's, this POV is less about the character himself and more about the story's lore and context for the situation they're in. There's approximately 3 billion pieces of foreshadowing in this.
It's important to note that Tsuna was being sexually abused for three years, and the most important part is how he feels about that, so I isolated the symptom buildup. If you're uncomfortable with explicit mentions of Tsuna's abuse, it's mentioned outright in "E" and the first instance of "Sawada Tsunayoshi", so skip those if you need to. If you don't want to see a child being groomed at all, stop reading at "Jasmine" and skip to "Dead-Eyed Tsuna". Despite the more direct allusions, there are no rape scenes or horror porn moments in this chapter.
Warnings: Needles, alcohol abuse, human experimentation, child grooming, a pre-pubescent child coping with being raped over the span of 3 years
A Point Of View: The Record Of Sawada Tsunayoshi
- Small -
Sawada Tsunayoshi is a small boy.
He was born prematurely and never grew out of it. Everything about him is shrunken and breakable. A lot of people think he's only three. Papa will plant big kisses on his forehead and call him his 'little man'. When he sees people get married he assumes he'll have to wait to be even older than most people because he's so tiny, because he's five and doesn't know how growing up works yet.
Married people are a man and a woman, but he's five and his understanding of women he likes begins and ends with his mother.
"When I grow up, can I marry mama?" He asks one day.
She laughs and says no but she's very flattered.
Tsuna goes back to his crayons and figures he just doesn't get it.
- Grandpa -
When Tsuna's dad comes back, it's with an old man. He says to call him grandpa.
The four of them do a lot of family stuff, like dinner and party games. Grandpa is on vacation and he likes exploring the town. Tsuna is supposed to walk with Papa but he runs ahead and eagerly points out random places he likes, and drags him into the cake shop so he can give reviews on all the cakes.
"Hey, Tsunayoshi, how about we go to that amusement park together later?"
Tsuna hollers and bounces off the walls until Papa has to restrain him. Grandpa laughs.
"Full of energy, isn't he?"
"Unfortunately," Papa grunts.
When they get home, Papa and Grandpa start talking about adult stuff like family troubles or something. Tsuna is bored in minutes, so he wriggles out of his father's arms and wanders into the kitchen, where Mama is cooking dinner.
"Mama, I'm bored!"
"I'm sorry, Tsu-kun, I'm a little busy—"
"…'Kay." Tsuna huffs and wanders back down the hall, planning on going to play in the backyard, but when he glances towards the front, he sees Grandpa's coat.
Tsuna is six, and doesn't have strong enough morals to understand the complexity of 'stealing is bad'.
He grabs grandpa's wallet and takes it to the backyard so he can look at it without getting caught. He recognizes wallets; it's where you keep important stuff, like photos. He figures he'll understand what Grandpa and Papa are talking about if he sees the photos.
At first, all he sees is a card with Grandpa's picture on it and foreign writing, and then more cards like credit cards. He fiddles with it until he finds a flap held with a button, and he pries it open to see photos.
There's a picture of Grandpa and a woman, and there's a reaaally old-looking black-and-white photo of another, younger woman with a tattoo on her face, and then there's a picture of four grown-ups that must be Grandpa's kids because thats how grandpas work Tsuna is pretty sure.
They all have black hair. The tallest is skinny and has a big nose and big cheekbones, and then the second tallest has hair parted in the middle with a smaller kinda-hooked nose who smiles really nice at Tsuna and it makes him feel nice. The other two are short; one is fat and has messy hair and he's the only one not in a suit, and the other is just young. He's got cool-looking eyebrows and he's not wearing a tie and his skin's a little darker and his nose is really straight and thin instead of hooked. He's the coolest one, so Tsuna decides that one is his favourite.
There's other pictures, but of boring stuff like flowers and graduation pictures of the older men, so Tsuna buttons the wallet back up again and takes it back to the coat, then tries listening in again now that he knows who Grandpa is talking about.
"I'm afraid I've never been involved with raising my children…not as much as I should. With Xanxus…"
Darn it. He doesn't know their names. This conversation is still confusing and boring. Tsuna sighs dramatically and stamps back to the yard to go occupy himself.
There's not really much to do. They tried tying a rope to the tree, once, but after a few attempts he and Mama gave up. He should ask Papa to do it! That would be fun.
Tsuna decides on playing with his ball. You can do a lot of things with a ball, like throw it, or lay on it, or kick it, or bounce it. He starts by laying on it and trying to roll around the yard, but the ball just rolls out from underneath him and leaves him facedown in the grass. That didn't work.
He grabs it with his feet and tosses it back to his front. He should play catch instead! Tsuna gets up and starts bouncing the ball against the side of the house. The window to the kitchen is open, so he bounces it above and catches it where Mama can see him.
She doesn't. Tsuna clutches the ball and runs up to the window. He's not tall enough, so he sets it down against the wall and stands on it so he can peek inside. Oh, Mama is at the counter instead of the sink.
"Mamaaaaaa!" Tsuna shouts.
She glances up and laughs into the back of her hand. "Tsu-kun!"
"Mama watch this!" Tsuna hops down and grabs the ball and runs back to where he was and bounces the ball above the window again and catches it perfectly.
"My, Tsu-kun, you're so talented!"
He tries throwing it into the air and catching it next, which is harder because it's harder to see where it is and when he has to catch it. When he bounces it against things it goes back the same way he threw it, most of the time, but when he throws it in the air he never knows where his hands have to be to grab it again. He feels awesome when he manages to catch it.
Feeling brave, he chucks it reaaaally high in the air.
It hits the fence, knocking it open, and bounces wildly off course.
"Ah! Aahhhh!" Tsuna wails. He takes off after it…and then stops.
There is a…dog.
Tsuna blinks at it. He's not usually around animals without Mama. Warily, he takes a step back. He's never pet a dog without his mom carrying him before. It's smaller than most dogs, too. He's never even seen a him-sized dog. It's panting at him with its tongue sticking out. Is it hungry?
The dog charges.
He falls down and jolts his elbows and starts crying. The dog paws at his legs and Tsuna screams even louder.
Grandpa and Papa come out of the house and look at him. Tsuna cries louder because he's too scared to talk.
Grandpa chuckles and picks Tsuna up. "Did the dog that dog scare you?"
Tsuna mops his cheeks, assured that he's safe now, and stares at the dog still panting at him. "It's hungry!"
Grandpa laughs again. "No it's not. Panting is how dogs say they're happy. He wants to play with you!"
Tsuna squints suspiciously at Grandpa.
"Here, I'll show you." He places Tsuna down. Tsuna flinches, but relaxes when Grandpa doesn't stand again. "Okay, call him."
Tsuna freezes. The dog is standing there, panting at him. Slowly, he pats his lap and calls him like he'd call for a cat.
The dog trots over and sniffles him loudly. Tsuna leans all the way backward into Grandpa's chest.
"Go on, try petting it."
Tsuna slowly reaches out and leaves his hand in the air. The dog sniffs that too, and then licks it. Tsuna giggles. Feeling way better, he leans forward and pets the dog's back roughly. The dog wiggles its bottom until it falls to the ground and flips onto its back and exposes its belly. Tsuna rubs that too.
"See? Not so scary now, is it?"
"No," Tsuna says.
"A dog is only bad if it's growling at you. But sometimes, a dog might look at you from the corner of its eye, and that means they're very scared, and might bite you to make you go away," Grandpa recites.
"Ooohhhhh," Tsuna says, "I didn't know that."
"I used to keep dogs. I'm an expert," Grandpa smiles.
"Wow. Papa!" Tsuna looks at Papa, who is leaning against the house with his arms folded, grinning at him. "Papa he's a dog expert!"
"Grandpa's got a lot of skills, doesn't he?"
"Yeah he's an expert!" Tsuna goes back to rubbing the dog's belly really hard. He leans forward, but Grandpa pulls back.
"You can't hug dogs either. They'll think you're trapping them or play-fighting and might hurt you on accident."
"Oops." Tsuna leans as far away as he can while still being able to pet the dog. Grandpa and Papa laugh at him. He can hear Mama from the window too.
Grandpa places a hand on Tsuna's back and scratches his neck a little like how you'd scratch a dog. Tsuna squeals and hunches his shoulders.
"…You've got a unique heart, Tsunayoshi."
Tsuna swivels around to look at him. "Huh?"
He grins. "…It's nothing. But I'm glad you weren't burning too bright. Sometimes, people are so brave and strong they explode."
Tsuna gapes, horrified.
"You're alright," Grandpa says.
"IS PAPA GONNA EXPLODE," Tsuna shrieks.
Grandpa breaks down into silent laughter. His Papa isn't nearly as quiet.
"PAPA ARE YOU GOING TO EXPLODE," he screams.
Papa can't hold himself up and wheezes on the ground, cackling.
- x -
After dinner, Grandpa and Papa stay up to drink, and Tsuna and Mama go to bed. Tsuna sleeps in his own room like a big kid, but mostly because Mama says he has to while Papa's home. He's tired enough to not care too much, even though he has to hug a stuffie to feel comfortable.
He wakes up while the moon is still pouring through his window desperately needing to pee. He quietly slips out of bed and goes out on his tip-toes. There's an orange glow coming from the bottom of the stairs, and he can hear quiet voices, which means Grandpa and Papa are still up.
When he finishes he tip-toes to the stairs, and then down them, when he can't quite hear what they're saying. He has to get to the very bottom before he can make them out.
"I'm still grateful," says Papa, "sorry to trouble you, though."
"It's fine. Haloed Skys are a problem, whether it's a Famiglia matter or not."
"Eugh. I remember what it was like before I got the hang of it. Itchy."
"Itchy," Grandpa laughs.
"Feels better now that I know what I'm doing, I mean, but it wasn't pleasant. I'm glad Tsuna doesn't have to deal with that."
"He's a good boy. Your wife raised him well."
"I know. He's going to be strong," his Papa says.
Tsuna blinks at his drowsiness and heads back up the stairs. He sleeps fine after that.
- Healthy -
When the greeter at Kokuyou Healthy Land says there's a hospital, Tsuna demands that his Papa goes to get a checkup.
"Tsuna, I don't need a checkup," Papa laughs.
"But what if you explode," Tsuna insists.
"Grandpa Timoteo made it so I'll never explode, I promise."
"Uggghhh," Tsuna moans. "Mama tell him to go to the doctor!"
"Oh, there's attractions over there, indulge him," she beams.
His Papa throws his hands up and goes to the hospital. Tsuna nods sagely. Grandpa gives him a wry look.
"Now I'm going to show you all of the attractions," Tsuna announces.
"Oh? Have you been here before?"
"Uh-uh, but I have a pamphlet." Tsuna shows the glossy paper proudly.
He doesn't do a good job; he is six, and this is all new to him. Most of the time he gets distracted, especially in the zoo. His Mama takes a bunch of pictures while they move, most of them of Tsuna. Tsuna eventually gets tired of sprinting everywhere, and Grandpa lets him ride on his shoulders.
The park is big and fun and even though Papa isn't there, Tsuna beams at the people around him because he gets to be up really high and they don't. But then Grandpa gets really tired too because even though he's still really small, six-year-olds are kind of heavy.
They stop at a cafe for lunch. They're going to go see Papa when they're done eating. Mama picks something out to bring to him too so he won't be hungry or anything. Tsuna gets to eat a sandwich and a donut and drink a tea-flavoured smoothie that is like normal tea, but not bitter and horrible.
Tsuna is a slow eater. Mama says she'll go see what Papa is up to. She brings Papa's food. Tsuna is alone with Grandpa.
"Do you have babies?" Tsuna asks.
"Babies. Like you're their daddy."
"Three sons," he chuckles.
"I thought you had four."
Grandpa pauses in the middle of reaching for a cinnamon roll. "I…I beg your pardon?"
"I thought you had four sons."
Grandpa opens his mouth, closes it, and puts his hand on the pocket where Tsuna found the wallet. "…Ah. That would be my secret son."
"Why you got a secret son?"
"He's very loud. I don't like pointing people his way. He'll start fights."
"I won't fight him," Tsuna assures Grandpa.
"I'm…" Grandpa holds a wrinkly hand to his mouth and his smile is really tight, like he's forcing it into a thin little line. "…I'm sure you won't, Tsuna."
"Which one's the secret one?" Tsuna points at the wallet.
"It's a secret."
"Oooohh." That makes sense.
Then Grandpa makes a phone call and Tsuna is once again preoccupied with his sandwich. It's really big. He hopes he has room for the donut.
Grandpa gets up and takes his phone call to a bench even though Tsuna doesn't know what language he's talking in, but that's okay because Grandpa can see him and Tsuna isn't moving anywhere so that means he's supervised. Being supervised is really important, he's told, because he has a 'tendency to wander', which is a fancy way of saying that when Tsuna sees something cool he can't wait for adults to get with the program.
Speaking of which: something cool!
Tsuna sticks the donut in his mouth and goes over to Grandpa and points at the aquarium entrance. Grandpa looks at it and nods at him, but doesn't move. Tsuna decides an adult knowing where you are is still technically being supervised so he goes in anyway.
The aquarium is very blue, and tall, but not a lot bigger than the aquarium in the really big pet store downtown. It's just two walls. But the tanks are really tall, and they've got really big reefs instead of a bunch of little boxes. Tsuna stares at them all. One of them has a giant goldfish. Plenty of other kids are pressing their face up against the glass.
Tsuna runs outside and checks to make sure Grandpa is still supervising him. He stands there and waits for Grandpa to look at him. Then, adequately supervised, he goes back to exploring.
The third wall is actually another door, that leads to a green hallway full of bugs. It's all fence stuff instead of glass. There's a toooon of beetles everywhere, and a giant centipede. It is the coolest thing Tsuna has ever seen in his entire life. The fencing is too tiny to put his finger through, though, so he just keeps going.
The next room is like the bug room except with glass and a lot of sunroofs and butterflies everywhere. There's a bunch of flowers and it's like a garden. Tsuna thinks he should finish up quick so he can run back to the cafe and take Mama here.
Not as many people like the butterflies. There's only one family here. The next room you can't even get into because it's got a rope across it and a sign that says 'CLOSED FOR RENOVATIONS'. Tsuna thinks he should probably go get Mama right now, or at least run back to Grandpa before his Supervised time runs out.
It's then that Tsuna realizes that no one is looking at him.
And the sign above the door says 'REPTILES'.
Tsuna doesn't think. He just drops to his knees and crawls under the rope. He has to be really quick before someone comes in and sees him. The hallway curves, probably like a snake, and Tsuna gets up when he's pretty sure he's out of sight.
The Reptile Room doesn't really start with reptiles. It starts with empty glass cages with nothing but branches in them. Then frogs, which Tsuna is absolutely certain are not reptiles. Reptiles have scales and frogs have slime.
Then a circular room, full of snakes and things.
There is a single dark-haired boy standing in the middle, with his back to Tsuna.
And there are about forty snakes in the circular room, all staring at him.
Tsuna feels like he's looking at something really important and magical, like he doesn't know what, but animals don't really care about people, generally, especially cats, but maybe not dogs. They don't all look at one person at the same time. That's a weirdo thing.
There's an exit door too, but there's a big scary man standing in front of it, watching the reptile boy. Tsuna backs away slowly, and gets back down on his hands and knees. Carefully, he scuffles backwards until he's back to the rope, and he pulls himself up in the butterfly room again.
"Well aren't you beautiful."
Tsuna whirls around and nearly chokes on his donut. There's a teen boy in a hoodie and what Tsuna thinks is the high school uniform underneath. The hoodie is up so Tsuna can barely see his apple-red hair.
"I wasn't doing anything."
"Haha, but I was!" He leans over the blocking rope like he's trying to peer into the room without even going into the curving corridor.
"What things were you doing?"
"Nothing good! By which I mean spying. Where's your mom, kiddo?"
"She's giving Papa some food." Tsuna pointedly takes a bite of his donut. "I'm being Supervised but I gotta go out and make sure Grandpa can keep doing that."
He quirks his head and waits a beat too long to reply. "Oh boy, Supervision is important. But I can supervise you!"
Tsuna scrunches up his nose. "Really?"
The teen claps his hands together. "Sure thing! I haven't seem you in a while, it'd be nice to hang out."
"When was the last time you saw me?" Tsuna doesn't recognize this guy at all.
"You were four. We only met once, so I'm not surprised it didn't stick. I'm Kunihiro." He pulls back the hoodie. His hair isn't just apple red, it's bright. It looks like it was coloured in with the same stuff they use to paint fire trucks. "Say, Tsuna, how 'bout we be friends! If you're my best friend I'll show you all kinds of neat stuff!"
"Oh! Okay! I gotta tell Grandpa." Tsuna turns to go, but Kunihiro snags him by the collar.
"C'mon, you don't wanna hang out?"
Tsuna looks the teenager up and down. He's not really old or anything, but he looks like he won't listen to him when he wants to do something, which is…bad, maybe. It'd probably make Tsuna really mad, anyway, Tsuna hates bossy people who don't listen.
"No. I gotta go be Supervised." Pause. "By Grandpa."
"Suit yourself. Say, you know Auntie Junko?"
Tsuna's brow furrows. He shakes his head slowly.
"What about Mrs. Oogawa."
"Oh, mom hangs out with her."
"Theeeere you go. I'm her little bro. None of my siblings trust me alone with children either, so if you drop by and visit, we could talk while you're being Supervised, so you can make extra sure I'm not bugging you!"
Tsuna decides to do the exact opposite of that.
"It's been nice seeing you again! Tell your mom I said hi."
The stranger waves and stares weirdly. It takes Tsuna a few moments to realize he isn't blinking.
Tsuna sprints full-speed through the bug hallway and doesn't look back, and when he goes back outside, he has to blink at the sudden light. It takes him a while to see properly.
Grandpa is gone.
He pauses in the doorway. He can't see Grandpa anywhere. Not down either side of the road, and he doesn't look like he's near the cafe. Tsuna slowly heads back to his drink and sandwich, and sits there and eats it by himself. He looks around for anyone else to be Supervising him. There isn't any.
He finishes his sandwich and sits there and tries very hard not to cry.
"Look at you," someone says, and this person is definitely a stranger, because he's foreign and everything. He's standing by the door to the cafe. Looking at him. Not like Kunihiro looked at him, Kunihiro looked at him like Tsuna probably looked at Reptile Boy, except with less blinking. This man is looking at him like he has superman vision that can pick up on all the stains on his shirt.
Tsuna raises his hands over his shirt uncertainly.
"Weren't you sitting with an older man? Was he your grandpa?"
Tsuna nods slowly. He looks around. "Where'd he go?"
"He had business. Do you need someone to watch you?"
Unlike Kunihiro, who was just kind of weird and bossy, Tsuna feels like this is one of those Stranger Danger things. He takes his drink and immediately starts walking away.
"Where are you going? Don't you want to find your grandpa? I can take you to him, if you don't want to wait."
"NO THANK YOU," Tsuna yells.
A bunch of people look his way. Nobody else bothers him.
Tsuna goes back into the aquarium where Grandpa was Supervising him and sits in the corner where he can see everyone come in and out. He'd go outside to check if Mama is back yet but he doesn't want to get snatched. This is just like when he gets lost in the grocery store. He'll stand somewhere and Mama will move on and all he has to do is wait until she comes back to his side of the aisle again.
There's a really loud crash.
Kunihiro comes sprinting into the aquarium.
He stops when he sees Tsuna. "Tsuna?"
He knows Tsuna's name, which is a good sign, even if he's really not interested in anything Tsuna has to say and looks like he spends a lot of time on The Street. "Grandpa's not outside."
"What?" He looks outside. "Where was he waiting?"
"By the bench. He was on the phone."
"There's someone waiting there already. Hold on." He scoops Tsuna up and sprints out of the building like he's running from something.
"What's going on?"
"I, uh, may have over-extended myself. Look, there." He gestures to a man Tsuna doesn't recognize. He's foreign too, but he doesn't like the scary man who bugged him at the cafe.
"I don't know him."
The man is looking for something. When he sees the two of them, his expression clears. "Tsunayoshi-kun?"
"I don't know you," Tsuna pronounces loudly.
"You wouldn't, I'm just here to watch over Timoteo-san — he just left, there's been an…incident." The man is tall and has a big-ish nose and dark hair and looks a bit handsome.
"Are you Grandpa's baby?" Tsuna asks as Kunihiro gently puts him down.
"Wha— oh, no," he laughs. "I've been told I look like Federico, though."
"Dunno who that is."
"That's your grandpa's kid which means he's all caught up on why your grandpa had to go which means if it's okay with you I gotta OH SHIT—" Kunihiro takes off in a full sprint, oozing a smokey feeling that tastes spicy. Only a second after, the man who was watching the Reptile Boy runs out and looks around. He locks eyes with Tsuna.
"Have you seen a boy in a hoodie?"
Tsuna points in the opposite direction Kunihiro went because Kunihiro knows Mama so Mama would probably be mad at him if he let him get caught.
"Little over-ambitious fuck," he mutters. His eyes land on Grandpa's watch-man, and Tsuna can tell he recognizes him even though his face doesn't change. He doesn't chase after Kunihiro, though, just nods and goes back into the aquarium.
"What was that all about?" Grandpa's watch-man asks.
Tsuna purses his lips. Spying is secret.
"Where's your parents, Tsunayoshi-kun?"
"Healthy Land," Tsuna says, pointing up the hill.
"That's good. I work there part-time when your Grandpa isn't around, I know all the places your parents can be."
"'Kay. Thank you," Tsuna says politely.
"My name's Valentin." He says it in an accent so unlike Japanese Tsuna can't comprehend the sound of it. "Ba-re-n-ti-n," he repeats in a Japanese accent.
"That's a neat name. Why's it sound weird?"
"Is it cold in Russia?"
"I lived down south, so not much colder than Yamagata." His hand is calloused and when Tsuna runs his fingers over them, they're covered in scars, like burns and little ridges. "Doctor's marks," he explains, "I play with chemicals too much for my own good."
"You should be careful," Tsuna says.
His eyes trace down to the sleeves, where Tsuna thinks a doctor would get stained a lot.
There's a thin red spray across the edge that matches the line on his other sleeve.
Tsuna feels uneasy.
They enter the ground floor of the hospital, which is actually just a kind of clinic, according to the pamphlet, and Tsuna thinks they might call it a hospital because that sounds cooler. When he goes inside, he feels all tingly.
"It's nice in here," Tsuna says.
Valentin hums. He doesn't look around, just strides down the hall.
"Where are we going?"
Valentin doesn't answer.
They go into a little checkup room. Valentin looks through his drawers. "Give me a second, I wanted to get something for you…"
"Am I having a checkup?"
"No, I just— here we go. Tsunayoshi-kun, have you ever noticed anything strange coming off of people? Like they're surrounded by a bubble that feels a certain way, or something wafting off of them…"
Tsuna shakes his head, but then stops. "…Uhmmm."
"How about that tingly feeling when you walked in here."
"Oh, yeah. Maybe."
"Nice. Timoteo-san noticed you could do something like that." He takes out a needle. "How are you with these?"
"Uhmmm…" Tsuna frowns.
"Certain needles hurt more than others. This won't be much worse than a flu shot." He taps it a few times. "Are you afraid of the pain or the needle going in?"
"If you're afraid of the pain, watching it go in helps." He ties a band around Tsuna's arm.
"Why am I getting a shot?"
"That's a secret. You can probably ask your father what a VD injection is. Hand up, keep still."
It takes hardly a second, and watching the needle makes him queasy, but he doesn't flinch. Tsuna blinks rapidly. The lighting feels really yellow. He's not sure why he didn't notice.
"Sorry to keep you. Let's find your Mama." He takes Tsuna by the hand and leads him back out to the main room. They look around together. The upper floor is full of waiting rooms that have movie screens so you have something to do while you're bored of all the waiting. Then they go all the way to the top floor to a closed-down stage theatre.
Valentin hums in an unhappy way. Tsuna blinks at the dust motes in the windows. They look like they're glittering.
They head back downstairs and go over to the receptionist. Valentin gives her a worried smile. "Have you seen the Sawadas?"
"Iemitsu's in a meeting with Doctor Ishigaki." She gestures to another hallway. Valentin takes Tsuna down to an office. He knocks on the door, but doesn't wait with Tsuna. He's heading further in, down a hallway that must have really filthy light covers because it's really yellow.
"Where are you going?"
"I have to take care of something. Remember, tell your Papa you got a VD injection, and Timoteo is headed back home."
"What's a VD injection, though? What happened to Grandpa?"
Valentin doesn't answer. He leaves through a pair of double doors.
The door to the office opens to Papa. He's frowning.
"Tsuna, what happened?"
"Grandpa had to go home. His watch-man gave me a…a Bii-Dii, uhm, needle," Tsuna struggles to say.
"A VD injection?" Papa takes him by the arm and looks at the band-aid Valentin put on his arm. "Grandpa wanted you to have this?"
"I think so."
"Ugh. This trip was a mistake." Papa sighs and scoops him up in his arms, by his legs, just like how Kunihiro did it. "Your Mama went back to go find you, you should have stayed put."
"Oh. Sorry. Grandpa was Supervising but then he was gone and people were bugging me."
"Oh." Papa clenches his teeth, and when he smiles, it's a worried kind of smile. "Explains the caution. Why don't we go see Mama, and we can all go somewhere nice where no one can bug you."
"Kay." Tsuna wraps his arms around his Papa's neck. It's hard and solid and warm against Tsuna's cheek. Tsuna sees yellow until they're finally away from the super-tinted lights and back into the sunlight.
Nothing looks stained, though.
- Mafia -
Sawada Tsunayoshi learns about the mafia when he is six, and he doesn't think much of it.
His Papa was upset all day, and when he got home he took the phone to the back deck and got super mad. Tsuna had to sprint all the way up to his bedroom to catch the conversation through the window because he was worried the call was about how mad Papa was at Tsuna for wandering.
It isn't, which makes the actual contents only interesting by nature of how upset Papa sounds.
"The fuck are they doing, letting mafia in? God no…I actually asked for permission to be here, and I was born in Namimori, this is ludicrous…Well then what the fuck is Misosazai doing letting mafia in?" He's talking fast and furious and Tsuna has never heard him like this before. Even though the anger isn't aimed at him, Tsuna feels scared enough to slide down the wall and curl up into a ball.
"Fucking Xanxus, this is not the time! I was supposed to be here for a month, do you think I can handle this level of—" He sounds like he's choking on air. "Assassinations…? No, I mean…No, it's fine. It's nice that this is tempered by actual work for me to do. How long do you think the case will take?"
Tsuna lowers his head until he face is buried in his knees. He sort of understands what kind of conversation it is.
"God…yeah, just, he's going to do something, and he's going to do it while we're busy with the investigation, so keep security up. Thanks. I'll be in Italy by tomorrow afternoon." He hangs up and sighs so heavy it sounds like he's trying to crush his lungs right out.
Then he goes back inside.
He's gone by the time Tsuna wakes up the next morning.
- Idler -
Tsuna isn't the type to cry and break down.
A lot of people tell him he's a quiet kid. They say he's very well-behaved. Tsuna thinks it's more like he's just waiting for a reason to not cry; he cries plenty, if he's not distracted by the time the tears start welling up.
So he doesn't cry when Papa leaves. He just nods sadly and doesn't eat breakfast and goes to visit the neighbourhood housewives.
He has to go through four houses before one of them lets him help her clean her kitchen. Most of them don't know Mama all that well. He prepares the proper levels of water and soap and squeezes it until it's only a little damp so it doesn't ruin the hardwood of the dining room Tsuna has took upon himself to clean too.
"Strange boy," the housewife says. He doesn't remember her name. "Do you clean when you're upset? My mother did that."
Tsuna shakes his head. "I don't feel like playing, but I got nothing to do."
He scrubs at a coffee splatter while she works on the counters. She watches him work.
"Gosh, you are tiny for your age," she says after a while.
"You haven't made any friends to play with?"
Tsuna's shoulders hunch. The other kids don't like him much; he always figures things out before they do and bosses them around and tells them what to do because he picked it up so fast. The teachers call him smart but he thinks his brain just moves way too fast for normal kids.
"Are you in first grade?"
"I haven't started grades yet. We go to the community centre instead." He dunks his mop and squeezes it almost-dry again. "They teach us stuff like what to do when you're in trouble and what kind of people are bad people and, uhm, holidays."
"Ohhh. I wasn't born here, I didn't know."
"Not everyone does it. Mama says she gets extra stuff because of, uhm," he knocks the mop handle against his forehead. "All the people we meet at Obon."
"I saw it last year. There was dancing and then, uhm, a cave, and putting lanterns on the river for all the dead people? And all of my family is there. They're really annoying but because we know them we always get extra tips in the community centre so we have to go, because it's kind of a good deal."
"Ohhh, the clan rites you do in Hakuyou, yes, Nana told me you do that. It's not really a national holiday, you know."
"Yeah, I guess. It's really important in Namimori though." Tsuna finishes his mopping and takes a rag to wipe down the table.
"I think I might celebrate this year," she says thoughtfully.
They finish cleaning and she serves him tea and biscuits in the backyard. When he's done, he stands in front of his house for twenty minutes before going to the tree in his backyard and falling asleep there. His Mama calls him back when dinner's ready. He doesn't eat much.
- Festival -
Tsuna doesn't know a whole lot about Obon.
When July is good and cooking them till they're sweat oceans, Mama takes him out while it's still late but the sky is bright, because that's how summer works.
There's a trail of people walking through the forest with them. Tsuna rubs his eyes sleepily through the whole walk. He thinks they might be heading for Kokuyou Healthy Land, but they walk right over the road that goes that way. The mosquito repellent tingles at his nostrils.
In Hakuyou, there's a tower-thingy and people with fans on their heads dance around to old-type music. Tsuna is immediately bored. He sees a lot of people with red hair, and guesses this is where Kunihiro came from. He doesn't see Kunihiro himself. Tsuna wonders if he got beat up for sneaking.
Then the people split up into three groups and there's even more hiking, up a bunch of stone steps, and it takes forever, until it's dusk and the sky is more night than sunshine. They're halfway up Namimori mountain, now, in front of a giant stone door. Tsuna fell asleep around this point last year.
"Sit still," a mother tells her young daughter.
Mama looks at them sadly. Tsuna clutches her hand tighter even though he doesn't really know why.
The group was led by two people; one has a bucket of water and one has a lantern-looking thing. Tsuna watches the person with the lantern go up to the door and hold it out.
It glows with a blue that makes his heart ache.
The door opens up while Tsuna is distracted with how bright the light inside the lantern is, and they head inside. There's only one room, with a line of graves. Everyone takes turns taking water from the bucket and splashing them over the graves. Even Tsuna gets a turn, just like the grown-ups do.
Then they head down the mountain again. At the bottom, the people from the third group have a bunch of paper lanterns ready, all of them glowing like the blue lantern did.
Tsuna and his Mama each take one, and put it on the river as the third-group-leader-person talks about stuff Tsuna doesn't really get, beyond the stuff he already knows about normal-people Obon.
"The river is where their graves meet," the man recites. "The water is where their hands are clasped. The progeny protect the bond of family, no matter the distance…"
He and Mama go home right after that, even though there's celebration-type stuff. She says she doesn't get along with a lot of their family, even though they all looked happy to see them. Tsuna doesn't like them, so he's okay with not talking to them. He falls asleep on the way home.
- Searchlight -
The community centre has only two rooms for educating kids, and the rest of them are for parents. They don't talk about much except all the tips but the teacher will always swing by and whisper important stuff in his ear so Tsuna thinks he's plenty ahead of other kids.
During snacktime he decides the teacher likes telling him stuff so he's a good person to ask.
"Sensei," he says softly, "What's the mafia?"
"The…" The teacher looks at him with a really…strange kinda look. "Why do you ask."
"Dunno. Just wondering."
"They're a type of organized criminal. Like the yakuza."
"Oh." Tsuna loses his will to ask for more and says "Okay thanks" and goes to eat his snacks alone in the corner like usual.
He feels the teacher's eyes on him for the rest of the class.
- Loneliness -
Tsuna turns seven in October.
There's no sign of his Papa coming back.
He looks things up on the internet instead. He thinks quickly and goes through terms faster, until he hits a dead end at 'is this revolutionary communications company actually the MAFIA' and Tsuna has to think yeah, probably, because it's the only mention of the mafia anywhere anyway.
He takes out an Italian-Japanese book out from the library four times in a row and looks up words his Papa might know.
One night, while his Mama is reading up in her room, Tsuna finds a half-empty bottle of alcohol. It smells like Papa, but without the extra smells of steel and earth and something rich that makes him feel safe. His Papa has never given him much more than a cup, but when he tastes it, it seems fine.
He drains the whole thing while using an audiotape to really nail the pronunciation of 'Io sono suo figlio'.
- Spring -
First grade is when Tsuna thinks there might actually be something wrong with him, because during a math test he finishes a chapter and the teacher tells him he was only supposed to do one page. He did sixteen.
He writes in kanji while most of the kids around him have only just mastered hiragana. His knowledge of katakana is flawless. His strokes are messy and hard-to-read but they come naturally to him.
Science is harder because even though he's obviously thinking much, much faster than his peers, he can't actually remember things all that well, and in the order they have to be, so he's terrible at science.
After a while they give him a workbook called the Halo book with a picture of a sun haloing a mountain top. He slows down a lot when he uses that workbook instead. No one talks about latent genius or anything. Just 'it happens, sometimes'. But the way they look at him, he knows they're sort of thinking about it.
A teacher takes him aside and asks if he's interested in leadership classes and all he remembers is the time he shoved a kid to the ground because he wouldn't listen to Tsuna when he said that the dirt clods lining the tiny little cliff wouldn't support them and the boy threw a rock at Tsuna and used handholds on the stone instead, because he already knew that the clods wouldn't work, and Tsuna was just a know-it-all.
He says no.
He hides in the closet later that night and listens to his mom tell his dad about how wonderful he's doing in school. He closes his eyes and hears how proud his dad is from the way his mom reacts to him. He feels like he's glowing.
But it's not satisfying. Not in the way he wants it to be.
- Valentine -
As spring moves into summer and Tsuna gets more used to the Halo workbooks, he feels more self-confident. He thinks he can go outside all by himself, thank-you-very-much. His mom still tells him he's not allowed to go beyond the grocery store. But he can go to the grocery store all by himself. Thank you very much.
He's got a two-litre of milk clutched in both hands with bags dangling from his arms, almost home, when he sees someone he recognizes just across the street.
He stares after him, long and hard, and decides he can at least talk to him.
"Mr. Valentin," Tsuna calls. Valentin swivels to look at him. He looks mostly the same. Maybe kinda stressed.
"Tsunayoshi-kun. Running errands?"
"Yeah. Mom lets me go out by myself now. Are you still guarding Grandpa?"
"Wh— oh, goodness no. I live here, didn't I mention that?"
"I heard Kokuyou Land is gonna close down soon, though?"
"Oh, yeah, it will. But we're moving all our things to Namimori hospital. I'll be around here more often."
Tsuna adjusts his grip on the milk. He scuffs his foot awkwardly against the pavement.
"…Did you…is, uhm…"
"…Is Gra…Is Grandpa Timoteo in the…is he like, mafia? With my dad?"
Valentin's friendly expression fades.
He tilts his head. "How'd you come to that thought?"
"I overheard my dad."
"Tsunayoshi-kun, that's a little…" He sighs, and runs a hand through his hair. "Listen, why don't you drop by my house later. It's best if you understand that sort of thing from the perspective of someone used to living with it."
"So it's true?" Tsuna feels vindicated and sad at the same time."
"Just…" He scribbles down an address and stuffs it into Tsuna's jacket pocket. "Come by."
- Jasmine -
"Sorry, I only have Jasmine tea," Valentin says.
Tsuna has no idea what that tastes like and Valentin doesn't hold it out for Tsuna to sniff, so he just says "that's okay."
They chat about what they've been up to since they last met, and Tsuna feels incredibly adult doing it. It feels just like his mom chatting with her friends. He thinks he was a really dumb six-year-old, but now he's grown up, probably. At least a little bit, anyway.
"I was actually hired to do some research, but it involves a small amount of human experimentation, but I don't have a bunch of extra humans around…doing it on myself is taking a lot out of me," Valentin groans.
"Could I help?"
Valentin looks at him.
And he smiles.
- REDACTED -
- Morning -
He wakes up on the bed with an ache on his arm.
Valentin is in the kitchen, mulling over his papers. Tsuna rolls off. He's not wearing any socks and his pants have been carefully rolled up. When he touches them, he realizes they've been shot too, but they aren't as sore as the band-aid on his arm.
"Does the one on the arm hurt extra? Like when the needle goes in?"
"Oh? Ah, yeah, it's why I suggested putting you under. Even adults can't take that one." Valentin barely looks at him.
Tsuna looks at his papers. They're all in a weird language Tsuna doesn't recognize.
He points at the top. "What's that one say?"
"Hm? Oh, Проект Зелёная дверь?"
That sounds like a whole lot of different-sounding words for something that's full of letters that look the same.
"What's it mean?"
"Secret. It's already six, you should head home."
"Oh. 'Kay." Tsuna hesitates. "Did I help?"
Valentin actually looks at him this time, smile warm and wide and sure.
"Of course you did, Tsuna."
Tsuna glows, and this time he does feel happy.
- REDACTED -
- Afternoon -
Tsuna heaves into the toilet.
Valentin rubs his back. "I told you two days in a row was a bad idea."
It feels like something is seeping into him through the hand, but when Tsuna reaches back to check after he leaves, there's nothing there.
- Evening -
Tsuna's vision swims over his homework. The normal stuff was fine, but the workbook is hard to think about. He finishes his math equations and curls up into a ball.
He thinks he just doesn't want to. It feels like an ache in the pit of his stomach.
He goes to bed and the teacher says something about 'plateaus' the next day.
- REDACTED -
- Night -
"What's your family like?"
Valentin stirs his tea idly. "I didn't get along with them."
"I don't think I get along with mine either. Not even my dad." Tsuna buries his face into his arms. "…I haven't seen him since I was six."
"That wasn't all that long ago."
"Yeah it was! He didn't even do anything with me. He just wanted to talk to other adults. He doesn't take me seriously at all. He treats me like a little kid."
Valentin laughs. "Oh, I think you're a little more mature than that. I've seen the average kid, and you're nothing like them."
Tsuna takes a sip of jasmine tea. He's overwhelmed with the desire to spit it out, but manages to swallow.
It still tastes good. He thinks he just sort of…doesn't want tea right now.
He wishes Valentin would buy a different kind.
- REDACTED -
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- A -
The dishes clatter under his hands. He has a headache but he'd rather work than lie in bed.
His mom pokes her head in to check what he's doing and laughs when she sees him perched on his little stool. "Tsu-kun, you've been doing so many chores lately. If you keep going like that I won't have anything left to do!"
"It's okay. I'm an adult now."
She snorts. "You won't be an adult for years, so you don't have to worry about that."
Tsuna stares at the soapy water. The sinking feeling in his stomach gets so bad he has to step away. He hides under the table while she finishes up and gets to cooking, doing nothing but picking at the label of one of his father's sake bottles. He doesn't finish his dinner, and doesn't move from the couch afterwards, he just watches his mother's needle go in and out of the fabric of her cross-stitch pattern.
The feeling doesn't go away until he wakes up the next day with body heat laying right beside him. He peers up at his mother's face. Her eyes drift open and she smiles.
Tsuna suddenly feels light again.
- REDACTED -
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- B -
"Happy eighth birthday!"
Tsuna stares at the confetti drifting to his feet. He's already gotten used to tuning out the queasy feeling in his stomach whenever he visits Valentin's apartment.
"Thank you." He smiles, and even though he doesn't feel all that good right now, at least that's genuine.
Valentin got him a stuffed monkey. The tag sewn into its paw says 'Kokuyou Healthy Land' along with a picture of a bunch of fruit.
"A souvenir from before it closed down."
The queasy feeling claws at him. He hugs it to his chest.
"Thank you. I love it."
- REDACTED -
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- C -
The first time he misses an appointment with Valentin, it's with Sasagawa Kyouko's hand clutching his.
It's okay. He doesn't usually wake up with a sore arm and Valentin sitting at the table nowadays. It's not like he's missing anything important.
The weight in his stomach has bubbled up to clog his throat as the clock moves past the time he was supposed to go to the apartment, and he has no appetite. He watches her brother imitate the boxers on his massive collection of VHS tapes while she practices tying bandages on Tsuna's hands. After a while she gets bored and paints his nails instead.
On his walk home, they gleam perfectly pink, like the insides of tropical shells, reflecting the sunset. He stares at them until dusk, and for the first time in over a year, he finishes off his entire plate at dinnertime.
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- D -
They catch him on a boat headed to South Korea.
He had meant to hide in the boxes, but they loaded him up and he thought it might be nice, so he hadn't bothered to climb out again. The only reason anyone saw him was because he had climbed out to investigate.
They tell his mom he was in an internet cafe. He thinks his mom would be super upset if she found out he randomly decided he was okay with going to Korea, so he goes along with them even though he smells like ocean. A man in a bright red shirt spritzes him when cologne with Tsuna mentions this.
At the end of it, one woman with red hair lingers by the gate after everyone else leaves and his mom has gone inside to get some sort of information packet for her.
She looks at Tsuna with a grim sort of expression. "Hey, kid. Is there…is there a friend of yours you visit sometimes? Maybe someone your age?"
Tsuna stares at the pavement between their feet. His heart hammers right up to his ears.
"…Kyouko," he mutters.
"Kyouko. She's my age."
The woman doesn't look satisfied.
Tsuna doesn't go to school the next day. He has to look really hard to find another sake bottle, and the one he gets is full, sitting on top of the cupboards. The heat chases away the terror that had curled up in a ball and sat there in his stomach like a hunk of lead, and it's the only reason he feels comfortable sleeping.
He doesn't cry.
He's not really the type to cry.
- E -
Taking a shower and doing his stretches is pretty much routine now. He makes sure there's no bruises. There never is, but it always hurts like there might be. There's always a change of clothes waiting for him when he wakes up.
He burns the old ones inside the ruins of the Kokuyou buildings for fun. They always give off a lot of smoke, so he sits far, far away, and watches it billow up.
Eventually, he tosses the monkey in there too.
There's a few urban explorers that are always wandering around this area during the fall season, just after the leaves have fallen off the trees, but they give him a wide berth. He's been asked for directions once or twice.
He doesn't really answer them, but he's always got the pamphlets.
- F -
Tsuna isn't really motivated to exist, lately; his grades have plunged from 'not doing homework' to 'lessons not sticking at all' to 'cartoonishly incompetent'. He tends to stumble a lot because sometimes he's still sore, and sometimes he drags his feet more than he has to and trips over them. His reactions are half-hearted and slow, and no one wants him on their sports team.
Kyouko's answer to this is to do an exchange diary, which is like writing letters but with one book. Kyouko's diary pages are always full of all the fun and interesting stuff she does. Tsuna doesn't do a lot of interesting things. He stares off into space a lot and has trouble reading. He goes into the forest just for the sake of something to write down. He tries to go about it like a novelist would, because there's nothing inherently interesting about a bunch of trees. Something something atmosphere something something birdsong.
One time, he goes on the weekend he was supposed to see Valentin. He gets lost and ends up by a waterfall, an extension of the river they put the lanterns into. He takes his shoes off, and then he strips off his clothes too, and he swims in the frigid water. He imagines being washed downriver and drifting to whatever offshoot grave it leads to. He imagines doing it during Obon and another family fishing him out and raising him so he'll never have to come to Namimori again.
He kicks into the water fall and curls up into a ball there. At this point, he knows he's mostly just waiting for someone to catch and confront him. This is the second time he's missed Valentin's appointment.
He said he needed Tsuna but all he's done is…Tsuna isn't entirely sure. Something sort of like what's in H-videos, somehow. He knows how perverts are, and he doesn't think Valentin is one, but he thinks he's a terrible, terrible person for ignoring experiments for H-stuff.
He's a terrible, terrible doctor.
He wants Valentin to appear from the trees and say 'I'm a terrible doctor, Tsuna, I'm so sorry, I love you and you didn't deserve this'.
The next monday he talks about how he sat under a waterfall like a martial artist and she writes back saying she told her brother and her brother thinks it's awesome so he's going to do it too.
Tsuna never goes back to the waterfall again.
- G -
His hair gets really greasy really easily, lately. He's been insistent on dying it the same colour as his mom's, so now he looks nothing like the pictures on the wall from even a few months ago. He'd brush it, but he keeps forgetting to.
His mom took him to a doctor since dandruff and really oily heads don't tend to go together. He diagnosed his scalp right off the bat and then rushed on to talk about birth defects. He kept giving his mom really concerned looks while he talks about genital development and horomones. Tsuna is at least half-sure that with the amount of times he brings up the fact Tsuna has ovaries, Tsuna definitely has some kind of tumor.
"I don't really care," Tsuna mumbles on the walk home.
"You don't have to decide right now, but when you're older and start puberty again, we'll have to check. You don't want to be a boy walking around with a figure like mine, do you?"
"I don't really care," he mumbles again.
"Your father thinks that you're going to be just as manly as he is, you know."
Tsuna cares even less.
- H -
He stands in front of apartment 213 and thinks I don't want to be here.
- I, -
Tsuna goes to bed early and wakes up early. It's been like this since he was eight.
There isn't much to do, so he goes to the doorstep and sits there, looks up at the sky. It's a nice sky. It's always a nice sky.
It's quiet, and the air is cool and crisp against his skin, and each step away from his door adds to the rising urge to escape.
He thinks he might jump into the river. It's been haunting him, lately.
His mom always looks so worried around him. It makes him feel like he's drowning. He just wants to go.
- Sawada Tsunayoshi -
It always takes him a while to collect himself when he wakes up from whatever Valentin puts in his tea, but he didn't really understand how long until his idle stroking of the bed's new blanket is interrupted by voices.
"Not here," says a woman chipperly.
"And what if he was?" A man. Tsuna blinks drowsily. He tries to push himself out of bed out of the half-formed intent to hide from strangers, but his arm buckles underneath him. He got a needle today. His limbs feel like jelly.
"Then we kick his ass. God you're boring." Footsteps. Tsuna flops back into bed and looks at the opening to the dining room. It's a novelty for there to be people here to greet him when he wakes up, but he thinks he's going to get in trouble if Valentin's done something bad enough to get beat up for.
"Lives frugally," man mutters.
"Hey, come take a look at this."
"This…how is the progress this advanced?"
"Pretty sure he's being funded."
"By who? He's got no superiors left to answer to, and he should be cut off from new rease—" Tsuna thinks the man grabs the papers. "Oh."
"Well, there's your kill-on-sight."
"That doesn't match the count."
"Right, there should be more in the desk over here—"
A man with cherry-red hair steps into the doorframe and looks right at him.
Tsuna holds the blanket up over his bare chest and slides under until only his eyes are uncovered.
The man stares. Tsuna feels like he can see his heart shattering just from his face alone.
"Oh god," he whispers, then again, with a thin whine, "Oh god."
"What?" The woman asks.
Tsuna's uneasy stomach roils. The guy knows him. He's in big trouble now.
"Wh— oh, oh," the woman, black-haired, she goes loud where the man goes quiet. She looks about ready to explode. "Fuck, sick, sick—"
"No, I," the man sprints at him, and Tsuna ducks all the way under. The man yanks him right out again. "No! I can fix this! I can fix this, look at me, I can fix this!"
Tsuna starts tearing up and hiccuping. He's dizzy and can't think right and he doesn't know how to get out of this. His mom is going to be so mad.
"I can fix this," the man with the cherry hair breathes, clutching Tsuna's shoulders. Tsuna's vision swims.
"How?" The woman asked.
"…I can seal it away. I can…I can make it so he'll never remember any of it." A hand along his hair. "You want to forget all this ever happened, right? You don't want to feel scared anymore?"
Tsuna actually doesn't want to be in trouble, but he seems to be suggesting basically the same thing, so he nods slowly.
"Okay, let's do it."
"Wh- NO, are you KIDDING? Take him to dad! You've never done anything like this before!"
"If dad finds out, everyone will know. Do you want half of Hakuyou knowing about this? That's not fair to him!" The cherry-haired man snaps.
"Not to mention— if Valentin doesn't answer to anyone, he probably just…he can't get punished if he has no one to answer to, you get that, so we can't— we can't make it political, we just." He wrings his hands in the air. "We erase all of it."
The woman jerks. "What?"
"We never found anything. Everything. We'll get rid of all of it. Tsuna can go home and nothing will be wrong."
Tsuna nods again. This sounds like a great idea.
"Do you have any idea what dad will do if he—"
"If he finds out? Haha, I will burn this whole complex down if I have to. Just…" He turns back to Tsuna and holds his head in his hands. "It's okay. I've mastered pretty much all of the other techniques. This is going to be easy. I'll show you. I'll show you. I'll fix all of it and it'll be fine."
His hands are trembling against Tsuna's cheeks. They're warm and kind of sweaty. The man's thumbs press against his temples, and there's a pleasant buzzing just underneath them that echoes inside Tsuna's skull. He closes his eyes and enjoys it.
"No— don't close your eyes." Tsuna opens them.
"Look at me." Tsuna looks at him.
His eye glow orange. It's beautiful, like the colour of Kyouko's nailpolish in the sunset. "Now listen to me. You're going to forget."
- Sawada Tsunayoshi -
Tsuna wakes up feeling like his head is full of cotton.
He goes through the motions sloppily, putting his clothes on, brushing his teeth, eating, leaving the house.
He has a key to Valentin's apartment but he stands in front of the door of the building itself for a while, just staring at it. He does this sometimes. But he has to go in at some point, so he forces himself to turn the key.
He's numbed himself to the visits a long time ago, and the cotton-feeling isn't helping. He drifts aimlessly down the halls, and misses door 213 three times before he realizes he's been moving with his eyes closed half the time. He makes sure to count to get to the right door.
He's not feeling well. Maybe they can just talk today.
Tsuna roughly grabs the door and turns. It doesn't budge. He struggles to put the key in, and practically falls into the apartment when the doors open. There's no heavy-stomach feeling, just complete disorientation.
There's no pad for his shoes, and no welcome mat.
Tsuna's gaze lifts up.
There are no pictures on the walls. There is no scent except the soapy citrus of cleaning solution. The door to Valentin's office is open, revealing empty space.
Tsuna slowly walks in, examining the spotless, tidy kitchen with no sign of tea spills and dustings of sugar, no notes pinned up with research notes in chickenscratch Russian.
There is no table, or cushions. The floor is newly vacuumed. The bedroom is a gaping nothingness. Out of morbid curiousity, he examines the bathroom for any signs of him, but it's been scrubbed clean.
He wanders into the empty sitting room, looking out to the wide, uncurtained sliding door to the balcony.
There's no one here. It feels almost like no one's ever lived here. Like maybe he dreamed all of it.
First comes a surge of relief that hits him so hard he falls to his knees. The dizziness is a rush of numbness, the welcome kind, like he was slowly being crushed and now there's no sign of pain at all, just nothing, nothing, nothing being able to hurt him again. It makes his head spin harder than the tea ever did.
And then he actually thinks about what this means.
It means…it means he's alone.
Not the kind of alone where he wakes up and Valentin is gone to take care of something because Tsuna's going to be out for hours and he can't wait for him to wake up. Not the kind where Tsuna has to sit in the kitchen alone staring off into space for hours until a trembling Valentin spots him and screams at him to get out, he's not in the mood.
Not the kind of alone where he has the power to be whatever kind of alone he wants to be, where he could run off and no one has the power to stop him. Not the kind of alone where he wanders into town in his pajamas and the weight of it doesn't even occur to him until someone picks him up and drops him off at home with a stern lecture.
It's the kind of alone where he goes to bed wondering why his dad was so mad and waking up finding out he left without saying goodbye.
It's the kind of alone where Tsuna's stomach sinks further and further until he thinks his throat and his brain and his heart and just about everything else is going to collapse right down with it, until Kyouko shows up apologizing for being late.
He's been left behind.
He sits there on his knees and turns that over in his cloudy, cotton-stuffed head.
He's been left behind, and he's been expecting this to happen.
And now he doesn't have to come here anymore.
All of his insides tighten at once.
Now he doesn't have a Valentin anymore, gossiping just like adults do, speaking in unintelligible Russian when he's trying to communicate how annoying his coworkers are, sharing tea with him and saying I was worried about where my research was going, I'm so happy you're helping me with this.
He blinks at his stinging eyes until a single tear spills over, followed by another, and another, until they're spilling endlessly down his cheeks, and he tilts his head back and lets out a single wail. It chokes off with sobs, and he crumples bonelessly onto the carpet, full of nothing but a jumble of horrible confusing emotions that he can't put a name to except hurt.
He's been left behind.
- Death -
His dad visits while he's still ten, only a few weeks after Valentin's disappearance.
Tsuna goes on a fishing trip with him and spends the rest of the time lying around staring off into space.
"Hormones," his dad says coyly.
His mom doesn't say anything in a really pointed way that makes his dad frown for a moment, but there is no conversation about Tsuna's doctor's appointment or the implants. So he tries cheering Tsuna up by sharing his sake with him. It does help, actually; Tsuna ends up giggly and curled up into his dad's shoulder, thinking about how firm it felt when he was just six.
It's the first step in accepting that the Valentin appointments were never a big deal, actually, and he probably should have stopped going to them a long time ago anyway. By the end of the second week, Tsuna feels well enough to actually good enough to eat out at a family restaurant and laugh at his dad's stories. It takes a bit of effort; the cotton-headed feeling never really went away, and it always gets worse when he tries to force himself out of his spacey episodes.
Grandpa Timoteo visits during his dad's second month home. Tsuna is playing videogames on the sitting room TV while he and his dad drink.
On a whim, Tsuna turns to look at Grandpa Timoteo and asks "what kind of person was your watch-man?"
"Hm?" Timoteo looks away from his phone.
"The man you left to watch me, when I was six. He took me to dad and gave me a shot."
Timoteo's expression smooths over, and Tsuna feels like he's said something horribly, horribly wrong.
"…Tsunayoshi…The person I left to look after you was a woman."
Fear prickles along Tsuna's spine, but he does his best to not react. He says "oh" and saves his game and head upstairs and tries very, very hard not to think about it. The inconsistencies and little factors are like knives raking over his perception of Valentin, which was shaky and full of conflicted feelings to begin with.
He falls asleep with the image of the spray of red across Valentin's sleeve still hovering in his mind.
- Dead-Eyed Tsuna -
Kurokawa Hana attends their middle school, in the end, and Tsuna watches her with no small amount of wariness.
He doesn't think much of what he was doing from ages eight to ten, because he wasn't really doing much at all except feeling awful and being exploited by someone he already knew was a criminal. In the three years since then, the most he got out of it is the paranoid twitchiness when Kyouko says she can't hang out with him and a genuinely good reason to hate himself.
He accommodates, like he usually does. He doesn't ask her for anything, and bends over backwards to make their friendship convenient for her. Kyouko always just drifts into his peripheral, and that way, the sting of rejection never comes. He thinks he resents Hana a little anyway, since she doesn't ever seem bothered by being blown off.
Kyouko gets him, though, so he doesn't have to worry.
He almost settles. Then, only a few months later, Tsuna opens his eyes as his arms vibrate with the weight of a tonfa strike, and he sees someone who looks at him like he if he ever left Tsuna behind, it would be Tsuna's fault for not keeping up. It's confusing, and actually a little offensive.
For the first time in years, though, Tsuna looks at someone and doesn't feel scared of being near them.
Not in the traditional sense, anyway.
- End -
"That's all I know, I promise," Tsuna insists.
Hibari makes a discontented noise, like he understands, but doesn't care, because he's already decided he's unhappy and he's not going to quit here.
"What even is the Varia?" Tsuna hops to keep up with Hibari's long-legged stride. "Hayato says it's an assassination squad but I forgot most of it."
"A specialist unit under the direct jurisdiction of…a mafia family," Hibari reels off as if reciting from something he's read, and tapers off, like he read the name once, but promptly forgot about it, which Tsuna finds immediately relatable. "They're a factor in the power structure of the Italian underworld."
"'Be my friend and I'll loan you my killmen' kind of power structure?"
Hibari gives him a Look.
The helicopter had taken them to a remote location, where there is a big private jet with no markings on the exterior. It's extremely ominous. Also ominous is the fact the helicopter left the moment they touched pavement and there isn't anyone here to greet them. Hibari doesn't seem to care, though, so Tsuna pretends he doesn't either.
"Why are you so bothered, anyway? Afraid they might kill me?"
"Bothered you're now involved in the power structure of the Italian Underworld. You belong strictly to me. I also think very poorly of Italians."
At least he's honest?
"It'll only be a few days, I guess." Tsuna stops in front of the stairs to the jet, unsure if he's supposed to go inside or not. "…I don't think I want to go back to school right now anyway."
"With the reckless disregard for rules you've already exhibited, if you did return, you would spend most of your days in the infirmary." Hibari soars past him into the jet, Hatachi trailing at his heels.
"I don't like being threatened," Tsuna mutters. "Not that you care."
"Get in here. Your phone is buzzing."
Tsuna takes a deep breath through his nose and stomps up to meet Hibari inside.
Despite all the fantastical impressions of what private jets look like inside, Tsuna finds it looks pretty normal overall. It's not really that big, and the entry point sits between cramped booths similar to airplane chairs. Hibari plops Tsuna's bag onto a nearby table and wanders towards the tail.
Towards the front is a couch, coffee table, bar, mini-fridge and a TV, forming a small sitting room. Tsuna has drunk far too much to be comfortable with raiding it right now, but he'll probably hit it up by morning. In the direction Hibari had set off is, predictably, a big-ass bed, complete with nightstand. Just behind it seems to be the toilet.
Overall, awesome, but not especially jarring.
"Have you ever been on a private jet?"
"Yes." Hibari investigates the drawers of the nightstand while removing his shoes and socks.
"Hokkaido. I've also taken a limo to Tokyo."
"How often do you leave Namimori?"
"Infrequently. I haven't left once in the past five years. Answer your phone."
Tsuna quickly digs into his bag and takes out his phone. He has missed a lot of texts. They are literally all from Hacchan.
"Does Hayato even have my number?" Tsuna wonders aloud, because the idea of Hayato having it and not contacting him is completely ludicrous.
Actually, Hana sending him a bunch of messages unprompted is kind of worrisome. Almost all of them have a subject line. He starts flipping through them.
3:21PM - Subject: back in town
Don't have anyone's contact information, info won't get around fast
Hayato got stolen and he can't text me because dumbass doesn't have a cellphone
3:50PM - Subject:
nvm kyouko has everyone's numbers because of course she does
4:31PM - Subject:
Kyouko went to check on ur house because of course she did
Its your dad! Wtf!
It occurs to Tsuna that the only one who knows about his Vaguely Mafia Father is Hayato. Must have been troubling. It's Hana, though, so he can't really bring himself to feel bad. Kyouko doesn't know what happened, so she probably enjoyed meeting the man for the first time.
4:59PM - Subject:
Am now Gokudera's messenger because no one knows anyone's numbers
There's an Italian guy in Oogawa's house. V hot.
Oogawa is wearing bandages for no reason and he wouldn't let me talk to him or hot Italian dude
5:10PM - Subject:
Miura-san gave me address to Miura home
Haru-chan makes her own clothes omgggg these designs are so freakin cuuuuute
6:11PM - Subject:
Getting late so I threw a rock at Irie-kun's house and he yelled at me. Seems ok
6:21PM - Subject:
Gokudera called and says he's going to make a break for it. Won't specify why or where he's going
6:30PM - Subject:
Takeshi-kun texted Kyouko to text me that he got home with our junk!
Also he's like mute? For some reason?
6:35PM - Subject:
He says his meds messed him up really bad and he's kind of out of it
He keeps falling down and spacing out so like? Twinsies for u guys
Gokudera showed up at Kyouko's house so I'm going to go chase him off
6:49PM - Subject:
Gokudera and Onii-san got in screaming match
Now Kyouko is mad at Onii-san bc he is hiding stuff
7:00PM - Subject:
Going to have sleepover, might bring up the mafia (good ones)
She's acting weird-ish maybe she already knows…I can't find any news articles so wtf…
7:10PM - Subject:
KYOUKO IS PSYCHIC SO ONII-SAN CAN SUCK IT TBHHHHHHHH
Tsuna takes a moment's pause, wondering if that's hyperbole or not. The next series of texts do not clarify.
7:24PM - Subject:
Gokudera ditched to go check up on Takeshi-kun
He keeps texting Kyouko a play-by-play on how freakin messed up Takeshi-kun is
7:28PM - Subject:
I think Takeshi-kun is starting to scare him lol
7:32PM - Subject:
Just described Takeshi-kun as 'a starving animal on the hunt'
Why is your tutor so FREAKING weird jw
7:36PM - Subject:
Takeshi-kun commandeered, phone, is now sending us selfies
We are having selfie-off. Obv we look way better
The next few texts are just images from said selfie-off. The first one is Takeshi, who looks absolutely terrible. His tan has dimmed to a mottled grey that does little to ease the look of the dark circles under his eyes, and his normally-bright lips are colourless and somewhat chapped. His left eye is bloodshot. The gunshot wound looks exactly the same, at least. Regardless of the state of his health, he seems pleased, face pulled into an amiable grin. Hayato is writing something down on a paper pad, oblivious to the picture.
The next photo is of Hayato by himself, looking at the camera with a disinterested, cursory glance. He looks both healthy and emotionally stable, which is good, because Tsuna doesn't really know Hayato well enough to know what would happen if that wasn't the case, and he isn't comfortable with the idea of leaving him to his own devices while that gap in knowledge still exists.
The third picture is of them both posing together. Well, Takeshi is; Hayato is staring blankly at the camera, again. He looks like he doesn't understand the concept of photos and is exasperated with Takeshi's insistence on creating them.
The next is of Kyouko holding the phone up for a peace-sign with Hana, who is holding one up too. Her legs are propped up to hold a magazine. They look okay too. Tsuna feels himself unwind, and he slides into the booth to enjoy them fully.
Next one is Hayato, looking way more irritated, shoving a Takeshi out of frame so he's too blurry to make out.
The one after that is Kyouko and Hana squished into the frame, cheek-to-cheek, looking happy.
The next is Takeshi lying on a futon, with Gokudera behind him propped up against a wall surrounded by books, back to ignoring the picture-taking. Takeshi is smiling with his eyebrows quirked up in exasperation, but he still looks genuinely happy.
Suddenly, Tsuna feels an aching unwellness. He can't quite place it, but seeing the four of them interact like this is slowly layering an overwhelming sensation of dread that he can't shake.
He skips through the rest of them.
8:21PM - Subject:
Gokudera's sleeping over at Takeshi-kun's place bc ur dad has zero boundaries
We're dropping by Takesushi's for BIG MEETING
if ur back by tomorrow morning thats where we are
The unwellness rears up again and he snaps his phone shut even though there's four more texts to go.
Then he turns to look, without consciously meaning to, at Hibari.
Hibari, who is steadily hacking away at a fistful of hair with a pair of small, silver scissors.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Tsuna jumps to his feet and drops his phone without thinking.
"Cutting my hair," Hibari replies.
Hibari cuts off a hunk of hair. Judging from the nightstand, it looks to be his second one. "Inconvenient."
Tsuna waves his hands in the air in helpless objection. For as long as Hibari has been a recorded entity, his hair has been styled in exactly the same way. In fact, for as long as Kusakabe has been a recorded entity, his hair has been exactly the same. The stubborn refusal to break from standard is Hibari's defining character trait, at this point.
The scissors come up to a third clump. Tsuna grabs Hibari by the arm to stop him. "Since when has inconvenient hair stopped you?"
"Since it was grabbed." Hibari effortlessly twirls the scissors in his hand and stabs Tsuna with them. Tsuna yelps and switches hands. "He enjoyed it far too much."
"And you punished him for it! With interest!"
"I know, but there's a possibility others will think to do the same. It'll be easier to avoid and punish them for trying if it's shorter. I'm cutting it."
Tsuna looks Hibari dead in his haughty, disinterested eyes and understands that no matter what Tsuna says, he will disagree, emphatically, mostly just on principle. He's already decided to cut his hair. He's gone through two clumps already. It's irreversible.
"…At least let me do it."
Surprisingly, Hibari doesn't even bother thinking about it; he just places the scissors in Tsuna's hands. He's rich though, so he's probably used to getting groomed by other people.
Tsuna hasn't cut hair since he was ten and Kyouko asked him to cut hers down, and he doesn't think he did a good job, but whatever he does, it'll probably better than whatever Hibari was going to do without a mirror. Hibari moves from the carpeted bedroom to the tiled sitting room to perch on the coffee table, and Tsuna hovers uncertainly, before focusing on shortening the clump he was just about to shear off.
When he digs his fingers in, he shivers involuntarily. Hibari's hair isn't like Takeshi or Tsuna's wiry tuffs; it's smooth, silky, and deceptively thin, like running his hand through flour. Not the kind of hair that sticks up in accordance to anything except the breeze. He'd shear it all the way down to accommodate, but Tsuna doesn't really have enough skill to do that.
He pulls the clump away, and notes Hibari has a whorl. Maybe it does stick up, a little. Tsuna decides a haircut similar to Miki's would make sense; even though Miki's hair is really coarse too, it's the kind of hairstyle that looks normal on any type of hair. Probably. The fringe should the longest point, still cut short, and then gradually fading into a shorter cut. Seems simple.
Tsuna takes off the remainder of Hibari's fringe, so Hibari now has a mullet. It looks ridiculous, and Tsuna snips off the hair at the nape of his neck so Hibari won't stab his eyes out for laughing.
The next few minutes are quiet. Tsuna isn't even sure if their jet has a pilot, but it doesn't really matter. There's only the gentle hum of electronics and the soft snip snip of scissors through hair.
"Would be nice if I had something to catch the hair," Tsuna notes to himself. He'd say wet hair would help, but to be honest, he's not sure if he can figure out where the hell he's supposed to cut if it were all matted down, no matter how convenient it would be to the cutting itself.
The action is so particular he doesn't have room to focus on much else, but sometimes his eyes trail down, mostly to check on how Hibari is feeling about all this. He doesn't react to Tsuna pulling gently at his hair, or snipping near his ears. He looks like he might have fallen asleep, if it weren't for how he's leaning on the table.
Tsuna's attention drifts to the smooth, elegant, unfolded curve of Hibari's closed eyes. They're thin and the downward slant is severe, but the eyelashes are long and full. His face is squared and full of hard angles, even though he hasn't lost the baby fat still clinging to his cheeks. It looks distinctive enough for Tsuna to actually consider it. Hayato has an elongated face, but stretched to points; Hibari's face is more broad and boxy. He'd always thought of Hibari's appearance as distinctive, but it feels Northern, or...?
"Chinese?" he muses.
Hibari opens one eye. His eyebrows scrunch down.
"You," Tsuna says haltingly, and he flushes and clears his throat to try again. "No, I wasn't saying you were, just that it felt like, that is to say…you have, uhm, strong features?"
"My mother," Hibari says, and closes his eyes again.
"Oh. You really are— uh, do you speak any?" Tsuna pulls at his whorl. He's not sure if he can cut this cleanly.
"I'm fluent in twelve languages. My second language was Yue Chinese. I picked up Taishanese after visiting Guangzhou. More familiarity with Cantonese was probably the objective of that trip, though." Here Hibari gives a self-satisfied little smirk. Small triumphs?
"…You've left the country?"
"To increase the speed of my language acquisition. I hated it. I don't enjoy leaving Namimori."
The threat against Tsuna for his little Miyazawa outing is thinly veiled, but the attempt to veil it at all is appreciated. He can't be that mad.
"What language do you like better?"
"Dialects. And I prefer Taishanese."
Tsuna starts in on the back of Hibari's head. "How many languages do you know?"
"Twenty-eight." Tsuna jerks in surprise. Hibari doesn't seem to notice. "I'm fluent in all Asian languages, English, and Italian."
"Oh my god," Tsuna whispers. "I just know how to say 'death' in a few dozen ways in Italian."
"Convenient, considering where we're going."
Tsuna makes a face and focuses on trimming back the rest of the hair on the back of Hibari's head.
He should be surprised Hibari is so willing to talk to him considering how quiet he was before, but no one who hates talking would be willing to have a conversation this inane. In fact, looking back, it's actually more likely that Hibari loves the sound of his own voice and simply didn't deem Tsuna worthy of hearing it.
Tsuna decides to experiment. "What does Taishanese sound like?"
"It's Yue Chinese, but it has little in common with Cantonese," Hibari explains, the ease of the answer proving Tsuna's hypothesis. "Chinese languages are heavily tonal, so dialects are severe enough to be unintelligible to each other."
"Ohhh. That makes sense."
"The sound…" He hums, and it's deep and throaty and really distracting. Then he reels off brief phrases (or words — Tsuna can't tell). "唔好搞我. 唔該. 一種語言永遠不夠. That's Cantonese."
It's easier to understand 'tonal language' when hearing the actual language itself — the level of expression is distinctive, and full of rises and falls and hard-to-distinguish kinda-vowels. Cantonese sounds pleasing to the ear, but the idea of learning it gives him anxiety; Japanese has 5 super-obvious vowels, and that is the only number of vowels anyone should have to use.
"Taishanese is still Yue Chinese. Mostly similar. Hm…乜個聽教仔."
"Sounds the same to me."
"Did you really expect to tell the difference?"
Tsuna wrinkles his nose and gets a bit of hair behind Hibari's ear.
The pilot must have arrived, because the door closes while Tsuna attempts to get the top of Hibari's head as even as possible without making it look uneven against the close-cut length around the back of his head. He fluffs it a few times until he's satisfied that it doesn't look horrible.
"Okay, I think I'm done."
Hibari runs his fingers through his new haircut. His nose wrinkles too.
"Then why did you cut it?"
"I told you why." Hibari stands. "The door is closed."
"Huh? Oh, yeah. We're probably taking off soon."
Tsuna puts the scissors back in his bag, because they're his scissors, and looks for a cupboard to stuff his bag in. There's a lot of overhead storage in the sitting room area, but the spot just before the cockpit — which looks to be a giant metal box, so maybe there won't be any pilots — has a closet-looking thing, which is better for someone as short as he is.
It's not empty, though. Inside is a black uniform, made of nylon and leather, with a white-and-red badge on the front embroidered with the bold letters 'VONGOLA VARIA'. Vongola Variation, or whatever. It comes in four sizes, with boots. Next to it sits a styrofoam head, and on the head is an indigo wig.
Tsuna turns it around in his hands. Unlike the red-brown wig, the hair is realistic-looking, and soft to the touch. It has a straight-cut fringe too, but it curls gently inward, and frames the face with small tufts of hair. It looks just as long as the old one, but this time with…well, it sort of looks like the hair has been tied into a knot. It's sitting in a low-set sidetail, and descends into full, slightly-curled locks. It looks extremely expensive, and makes the plastic hairpiece he was wearing before seem like a lump of stringy garbage in comparison.
Tsuna wants to go back to bed, so he puts the head back. "There's a change of clothes here."
"What kind?" Hibari asks from where he's stretched out languidly on the bed.
Hibari's expression sours, but he doesn't open his eyes.
"It's probably for blending in," Tsuna goes on to say. The jet jerks under his feet, and he can feel them start to move. "We don't have a driver."
"The jet is a drone. Our pilot is already in Italy, controlling our passage."
"…You ride a lot of these?"
For someone who loves talking about himself, he sure doesn't like talking about himself.
Tsuna turns on the TV. According to his Device, it's two in the morning, so there's no point on calling anyone. Except, well, Kusakabe, who he texts, but he decides saying they're in Italy is too big of a bomb to drop, so he just says they'll be gone for the next few days.
"Takeshi has the things that were on the hotel roof," Tsuna says quietly, "you can look at them when we get back."
"Don't need them anymore," Hibari says simply.
Of course he doesn't.
Tsuna flips through channels, but can't find anything interesting at two in the morning, so he sets it to what appears to be a channel dedicated to elevator music, turns it down to a quiet murmur of tone, and lays down on the couch. The lighting dial — or one of them — is in the bedroom with Hibari, who turns it off so the only light comes from the logo on the TV screen.
It's dark, and warm, but isolated and unfriendly. A layer of tension washes over Tsuna. He's not used to falling asleep alone in unfamiliar places, he thinks. Ever since…
His stomach drops. He stops thinking about it immediately.
"Do you sleep better?" Tsuna asks to the dark ceiling.
"Do you sleep better with the vacuum?"
"Hm." The noise is wondering. He probably hadn't thought about it. "Yes."
Tsuna swallows shame and fear and slides off the couch. "We should sleep with skin contact."
"Reversed. You cling."
Tsuna pads up to the bed and pulls the blankets at Hibari's feet back. He takes one of the pillows and sticks it there, and crawls in. Hibari had slept in his socks and shoes, so they should smell like sweat, but it seems they've aired out since then, because they're basically odorless. That's good.
There's plenty of room on the bed, and with a nudge to the side, they're not in contact.
Still, Tsuna can hear his breathing, and he can feel his warmth next to him, and if he wanted to, he could reach out and touch another human being. It's a far cry from the sense of dark isolation he's afraid of, and in a vehicle as isolated as this one, Tsuna won't wake to cold, dead, and heavy silence, left to pick himself up and carry himself home.
He falls asleep to the hum of the jet engine, and he thinks he feels just fine.
Apologies if I got any of the language bits wrong. They're all somewhat necessary in context. I didn't research too intimately, so check me where necessary.
Thanks so much to everyone who's ever left a review, drawn fanart, or publically expressed fondness for this fic, I love you and you're everything to me. I'll probably rush right into the next part because I've been wanting to write the Bovino and the Varia for ages, but while we're still here, at the end of things, I'm happy to have you here.
Drop by my fic Tumblr, Micronecro, if you wanna talk intensely, it's where I post the (LOADS AND LOADS OF) art and meta about this fic, as well as my other stories. Make sure to drop by the Weebly website at Detsuna for all your lore needs, too.
Thanks again, and I can't wait to see you in the next one!