[Running in the 90s plays at full blast]
The full title, "綱の組織犯罪の要綱", is kind of a gag. So, Tsuna's name uses the kanji "綱吉". That's "綱" for Tsuna and "吉" for Yoshi. But there's multiple ways to read each kanji! Tsunayoshi is read with the "kun" reading. And more often than not, the entire meaning of the word changes with the reading. (吉 means the same thing both ways, but the on reading is 'Shichi', if you're curious.)
So, the kun reading of 綱 is "tsuna", which means "rope". It is used in sentence structures implying rope. But Kou uses the on reading of this kanji, which is "Kou". Kou is a normal unisex name, and would be considered normal, if Kou used in that way wasn't a scientific textbook word, because when you use the on reading, 綱 means 'class', and is used to create the words for 'mission statement', 'outline', and, as you can see above, 'guidelines'. Kou's name is a specifically Japanese and completely untranslatable concept of absurdity, veering from "unorthadox" to straight-up "what are you DOING". She COULD just use kanji that make up the totally normal, average name of 'Kou', but she didn't, because she's ridiculously particular, and I wanted a title that reflected on this concept. The actual title translation is closer to "Kou's Organized Crime Outline", or "Kou no soshiki hanzai no youkou".
Yes, that's absolutely an elaborate and unnecessary thing for an english-speaking writer who doesn't know Japanese to set up. But I like to go that extra mile. (Also, Tsunako and Tsunami are tacky names that ignore the basis of his name to begin with.)
That Girl From Japan (Side A)
The cicadas are deafening.
Maybe that's just bias. Maybe they only seem deafening because there's no breeze rustling the trees, and the summer heat is damp and stifling, and the only other sound seems to be the steady scuff of footsteps against the well-trodden dirt path.
But for Sawada Kou, it seems deafening.
Beads of sweat build up along her spine and neck, despite the fact her body temperature is always so low that she's constantly forced to resort to doing cardio to keep it up, like her heart is constantly forgetting what it means to cycle blood properly. Of course, even a rock will get hot if you leave it in the sun long enough, and she has been in the sun for a while.
The canopy of trees surrounding her don't do much to help. The path takes two hours, and it's uphill both ways thanks to the mountainous region. It's nothing she's not used to; she's been taking it twice a month for the past four years, ever since she was ten years old. At this point, the road is part of her.
Unfortunately, things such as muscle memory developed up to 'the ability to walk on flat surfaces' and promptly gave up there for the rest of her natural development.
As she tries to descend down a particularly massive hill, the forced increase in pace is too much for her poor untrained feet to manage. She shuffles like a penguin in a helpless attempt to grind to a halt, but the velocity is too much, and she just ends up grinding the tips of her toes against the ground, losing her balance entirely. Kou yelps, hits the dirt, and bounces right off the trail and down the side of the hill.
It's not a long drop, and there's plenty of trees to stop her fall before she breaks something on the way down. It still hurts, a lot. She smacks her head first, then her shin collides painfully with another thin trunk. She's reeling in pain and can only bring her arms up to her face in pure instinct when she finally lands in the dirt at the bottom of the drop.
She skins her elbows and her wrist makes an unpleasant shifting feeling.
Then comes the pain.
Kou bites back a scream and digs her feet into the soft, dry earth. When the initial spike dies down and she can find her breath, she slowly staggers to her feet to survey her fall. Not that bad, she considers, even as she nurses her definitely twisted wrist. She checks her bag for crushed vegetables, and sighs in relief when she finds that they're all fine. For what counts as fine, seeing as the fall had dumped them all over the forest floor.
She's used to her own clumsiness and poor coordination, so she doesn't bother taking the time to wallow in self-pity and agony. Kou diligently picks up everything she's dropped, and climbs back onto the trail. She moves slower, this time, careful not to jostle her injury. She had been hoping something would liven up her dull trek, but wishes that something didn't happen to be grievous injury.
Luckily, the local mountain range has a lot of cases like this, and there's a clinic just down the path. Kou regretfully trudges towards it when she hits the fork. That's another twenty minutes to her journey, for no reason. There's sweat slicking her forehead, making her feel disgusting and droopy.
The Clinic is a small building, not really designed for a bunch of people at once, and it sits in a small clearing, like a cottage in a fairy tale. A cottage with a helicopter. The search-and-rescue teams for these mountains operate out of her hometown of Namimori, but the clinic has one on hand to get people out of the area quickly without wasting resources. Usually for people who twisted their ankle or something and don't have anyone to drive them out. Which is a situation Kou has been in at least twice. She likes riding in the helicopter.
Kou pushes through the door with her shoulder, and sighs at the blessed coolness of air conditioning. She finally takes the time to mop the sweat off her face with the front of her T-shirt and places her bag onto her chair.
Kou flinches and turns to sheepishly look at the receptionist leaning lazily against the desk. They've never exchanged names, but they're familiar enough with one-another at this point. "Sorry…I'm still a little clumsy."
"You shouldn't go up past here alone, with how often you hurt yourself."
"At least I give you something to do?"
The receptionist gives her a sardonic look.
Kou flashes her a weak smile. "…Is the doctor in?"
"He's with a patient." The receptionist's eyes flick down towards the floor. Kou follows her gaze, and sucks in a sharp breath when she sees the trail of blood smears and droplets, leading past the lobby into the hall beyond until it disappears into one of the three rooms available for patients.
"Animal attack?" Kou asks.
"Not exactly," the receptionist idly deflects.
"Oh," Kou says, not exactly eager to learn more, and sits down in one of the chairs lining the wall. In the following few minutes, where the only sound is the scratch of the receptionist's pen and the ticking of the too-loud clock on the wall, she can make out voices, mostly short little biting sounds of pain. Kou picks at the wristband around her injured wrist, then pulls it back to peek underneath. It's bruising unpleasantly on one side.
A door opens, and Kou peeks up to see Dr. Ishizaki coming out with a heavily bandaged patient. She sucks her teeth nervously when she sees the tell-tale flare of apple-red hair (that is inexplicably full of sticks and leaves). Her anxiety is validated when the patient's eyes skim languidly across the room to rest heavily on her, staring with an unsettling coldness. He scratches the stubble on his chin idly.
"I recognize you. You come to the Izumi's every now and then, right?"
Kou swallows thickly and nods. She lives in Namimori, but twice a month, she makes this trip to the little bedroom community of Hakuyou to see her grandma Kumiko, her great-aunt Keiko, and whoever else wants to see her at the time. It's mostly just the Izumi family, though. She's been doing it for the past four years, ever since she was ten, and in that time, she's learned to be very wary of autumn-coloured hair.
"I don't think I've ever seen you up close," he says.
She usually crawls through the bushes to get back on the main road unaccosted. "I'm not usually around long."
"Huh. Well, nice to meet you, little lady. Yamazaki Kunihiro." He outstretches a bony, long-fingered hand. Kou's eyes dart from the callouses, to the tan, to the wiry muscles of his arm, to his face.
She bows and gently gives the hand a little shake. "…Sawada Kou."
"HA! SAWADA!" He shouts suddenly, and Kou squeaks and jumps a little in her seat. "Now I remember, Izumi's little girl got swept off her feet by that big lug. He still around?"
Kou, too panicked to speak, simply shakes her head.
"Figures. It's good that you're growing up the way you ought to, though. Kumiko may have left the main family, but it's important we keep the blood strong."
Kou nods. Despite the coolness of the room, she can feel sweat prickling against her skin again.
"Anyway, I ought to be getting back. Thanks for sewing me up, doc. Now I know who to see in a pinch."
"Try not getting shot, next time," Dr. Ishizaki dryly replies.
"Haha, I can't make any promises," Yamazaki waves. Before he goes, he drags his eyes over Kou with the sharpness of a blade against stone, and says "careful. It's a dark world out there."
Kou nods again.
The second the door closes, she lets out a whoosh of air and gasps it back in again. She hadn't realized she was holding her breath, but now her head is…well, it's not pounding, because her heart isn't especially responsive on the best of days, but she feels really dizzy.
The receptionist leans over the desk, grinning gleefully. "Main family? Are you like, some sort of secret heiress?"
"…My gran renounced the family. She's from a clan, that's all. He was probably just interested because of that," Kou mumbles.
Dr. Ishizaki takes pity on her. "Ignore him. He just likes making people uncomfortable. Your family business is your family business. Come on, show me what you did this time."
Kou waves her injured arm meekly. "Sprained it."
"Of course you did," Dr. Ishizaki sighs.
Kou follows him into the examination room, trying to avoid eye contact with the receptionist in the process. She's tired, hurt, and a little spooked, and she just wants to go home as soon as possible. Her wrist throbs, and she takes a steadying breath to keep from flinching when the doctor probes it.
An injury, a vague threat, and a slightly more meaningful conversation with the clinic staff. This is the most exciting her life has gotten in a while. She supposes she should enjoy it while it lasts.
There isn't anything especially interesting about Sawada Kou.
Kou gets back home when the sun is setting. It still hasn't hit the horizon yet, and the city is still illuminated enough that there aren't any creepy shadows, so she supposes that counts as making good time.
Her house is large, with two floors, four bedrooms, and a yard. Kou isn't sure why they need a house that big, when Kou is an only child and her father is too busy stacking up his on-site jobs to bother coming home. It's been just the two of them for two years now, and the extra bedrooms have been converted into a study and a guest room no one ever uses.
She doesn't even spend a lot of time in the house, because if she wants to see her family, she has to head all the way out to Hakuyou. Kou goes over to see her grandmother all the time, but her grandmother — and all her other family members, for that matter — refuses to come see them. Probably all that residual disgust with her father. It's a very lonely home.
When she peeks in the kitchen, the clock on the wall tells her it's only ten after seven. Just after dinner, which means she can eat something warm! This day is going better than she thought.
"I'm home!" Kou calls.
"Welcome back," her mom sings from the kitchen.
Kou quickly slips off her shoes and pads over on rapid tip-toes to the kitchen. Her mother is doing the dishes with her back turned, so Kou quickly drops her bag on the table and hugs her from behind.
"What's for dinner?"
"Well, I found a great sale on steak, so—"
"Yessssss!" Kou looks around for her meal, and zeroes in on the plate still sitting on the table. She skids across the linoleum in her haste to get to it. "Thanks for the meal!"
Her mom turns, frowning, and eyes Kou up and down before her gaze settles on her wrist. "Oh, honey, what happened this time?"
"Went down too fast on one of the hills. Landed on it all wrong. It's not anything bad," Kou says through a mouthful of mashed potatoes, eagerly cutting into her meat.
"Oh, don't do that, you're going to make it worse." Her mom takes Kou's utensils and cuts her steak into pieces that can feasibly fit in a human mouth.
Kou flushes and swallows. "Thanks."
"You need to take care of your body more. Just because it happens often doesn't give you an excuse to treat yourself so badly. What if you get permanently injured? You know, I heard one of your classmates got into an accident, and he lost a whole arm—"
"There's no way that really happened," Kou harrumphes, sticking a juicy chunk of steak in her mouth.
"It did! It was a car accident, and it got crushed! Oh, honey, don't sprint in the streets, I don't want that happening to you— but you should try thinking of it like you're missing an arm, for now. Just don't use it until it feels better."
Kou is too busy chewing to answer, so she raises her eyebrows and nods.
"Good! Just put your plate in the sink when you're done, okay?" Her mom skips back over to the sink again, and Kou eats against the background noise of plates clinking and tuneless humming. Her mom finishes before Kou does, and sways into the living room, where she turns the radio on and pulls out her needlework.
Kou swallows her last bite and licks the potato mush off the plates idly. She cannot for the life of her remember if she has homework left, so she supposes she can just work on her whittling for now. (She probably does have homework, but she can't do assignments she doesn't remember.)
She slides out of her seat and puts the plate in the sink as instructed. On her way out of the kitchen, her mom calls out to her.
"Oh, Kou-chan! Could you come here for a second?"
"'Kay," Kou calls back. She walks backwards until she's standing in the doorway to the living room. "Yeah?"
Her mom holds up a piece of paper. Kou turns around to walk properly forward so she can see it. It's a flier, simple, nothing but words, but the font and design is good enough to make up for it. She scrunches her nose up and reads it aloud.
"'Home Tutor Reborn'…'I'll prepare your child to be the leader of the next generation'. Kinda bombastic phrasing for a tutor."
"Your grades are always so low, though, a home tutor would be wonderful! See, at the bottom, it says he'll only be living here for a year, and the contract can be negotiated. Isn't that nice? He's got a contract!"
"I don't need a tutor," Kou sighs, dropping the paper on the table. Well, technically she does, but she doesn't need someone living in her house breathing down her neck about her complete lack of inability to manage her schoolwork. In her experience, being yelled at only makes her even more unmotivated, and there is nothing more singularly unappealing than the idea of a person whose sole purpose is to yell at her. In her own home.
"Of course you do! Kou-chan, it'll be fine, he'll get his own room, and I'll make sure there's no funny business!"
Kou grimaces and refrains from commenting on poor phrasing. "It's fine. I can get my grades up on my own."
"Hmm…" Her mom doesn't contradict her, but she doesn't agree either, and she's still staring at the flier. Kou sighs. She might have to actively chase the tutor out. Probably wouldn't be very hard. She's earned a sizable reputation for being intolerable at school, why not at home?
"…Oh, right. Everyone got us stuff." Kou bounces back into the kitchen and grabs her bag from the table. "Uhmmm…It's mostly Gran's veggies this time."
"Ooh, let me see, let me see!" Her mom outstretches a pair of grabby hands.
Kou walks back over and dumps the contents out onto the table. "Veggies, some of the kids made a bunch of bracelets, and Kouta tried to give me a stag beetle but I had to tell him that I couldn't bring it home."
"Ooh! Put the bracelets on, they can remind you not to use your wrist."
"Mom," Kou laments, but she does it anyway. "Uhmmm, Great-Aunt Keiko gave us a box of tea, Auntie Yuuko gave me an old dotera, Uncle Daisuke gave me these little taxidermy birds, again, aaand Uncle Hiroshi got some wood for me and yarn for you, since you said you wanted to try knitting out."
"He does love giving you birds," her mom says, idly turning the little feathered figure around.
"The bases are cheap and small, and birds are all I know how to whittle, it makes sense for him," Kou shrugs. She had taken up whittling because she felt threatened by her mother's inhuman speed and generosity regarding embroidery and needlework, and felt obliged to have her own craft hobby to give to extended family members while out on her trips. So far, very fat, very round birds are all she can do with any sort of competency, since they're simple and the rough blockiness of her work kind of looks like feathers. She has made at least forty wrens by now. She thinks her Uncle Daisuke must have just assumed she really likes birds.
"What's that?" Her mom picks the edge of the bag up to reveal fabric underneath.
"Whoops." Kou pulls it out and unfolds it a bit, revealing the big quilted blanket. She pulls a face at the family emblem for the Kouyou clan decorating it. The Izumi family belongs to the Tsukioka clan. It feels like a pointed statement. "Uhm…It's from the…the 'main family'. Uncle Naoki, I think."
"Oh my goodness! It's beautiful!" Her mom gets to her feet so she can unfold the whole thing. It's a vivid red, and padded, probably intended for winter use. The white stitches and careful shape of the emblems gives Kou the impression that it's been painstakingly hand-stitched, in the way that takes years of work. "Strange, the Kouyou family never tried to contact us before."
"One of them caught me accepting gifts last month and kinda forced me to take it. I guess they've given up on getting gran to make up with them," Kou shrugs.
"Aww, well isn't that sweet. I'll have to make something for them to say thank you!"
"Please don't," Kou whimpers. Logically, she knows this is probably a genuine effort to keep the family close, but in the past four years, her grandmother has practically indoctrinated her on all the ways the Kouyou family — or rather, the main family — is populated entirely by soulless demons. When she was ten, she saw someone with red hair on the street and spontaneously burst into tears. Her mother had to buy her a new dress to get her to stop.
"Did anyone else want anything?" Her mother continues like she didn't even hear her, sifting through the little objects spread over the table.
Kou plops down on the seat cushion and folds her arms on the table. "Not really. I think Uncle Hiroshi would really like some wine, though. It's hard to get the good stuff out there, and the alcohol they sell over on Kokuyou Street isn't too great. Namimori isn't much better."
"Oh, wine? I have just the thing!" Her mother carefully folds the padded blanket up and bounces over to the cabinet. Kou watches her in wary confusion when she pulls open the cupboards, and her eyebrows shoot up when she removes a panel in the back and pulls out two very expensive-looking wine bottles.
"Mom, that's dad's!"
"Oh, like he's even here to drink it. I doubt he even remembers they're here, it's been so long. Here, look." She sits down and places the two huge bottles on the table so they're facing Kou. "These are good brands. You give Uncle Hiroshi this one," she points at the smaller, less expensive-looking one, "and this other one goes to Uncle Naoki or whoever will take it."
"Mom, I don't think it's a good idea to associate with them!"
"Oh nonsense, they're family, aren't they? I bet every grievance my mom has with them is decades old!"
Kou doesn't have the heart to tell her how wrong she is. "…I'll bring it over at the end of the month."
"Good girl. You want to watch TV?"
"Nah, I'm going up to my room."
Kou gets up. The beads on her new bracelet clack together, and she looks at them mulishly. It's cute, but now reduced to a symbol of her mother's nagging. She supposes she'll come to like them as her wrist heals. Right now it's twanging unpleasantly, so that probably won't be for a while.
She gathers the dotera and the birds and brings them upstairs to her room. It's closed, so she pulls off a sock and turns the handle with her toes. Then she awkwardly grabs her sock with her toes and hobbles inside. Versatility with various appendages is a good thing when you are especially prone to fumbling with whatever's in your hands.
Her room isn't really the average teenage girl's ideal. Or the average teenage anything's ideal. Her room isn't big enough to cram in enough furniture to hold all the knick-knacks she's amassed over the years, and she's not very good at any practical skills that might have helped her case, so the walls are littered with mostly-lopsided shelves in random places, covered with little taxidermy birds, various figurines, and three wooden sculptures of bears catching fish. Some of the bigger shelves hold more delicate things like porcelain dolls and glass sculptures.
While her walls are a mess with an uncanny resemblance to a hoard, the rest of her room is just a plain, run-of-the-mill mess. There's clothes all over the floor, a stack of dishes on the chair in the corner, and her work desk is covered in scattered paper so disorganized she can't remember what belongs to which lesson and when it was due.
Kou puts her new birds up on the nearest shelf and closes the door with her foot so she can hook the dotera on the back. It's a pretty nice one, dark blue and thick, and it's definitely less embarrassing to wear a padded coat rather than a bathrobe when she's at minimum body temperature in the morning.
She peels off her clothes and pulls on a baggy shirt and a pair of sweatpants. Good sleepwear, and easy to take off so she can take a shower first thing in the morning while she's still half-asleep. She's nowhere near competent enough to manage buttons when she's just waking up.
With a satisfied sigh, Kou slumps into her chair, clears the papers off her desk, and pulls out a small chunk of wood and her knife. She scowls down at it, waiting for inspiration to strike. It does not. The wood just sits there, being very wood-like. Mocking her. With a noise of distaste, she shaves off a strip of wood. It does nothing to deter the object's refusal to produce a good idea. She looks around her, at the shelves, and sees nothing that really gives her a spark of creativity, or whatever it is that inspires artist-types.
…Fat birds it is, then.
Kou wakes up sluggishly to birdsong and a bright sun shining cheerfully through her curtains. She sniffs and swats her face, only just barely managing to coordinate her hand to her mouth to wipe away the drool. She wonders how to best get herself up today; she's especially sensitive to the cold in the mornings, after laying down for so long, and there is no greater suffering than the inevitable temperature shift that comes with actually getting out of bed.
Eventually, she just decides to rush it. She whips the blankets off herself, stumbles to her feet in a half-asleep stupor, and runs out of her room to the bathroom as the temperature difference between the warm, insulating blankets and the crisp morning air seeps into her. She whips her clothes off, practically falls into the shower, and turns the water on.
After a few minutes in the steaming hot water, she can feel her heart begin to throb thickly, using the heat available to start cycling valuable oxygen through her body again. Finally. Temperature. She takes a deep breath of thick, damp air and lets it out. She thinks she's awake enough for the morning now. But she got really gross and sweaty yesterday, so she still stays in for a little while longer.
Kou turns the water off, rubs her hair down with a towel, and holds another around herself while she grabs her clothes and dashes back into her room. She slips on her uniform, and, after a moment of thought, the new dotera her aunt Yuuko gave her.
Downstairs, her mom is only just starting breakfast. Kou bounds over. "Morning!"
"Morning, Kou-chan! That coat looks good on you," her mom smiles.
Kou pulls at the edges of the dotera and turns left and right. "Really? I thought I might look like an old fogey."
"I think you're missing the belly-warmer," her mom teases.
Kou sticks out her tongue and gets to setting the table.
She goes back to her project from last night while waiting for breakfast to be ready. She finished the base, and is now starting to carve the delicate lines of the feathers, shaping the twig-like legs underneath as she focuses on the bottom. She doesn't think she has enough paint for it, though; she'll have to stop by the craft store to buy some more.
Then breakfast is served, so she puts the little wooden figure and her knife aside and starts shoveling it in. Her mom watches on with a combination of awe and appreciation. "Hungry today?"
Kou gives a slight tilt of her head to indicate a non-committal deflection. She doesn't have to explain her eating habits. Food is nice and she loves it. Besides, calories are good for her eternally dismal energy levels. She's already building muscle in her thighs, even if her arms are sticks, it makes sense for her to want to pile on the calories…
She hits the bottom of her bowl of rice. Kou glances up at the clock and hums when she sees the time. Only five to seven; she's up early today. She drinks down the rest of her miso soup and hurries her plates to the sink.
"You're going to fall over again if you keep rushing like that," her mom sings at her.
"I'm a busy person," Kou sings back. She takes her bentou box out and scoops the remaining rice into it. "Did you make side dishes?"
"I think I still have some baby potatoes from last night in the fridge."
"Baby potatoes aren't a side dish!" Kou argues, but she still digs through the fridge and empties the plastic container of potatoes into her lunch box. She's not a picky eater, and the specifics of bentou artistry are entirely beyond her. Maybe if she chopped them up. But she's too lazy for that. "What about seasoning?"
"Aren't there salmon flakes? I'm sure I had some lying around."
"Salmon-seasoned rice and baby potatoes," Kou mumbles scornfully at her lunch, but she still grabs the flakes and sloppily covers her rice with it. "Okay, that should be fine."
"I remember when you couldn't make your bentou at all," her mom recalls, waving her chopsticks to and fro. "You set the stove on fire once. Your poor father almost had a heart attack when he heard about it."
Kou flushes. "I'm not used to cooking! There's so much waiting! I thought turning it up would be faster!"
"See, I told you, if you don't slow down, you'll get into more accidents."
Kou scowls and continues to move quickly as she wraps her handkerchief around the box with a single hand and her teeth and stuffs it in her school bag. "I'll turn into a slug if I stop, though."
"But you'll be my safe slug," her mom croons.
"Well, your safe slug is going to school now!" Kou pulls the dotera off, wincing at the deprivation of such great heat insulation, and pulls on her usual orange cardigan. She slides across the linoleum to give her mom a quick hug, grabs her whittling things, and then dashes to the door.
"Don't run in the streets!" Her mom calls.
"I won't!" Kou pulls on her wristbands and her new bracelets, careful not to jostle her wrist.
"And remember, like you only have one hand!"
"I love you!"
"I love you too! I'm off!"
"Have a nice day!"
Kou yanks on her runners and dashes out the door.
She doesn't think she can actually stop herself from running to school like she's on a time limit. The mid-length commute is just enough to strain her endurance, and it gets her heart pumping, which gives Kou a good second wind that helps her tolerate the steady temperature drop she usually suffers while sitting still in class. So she figures she'll just run on the sidewalks this time.
…So, basically, just like usual. But she won't run across the roads this time, so it's different! …Probably.
There aren't many people out yet, though there's a lot of cars and people on the main streets making their own morning commutes. Most students will be at home for another fifteen to twenty minutes before they're ready to leave. Kou likes leaving early for that exact reason; less people to collide into.
She jogs at an easy pace, watching Namimori coming to life around her as she goes. After getting used to running around town in elementary school, she's coordinated enough to circle around any people who cross her path, and jump over obstacles like empty aluminum cans, unconscious men, and cats. She just wishes that this coordination could extend to more complicated terrains. She only sprained her right wrist this time, but if she doesn't get better, she's going to injure something way more important. Like her legs. Again.
Kou comes upon a stretch of sidewalk completely empty of people, and she instinctively increases her pace to a full sprint. Her feet pound against the cement, and she can feel her blood thundering in her eardrums, the wind whipping through her hair and clothes. She feels more than anything like she's moving. She can already feel her temperature soaring, and she'll probably be red-faced by the time she gets to school, and the feeling of skidding on the corner and turning onto the next stretch is so satisfying, she feels like she's on fire—
Something hooks on the back of her collar, and Kou is choked by the ribbon of her school uniform. Her lower half goes flying out from underneath her at the sudden tilt in balance, and she falls to the ground in a hacking, breathless heap, clutching at the agony in her throat.
When she finally looks up, it's into the glaring face of a schoolmate.
"Mochida-san," Kou rasps.
Mochida folds his arms and scowls down at her. "What the hell are you doing running down the streets like that? You're going to get yourself killed. You're going to get someone else killed. You trip on air."
"There wasn't anyone on the sidewalk, though…"
Kou slowly pulls herself up to her feet and gives Mochida an unfavourable once-over. He's been in the neighbouring class ever since kindergarten, with the exception of their current year in middle school, and Kou doesn't actually know him all that well. She used to, but they drifted apart, on account of him being a boy and popular and responsible and into some sort of sport, and her being a girl and a social pariah and more interested in fleeing clubs than participating in them.
At least he hasn't really changed over the years. Still taller than her, still refusing to brush down his awful mess of black hair, still sort of sneering at her like he thinks she should be enchanted that he is gifting her with his presence.
"…What did you want?" She mumbles, when Mochida doesn't continue to jeer at her.
He stiffens. "What makes you think I want something?"
"You wouldn't talk to me unless you did."
He nods in concession. "…Well, that's true. Listen, you got strong legs, right?"
Kou tilts her head. "I guess?"
"Then I need your help climbing something. C'mere." He grabs her by her good wrist and starts yanking her along, and Kou helplessly falls into step, glaring into the back of Mochida's bedhead. There's a covered sword on his back, and she vaguely remembers he has something to do with kendo. That was the sport he does, right?
He turns on the next road instead of heading in the direction of the school. It's another section of the residential area, all lined by walls. Mochida continues to drag her down the road, then abruptly stops about half a block in. At Kou's questioning look, he points up.
It's a tree.
"You want my help climbing a tree?" Kou asks flatly.
"No, dumbass, I need your help staying in the tree. It's too brittle to hold me, and you're going to have to work it off the branch." He points and tilts his arm a bit. Kou tilts her whole body to see what he's indicating; a simple omamori charm, the kind you can get for cheap at any shrine. Her expression flattens even further. Mochida flushes and adjusts his posture a bit. "A girl gave it to me."
Of course. "Give me a second."
Kou hoists herself up the wall, and manages to grab an overhanging tree branch with one little hop. Mochida is right about it being brittle; it bends under her weight, and she has to skip right into the trunk to get a good, tangible grip. She kicks air for a few seconds before finally gripping the trunk with the soles of her shoes and pushing up far enough to actually get on top of a thicker branch. From there, it's simple enough to slither over, shake the charm out, and drop out of the tree again.
"You got it?"
"Yes, I got it, were you even watching me?" Kou scrambles on top of the wall and turns to check at the house behind her.
There is a teenage girl staring straight at her from one of the windows, hands still holding her curtains.
Kou flushes, holds up the omamori charm, and then points at the tree where it was lodged. The girl furrows her brow and nods, accepting this excuse. Kou practically falls off the wall in her effort to get out of sight and shoves the charm into Mochida's hands.
"There, are you happy?"
"Yeah, thanks," Mochida dismisses, completely losing interest in her now that he got what he wanted. Kou sticks her tongue out him like she's retching and marches off to school.
Unfortunately, Mochida also attends the same school, and immediately follows.
"Soooo," He says, because he can't leave a good, well-rounded silence in peace. "Why don't you join track?"
"I don't join clubs."
Mochida gives her an ugly snort. "Why not?"
"When you think about it, isn't it suspicious? I mean, how many street gangs are there in Namimori?"
"Well, a lot, but it's like that everywhere."
"Right? But how many of those are from middle and high school?"
Mochida scratches his head. "Uh…a…lot?"
Kou points in triumph. "You see! It's weird that it's like that! Isn't it? When you think about what would cause them to form like that, obviously it's the clubs, right? It's the clubs! If there's one thing that groups students together, you're obviously going to think of clubs, right?"
He gives her a blank look. "…There's no gangs in Namimiddle, though."
Kou blinks, not actually expecting a contradiction to her infallible logic. "Huh?"
"There's no gangs at our school. Even if your 'school club gang' theory wasn't stupid as hell, the Disciplinary Committee cleans out everyone who even sneezes wrong. How did you not notice?"
"I don't pay attention to criminal scum," Kou replies resolutely.
Mochida squints and levels her with a suspicious look.
Whatever comment he might have given in response to that is cut short with the call of 'MOCHIDAAAA' from down the street. They both look up to see a group of people. They all have long, thin bags like Mochida's on their backs. Presumably swords. Kou silently congratulates herself on correctly recalling Mochida's club.
"Later, dweeb," Mochida says, and runs to meet his friends.
They greet him with laughter and pats on the back. One of them turns back to look at Kou, who is mostly just standing there, wondering why Mochida, who clearly does not deserve nice things, still gets them.
"Why you hanging out with her? She's totally brainless, isn't she?"
"Oh, yeah. But we're childhood friends, you know?" Mochida shrugs.
Kou makes the tongue-out retching face again. He makes it right back.
"Do your moms know each other?" One of the boy asks.
"I heard her mom's raising her by herself," says a second.
"Nah, just most of the time. Her dad's never around, but he's pretty cool," Mochida shrugs.
Kou lets her gaze linger on the group, unsure of what she even wants from them. They're talking candidly about her life like she's not even there. Maybe that's a rule of gossip, but she was under the impression that you're supposed to wait until the subject is out of earshot before getting chatty.
She takes a deep breath, turns on her heel, and starts running again.
The students are only just starting to file in when Kou arrives at Namimori Middle School. No one else bothers her, and she dances around anyone who could possibly stand between her and her destination. She slips out of her runners into her indoor shoes, hugs her bag to her chest, and dashes up the stairs on pure leg power.
Most of the students don't pay any attention to her, which is…technically how she prefers it. When people pay attention to her, it's usually in a very unpleasant, jeering sort of way. Unfortunately, Mochida's friends aren't an isolated incident. Not that she cares. She's never been particularly desperate for friends, if she wants to talk to someone, there's always everyone in Hakuyou. She's honestly better off by herself, even if it makes for a boring school life.
Kou reaches the very top of the staircase, and the metal door to the roof. She pulls the spare key from around her neck, silently thanks her math teacher for giving her such a rare and precious gift, and pushes forth into the warm and welcoming sunlight. The roof is spotless, as usual, though she's not the one maintaining it. She supposes someone comes here at some other point in the day to keep it clean.
She does a quick sweep for people, peeking around and above the door block, just in case. Satisfied that she's definitely alone up here, she cheerfully goes around to the side and yanks out her futon from underneath the crumpled blue tarp she had placed here at the beginning of the semester. She brings it to the middle of the roof and unfurls it, careful for wrinkles and lumps. As she runs her hands over the surface, she spots…black hairs? She picks one up and rolls it between her fingers. Coarse black hair. Her hair is so soft and thin it's in a perpetual state of floaty frizz, and it's brown, so this obviously doesn't belong to her.
Someone's been using her futon.
…Oh, well, it's not like they got it dirty, anyway. She drops to her knees and promptly flops over onto her face, finally feeling the exhaustion turn her to jelly. She doesn't even have the energy to flip over. She's done. She's finished. She's dead now. She doesn't even have the energy for outrage.
The sun feels sooooooooo goooooooooood.
The sounds of arriving students and balls hitting bats echoes in the distance, far beneath her, and she focuses on smooth, easy breaths, building a steady rhythm that makes her feel calm, relaxed, and at ease. After a while, breathing doesn't hurt anymore, and she turns on her back so she can feel the sun against her front too. She wriggles pleasantly. Even her wrist feels better now.
The noises are getting louder and more frequent. The bell is probably going to ring soon. She stretches her legs and arms out, moaning with the strain, and goes limp again. She doesn't really want to get up, but her teacher will yell at her for being late. She doesn't care for homeroom, but she does care for following school policy and not making waves, so…
Kou rolls over and pushes herself to her feet, rolls up the futon, and puts it back under the tarp. She rubs her eyes and squints at the desaturation caused by staring into her eyelids for too long. Everything seems very blue.
More students. She shuffles over to the fence and looks over to see a crowd heading into the building. She doesn't have a watch on her, but she guesses she has about fifteen minutes to go—
Something is looking at her.
Kou jumps back from the fence and snaps her gaze sharply toward the trees down in the courtyard. A bird emerges from them, and flies up past her. Carefully, she gets closer to the fence and peers suspiciously at the trees. She doesn't see any shapes in them. Her gaze travels along the courtyard, and in the windows, but she just can't see anybody who could have been looking at her with that level of predatory intensity.
Probably just the bird then. Somehow.
Kou goes downstairs.
Typically, teachers, especially homeroom teachers, have a parental role in their students lives. They take care of them, manage their lives, and keep them out of trouble. You should be able to go to your teachers for advice, or at least the most rudimentary of guidance in times of trouble. Maybe for a lesson plan or something. Kou wouldn't know, because her homeroom teacher is evil.
Nezu Dohachiro is an especially grouchy man in his fifties who holds the class homeroom, as well as Science. He has an incredibly bad habit of picking out a 'scapegoat student' amongst each of his classes, which is to say, the first person with low test scores to cross his mind. Kou had narrowly escaped this fate last year by pretending to cry and yelling at him for antagonizing a young girl, but she can tell he kinda hates her anyway.
Currently, Kou sits in the second row, two from the right, and the current scapegoat — Okumura Kenta — sits directly behind her, so come Science class, she gets to hear Nezu antagonize a 14-year-old boy in excruciating detail.
"Just a hypothetical situation," Nezu says, passing Okumura's test over so anyone who cares to look can see the huge '20' scribbled in red in the corner. "But if someone got nothing but failing test scores…could it really be said that this person has a future? While everyone was trying their best, that the school resources have to be wasted on someone who can't sum up the effort for even one or two passes, don't you think that isn't very fair?"
Okumura swallows and fidgets. "I-I guess not."
"Then, why wouldn't this child be working hard like the rest of us?"
"I-I don't know sir."
"Surely, you'll do better in the future?"
Okumura nods. "…Yes, sir."
The classroom giggles.
Kou redirects her attention to her own poor grade.
She loses temperature just sitting in one place, but she can't fidget, because then she'll get the full brunt of Nezu's unstoppable pettiness. She's playing it safe, this year. Just because Nezu isn't going to publicly bully her doesn't mean he isn't going to make her life hell in more creative ways. It's better to be invisible, in this school.
Kou does her best to focus on her lessons and do as much as conceivably possible during class, seeing as she never actually remembers to do her homework, and a poorly done lesson is better than no lesson at all. She can hear Okumura's flustered sorting through his work behind her, but she doesn't turn to look. She's decided to just keep her nose out of trouble. Barring Okumura actually crying, she doesn't think she has it in her to pile his problems onto her own.
Kou manages to just barely survive until lunch break, at least. She's had trouble parsing her work for years, but she's getting better at it. Maybe one day she can even do something as ambitious as actually focusing for an entire day. For now, her notes are a diligent list and her worksheets are a pathetic patchwork. It's the best she can do, regardless of what her teachers say.
Free from her student obligations, Kou immediately dashes out of the classroom and races up the stairs. She is glad she took up running at such a young age, it does wonders for her stamina levels. Lately, unless she's been running for a while, all she has to deal with is how much her thighs hurt! She feels she could probably do pretty well as a delivery girl or something.
The door to the roof is still unlocked, and Kou skids to a stop in the middle of the great expanse of featureless cement, looking around. She doesn't bother looking above the landing, since she doesn't really plan on being here too long; recovery naps are for mornings and afternoons. Instead, she just wanders suspiciously to the part of the fence she had looked over before, the one that overlooks the trees in the courtyard. She looks hard this time, or as hard as one can look while unpacking a bentou box while using a fence as a second hand thanks to an injured wrist.
Kou pulls her chopsticks out with the bentou held up by the pressure of her hip against the rusted metal, still looking over in search of Suspicious Characters or Places Suspicious Characters Could Theoretically Be. It's still just the trees, the section between the two parts of the building, and the windows. She stabs a potato and sticks it in her mouth while leaning bodily on the fence. Something about that moment bugged her. Like she was missing something something important about the situation, and her subconscious keeps getting pinged by it.
Kou takes a few bites of cold, dry rice sprinkled with salmon. Maybe she's just being paranoid. The students milling about are perfect reference points for places people could be hiding, and they aren't revealing anything. She can't think of any real reason to think that there was a person there. Or that something interesting would ever happen to her. Nothing ever does.
She leans in farther to watch two first-years sprint across the area, and hears an ominous sort of creaking. It's her only warning.
The thing about Kou, unfortunately enough, is that while she is very fast on her feet, she's not nearly as quick on the uptake. Her instincts are as sharp as the edge of a cucumber. Stupid things like tripping over her own feet and spraining her wrist on a tumble across the forest floor can happen to her because she is simply not fast enough to react.
So the fence collapses under her weight.
And Kou isn't fast enough to react.
Everything tilts sideways and the anchor she was leaning against is suddenly victim to spinning gravity, she can barely understand what's happening around her, everything is screaming chaos and twisted metal and grains of rice falling around her. Four storeys. Shrieks of students. The ground rushing to meet her. A enormous, clamorous orange something ringing in her head and pulling at her chest, but even if she listened to it, she's not fast enough to react.
She's in too much shock to truly comprehend the fear, so it's nothing more than a disoriented blur. She can see the detail of the grass, streaks of green in brilliant criss-crossed shadows, and it swoops into countless feet, into the school building, into the sky, her sense of gravity turning like a planetary orbit with the firm sensation of fingers clutching her by the waist as her only tether.
She can feel one of her toes gently graze the ground. She lets it down, followed by the ball of her foot, her heel, and the other foot as well, so that she's standing. On the ground. Safely. The grip is released. She is gazing in stunned, wide-eyed terror at the tree in front of her, but she sort of has the impression that people are staring at her. This is not new, but considering this staring is in reaction to her clearly destroying school property and being miraculously rescued from her own hubris, her face manages to heat up anyway.
Her bentou sits pathetically upturned at her feet.
Slowly, she turns around to look her saviour dead in the eyes.
He's a tall man. Broad-shouldered. Good-looking. Foreign. Eyes like glittering pieces of flint, black and searching in a way that makes Kou's skin crawl, even if it makes sense to check her over after what just happened. He's wearing a black fedora that matches his expensive-looking black suit, with the orange band mirroring his orange shirt. His hair is wiry and thick, sticking out from under his hat in jagged angles formed from the twist of curls and presumably a spot of mousse, and the long, thin hairs leading from his sideburns are twirled into loose half-spirals.
This is quite possibly the sketchiest person Kou has ever had the misfortune of meeting. And that's including her extended family.
"The school should have been maintaining those," the man says after a moment, in perfect Japanese, "you should probably sue."
"I-I'm fine, thanks," Kou breathes, inching away slowly.
The man narrows his eyes and looks at her with the grimness of a reaper. "You should sue."
"Are…are you a lawyer?"
The man, concerningly, does not feel the need to deign that with an answer. Instead, his onyx-black eyes flick down, towards her skirt. They hold there for a while, which Kou finds most concerning of all, before glancing up at the students, who abruptly stop whispering at each other about the whole 'student nearly falling to her death' thing. He seems to be searching for something in their reactions, and after what feels like forever, he finally looks satisfied.
He redirects his attention towards Kou.
"I'm looking for the principal's office."
She lifts a trembling hand and points him in that general direction. He nods, and leaves.
There's a strained silence in his absence, of a moderately sized group of people all witnessing something weird together, and not being sure if there's really any point in communicating the weirdness at all. Most of them are staring at Kou again. Feeling twice as self-conscious now, she carefully picks her bentou box off the ground and quietly laments its loss. Her lid is underneath a pile of fence shrapnel, and she has to work to pry that out too. Very clumsily, of course, thanks to her wrist. Something about the pathetic sight seems to re-activate at least half the student's brains, and the rest continues as per usual.
"Haha! No-brains Kou is so clumsy she really almost got herself killed this time!" The first one to recover laughs.
The students titter, and others join in.
"How did she even survive this long?"
"The fence doesn't even look that rusted, I bet she tripped right into it."
"Hey, No-Brains, why don't you join the basketball team and trip into the opponents for us?"
"Don't let her into your team, you'll be guaranteed to lose!"
Kou tilts her head to look at the sky.
She's kinda happy that fall didn't kill her. A little bit.
Deciding that the bullying is getting a little too exaggerated a little too quickly, she decides to derail the little antagonism session before it really gets going.
"Ah!" Kou fake-winces, clutching her wrist. She pretends no one else is around while she inspects it. "It hurts…It must have gotten sprained…from, uh. Whiplash. Probably."
The insults cut out into uncertainty now that she is no longer safe and unharmed — which is to say, an acceptable target. You don't pick on someone who gets in a terrible accident and comes out injured, after all. That's a genuinely mean thing to do by society's standards, and there's nothing middle school teenagers are more terrified of than being held accountable for being monstrous assholes.
"You should go to the infirmary," a girl suggests hesitantly.
"You're right," Kou simpers. "I should do that."
"Why don't you go find your boyfriend Mochida to help you," some rude rando that Kou doesn't care about sneers.
"Haha, who would ever want Mochida to be their boyfriend," Kou laughs, and then, realizing that's too aggressive for an Unacceptable Injured Target, immediately switches back to nervous simpering again.
The witnesses eventually lose interest and leave. Making fun of Kou is ultimately less exciting than running to their friends and gossiping about Kou falling off a building and nearly dying. If Kou had friends, she would probably do the same. Well, she'd see that the person is okay and has someone to take care of them first, because she's not a jerk, but maybe the nine courtyard witnesses just weren't the kind of people to do that. Maybe if the same thing happened with nine other students, they'd all escort her in a swarm, or something.
But she did not get those hypothetical nine alternate students. So she's alone.
She should probably be more anxious about that, but years of having to deal with this and the constant support and encouragement of her grandmother has trained her out of the ability to actually experience social stress, she thinks. So, sure. Sure, she can go to the infirmary alone. It isn't that big of a deal, and if she had to worry about anything that just happened, it would be that that foreigner really freaks her out and she hopes she never ever meets him again.
Kou darts between students to get to the infirmary, careful not to run, and has to hop on one foot through the door because a crowd of four had decided to stop in front of it, giving her very little room for her legs to maneuver. She stumbles, rights herself, and looks around.
The school nurse, Hamada Ayame, is reviewing something on her desk. She glances over her shoulder and looks dully at her. "What is it this time?"
Kou holds her hand up pathetically. "I…theoretically sprained my wrist falling off the roof?"
"Oh my- let me see," Hamada startles, rushing over to check Kou over, first for injuries, then for the wrist. Her fluster dies at the sight of the bandage underneath her sweatband. "…Theoretically."
"I did fall off the roof! But someone caught me before I could get hurt."
"He kinda just…grabbed me by the waist and spun me around once? For velocity reasons, maybe? it seemed to work fine," Kou shrugs.
"A foreign guy."
"A foreign guy, it's always the foreign guys," the nurse sighs, like this isn't even the first time this has happened.
"Soooo, now the fence is all over the courtyard and I'm hiding out in here."
"All over the…for goodness sake, you're a handful. I'll go tell the principal, and talk about proper safety measures," she groans, and marches off into the hall.
Kou gently pulls the door almost-closed behind her to block most of the sounds outside and glances around again. The school infirmary is small and peaceful, all white and green curtains, and Hamada's desk is disorganized in a comfortingly lived-in sort of way. She slowly makes her way across the floor with swinging steps, careful to see if anyone is occupying the beds, but she's in luck; there's no one here.
She slumps on the nearest bed and flops over. Her wrist is kind of throbbing, but at least she somehow managed to avoid jolting it. At least, at least, at least. It occurs to her that she is way too optimistic for someone whose life sucks this much. She can't complain, seeing as she is pretty optimistic about it.
Right. Noon. She pulls the waistband of her skirt up and gently pulls the estrogen patch just under it off, flinching at the odd sensation. She discards it in the nearest trashcan and then continues laying on the bed with her legs dangling off the edge, arms akimbo. She should probably do some running exercises, but then again, Hamada may actually strap her to the bed and leave her there if she finds out.
Kou lets out a heavy breath, closes her eyes, and tries to rela—
Someone is watching her.
She leaps to her feet and whips her head to the window. There's a flicker of a moving shadow, but she can't tell if it's from the leaves just outside or a person leaving. Her heart is hammering painfully in her chest. She can feel goosebumps roll through her like thousands of icebergs breaking the surface. She feels cold and dizzy and hyper-vigilant.
Slowly, carefully, Kou gets up and makes her way to the window. Nothing jumps out at her. When she opens it and peeks outside, there are no hidden shapes. Whoever was looking at her must have taken off. She finds this more alarming than the concept of someone hiding, because now she can't ask anyone how on earth she could feel someone looking at her. Once again, she is struck with the thought that she's missing something. Cold sweat is trickling down her spine.
Someone knocks at the door, and Kou jumps three feet and screams like she's dying.
There's a startled silence, as one would expect if you knocked on a door and the sound of someone being brutally murdered erupted from the room you were looking to enter. Kou sinks to the floor and groans. That scared the hell out of her. She's not normally this jumpy.
Slowly, carefully, the door opens, and a head of mid-length brown hair peeks out from around the edge. Kou straightens as she makes direct eye contact with the terribly, horribly, wonderfully familiar face of fellow second-year Sasagawa Kyouko.
Sasagawa Kyouko probably has no place talking to someone like Kou. She is the school idol. As in, the entire school idolizes her. She's the Namimori Middle School Madonna. Her soul is as pure as untrodden white snow, she regards everyone with kindness, and she is always optimistic without fail. There is not a single aspect about this girl that is not totally perfect. She's even in Leadership. Kou could never take Leadership. She took Home Economics and managed to put herself in irreversible debt doing hypothetical taxes and set the stove on fire.
She's also very, very pretty.
Kyouko flashes her a hesitant smile. Kou slides down a little bit farther, lets a sloppy, nervous smile pull at her lips, and sums up the courage to stand. "Ha, haha! Hello, Kyouko-chan! Funny seeing you here! In the infirmary! What brings you here? To the infirmary?"
"The boxing club ran out of supplies," Kyouko says.
Kou stares blankly at her.
"My brother is in the boxing club," Kyouko explains.
"Oh. Oh! Of course…of course he is! In the boxing club! Hahaha!" Kou swings off to the side and practically throws herself into the storage cupboards. Kyouko can only watch in muted horror as Kou flops all over the shelves with impressive ragdoll-like physiology as she collects various bandages, types of gauze, every kind of adhesive bandage one would typically put on a body, and various bottles of antiseptic. She knows she is probably making a fool of herself, and may actually drop these because of her wrist, but it would just be another day in the life of Sawada Kou, human trainwreck.
She collects all of the items into the handkerchief of her bentou, ties it, and thrusts it into Kyouko's hands. "Okay, so there's the strip bandages, always a classic, the segmented bandages for fingertips — those are the ones that look like butterfly wings — and the knuckles — the segmented ones — as well as the butterfly closure type for holding cuts. Then there's some tensor bandages and triangle bandages for the usual, you know, getting gored, impaled, and generally sliced open? I'm not sure when you'd need those, barring, say, a bear attack. Aha! Ahaha. Hahaha."
Kyouko looks uncharacteristically serious. Like the boxing club fighting bears is an actual potential problem.
"…Haaaa okay. Is that all you need?"
"You sure know a lot about first aid," Kyouko says, examining the bundle.
"My lack of coordination is notorious amongst my doctors. As are my very brittle bones. Hamada-sensei has given up on me entirely. If I told her that the stuff I took was for me, she'd probably give me more," Kou continues to laugh, very awkwardly.
Kyouko looks mildly horrified. The cold sweat on the nape of Kou's neck has yet to abate.
"But I'm okay! I mean, obviously. So you're all set! I'm going to go lie down now. Have fun!" And with that, Kou sprints across the room and dives into the safety of a curtained bed, where she can bury her furiously blushing face in the pillow in peace. She's not normally a very anxious person, but with Kyouko, she's a mess.
"Okay, uhm…thank you?" Kyouko calls.
There's a little bit of hesitation, like Kyouko expected a response. Getting none, she leaves and closes the door behind her.
Now that she's alone again, Kou lets out a long, tortured groan, and flops over on her back to stare at the ceiling with her hands resting on her stomach. Today isn't a good day for her. Maybe someday she can channel her casual, all-accepting can't-do attitude into confronting her bullies, or actually talking to Kyouko normally, but until then, she's sitting steady in the darkest depths of inadequacy and invisibility.
Kou holds her hands to her hot face and lets out a quiet, thrilled squeal. "I really got to talk to Kyouko-chan!"
About the story: There's two facets. One, I wanted to spitewrite an actually reasonable "genderbend", and another is to write a story for an entirely different demographic without justifying any of the absurd bullshit the ~marketed to ages 11-15~ manga pulled off. I mean, I love doing that? But I wanted to try something more flexible.
The entire point of KHR was that Tsuna was a feeble-hearted good-for-nothing who wasn't appealing unless he got his act together, and if you flip the genders 1:1, it will break the story; a lot of Tsuna's traits aren't considered awful and unappealing on a girl! Meekness and admiring people from a distance aren't pathetic, they're the gold standard, and aggression is the ugly stuff. If you wanted the Point of KHR to translate (expectations being forced upon an average, somewhat unappealing kid).
Unlike DET, which is just As Many Hijinks As I Can Physically Manage, this is very dry, languid, and strictly paced, which is why I burnt out on it, because I wasn't sure I was far gone enough to write an actual honest-to-god original novel about pieces of KHR.
WELL I CLEARLY AM NOW