When he was seven, Tsunayoshi (commonly called "Dame-Tsuna" by his peers) came home to a sight that would forever change him, never mind the events that would transpire immediately after.
His mother, cold on the ground with a suspicious red puddle forming around her. Before he could even cry out and go to her, a large hand appeared without warning with something that smelled off. He never even had the chance to say goodbye, or to pretend he had imagined it, because he woke up in another country with people he certainly didn't know that set off all the alarms in his head.
He screamed until his voice gave out, every time they came for him.
The only comfort he had in that terrible place was that he wasn't alone...there were three others who had managed to keep their sanity in this hell.
Joushima Ken, a feral kid who was able to 'shift' into different animal characteristics, but once you got past his rough exterior was very loyal to his friends.
Kakimoto Chikusa didn't talk much, but was scarily intelligent. He was the first to master basic Japanese once he identified what the new kid was saying. Tsuna couldn't blame him in the least for shutting down his emotions to the point he had a perpetual poker face... he wished desperately he could do something similar.
The last, and strongest of the trio, was Rokudo Mukuro. He was weird. Very, very weird, and his hair looked like a pineapple. He hadn't appreciated the comparison, but he didn't stab Tsuna either. He went for the worst of the experiments, the ones where they forced him to endure what could only be called true hell.
Out of the three of them, he was interested in Tsuna the most.
Tsuna had no idea how long he had been in that horrible place, but his presence provided an odd balm to the souls of the other three. He felt safe around Mukuro-nii and the others, and they felt like things could one day get better with him nearby.
And then came the day everything did change. He would only remember bits and pieces of it, not that he cared to remember any of it.
One moment they were experimenting on him and Ken, the next orange fire erupted from his body. Thick tendrils of it latched onto Ken, who surged from the straps and ripped the throat out of the scientist near him. It didn't take much for him to liberate Tsuna, still burning with that fire.
They reached their cell and freed Chikusa and Mukuro.
More tendrils, though Mukuro had the thickest of them all, latched onto them and Tsuna felt warm. Like he was being hugged by his poor mother... the woman those bastards laughed about killing.
He didn't know what a Vongola was, but he hated them for not protecting them. If they were so important, then why hadn't anyone been there when they really needed them?
"Kufufufu... It's time to leave," said Mukuro firmly.
"What about Tsuna?" asked Ken. Tsuna was too weak to even move, but was still firmly alive...if burning.
Chikusa was the weakest fighter out of all them, and his weapons wouldn't be nearly as much use as Ken's strength or Mukuro's illusions. He easily shouldered the weight of the seven and a half year old... it didn't help Tsuna was so light, and made lighter with the fire on his head. He was practically floating so long as it was lit.
It took surprisingly little time for them to reach the surface... whatever the fire was, it made the other experiments turn on their creators and ignore the group...before they turned on each other and killed themselves.
It wouldn't be for a few years that Tsuna found out exactly what it was that his fire did to them, because it didn't burn his friends. In fact they seemed immune to whatever he was doing to the people around them.
They had tried to reach an unobtainable Sky... and fell into Discord when it completely rejected them, turning them into a two-sided weapon that aided in their escape. Their own Flames turned on them, causing their self destruction.
Needless to say Mukuro was both impressed and worried.
Tsuna's fire didn't dissipate until they were well away from the now ruined labs...they set fire to everything inside that they didn't steal.
He wouldn't wake up for hours, but when he saw the sun he honestly thought he was dreaming. Too bad Ken ruined that illusion with his ugly mug.
"Wake up sleeping beauty! We're free!"
"What!?" squawked Tsuna, looking around wildly, not daring to hope. That was one of the things that had almost died out.
But there was no lab, and there was definitely sun, trees, even the sky.
Ken grinned at him, and he felt the warm hand of Mukuro-nii on his head.
"We have you to thank. Whatever that orange fire was, it set the others on a rampage and made the experiments turn on each other. They were too busy trying to stop them to realize we were free enough to kill them all," said Mukuro proudly.
Tsuna blanched, but he had seen so much death and pain that he didn't throw up...barely.
"I thought you said you'd only leave me behind because I'm not as useful as Ken or Chikusa?" said Tsuna.
"I changed my mind. You're definitely useful. You might not have Ken's strength or Chikusa's intelligence...but whatever that orange fire was, it's definitely useful enough. Otherwise it would have been much, much harder than it was getting free," said Mukuro with his dark chuckle.
Mukuro would admit to thinking little Tsuna a liability. He was still too innocent and was more a big ball of fluff than any threat. He would have rescued the brat...if only to keep Ken and Chikusa from getting angry and possibly rebelling against him long enough to see the kid in a better home.
But then he starts sprouting fire that can make his enemies turn their fangs on each other, leaving them perfectly exposed for his trident and his illusions...if they didn't destroy themselves first. Whatever the fluffball was doing, they were completely immune.
Instead they seemed almost empowered as long as they were defending him. His illusions had never been stronger, and his ability came more naturally and with less feedback after being hit with whatever the fire was after Ken broke the lock, carrying the brat on his back.
Tsuna broke down crying, hugging them tightly. Seeing the look on his minion's faces, Mukuro realized there was no way in hell they'd let him get away with simply dumping the fluffball in some home. They were too attached...and if he would admit it to himself, so was he.
It was them again. Those mafioso were back.
He was still so pissed off with his old man...why the hell hadn't he warned his mother that he was in the damn mafia, much less set up protection?
The Vongola? Don't make him laugh.
How could he possibly trust a family that couldn't even be bothered to protect their own heir, much less those who depended on them?
Natsu, formerly known as Tsuna Sawada, dodged the attentions of those weaklings with practiced ease.
He didn't know why the Vongola's little Outside group, commonly known as CEDEF, was even looking for someone fitting his old description, but he sure as hell wasn't trusting any mafioso.
Not after what the Esterneo did to his mother, and to his brothers.
"Oi! Natsu! Over here! Check out our haul!" shouted Ken.
"It's good... but check out mine~!" said Natsu grinning.
Ken swore, using a variety of languages. After joining up with Natsu (their self-proclaimed baby brother...which even Mukuro-sama would admit to) they realized that only knowing Italian was a quick way to end up dead if they wanted to ditch the mafia in another country.
So they learned Japanese while teaching Natsu Italian. He must have had some knack for languages or his dad was Italian, because he picked it up very quickly. So much so that he spent most of his time in the public libraries learning other languages. Between him and Chikusa, they could reasonably speak or at least understand five languages other than the two they started with.
"The scraps of the Vongola are back," Natsu warned them.
"Tch. Again? Why do they have such a hard on for you anyway?" asked Ken complaining.
"Who knows. Like I'd trust that weak family," said Natsu dismissively.
"I take it today was a successful venture?" asked Mukuro amused.
Between Ken's fast speed and Natsu's natural aura, they were able to survive on their own. Adults couldn't be trusted, ever.
The first time an adult tried to worm his way into their good graces (or more specifically into Natsu since he looked naturally naive), the smallest of the group had bitten him so hard they learned several new swear words. And then Ken went after him on Mukuro's orders.
That was the day the group learned one thing.
When Natsu's intuition told him something, it was never, ever wrong. Even when it told him to do something he normally wouldn't consider, like taking a certain alley at an exact moment.
They'd evaded more than a few of the less savory familigias by following him. Mukuro might be their "leader", but more often than not it was Natsu who held that position.
It was close to when they were finishing the results of their haul that it happened.
Natsu took one look at the small baby with the lizard on his hat in black...and bolted faster than they had ever seen him.
They didn't need any warnings. If that "kid" made Natsu run like hell in another direction, then clearly he was trouble.
Mukuro managed to stick close to Natsu, and he did not like the fact that the baby was following them specifically.
Damn mafioso were after Natsu again, and this time they sent a threat they definitely couldn't handle.
Mukuro made a decision that would haunt him for a long time...
"Run. Whatever you do, don't stop running. We'll meet up with you once I'm certain the coast is clear of whoever that is."
Natsu looked at him...before something passed between them.
He knew Mukuro had the limited ability to read minds, especially this close. He trusted his big brother.
Mukuro leveled so many illusions around himself, that the fake baby didn't even realize he had passed right by Natsu.
One of the things Natsu had shared with his brothers was his old home address. It was one thing he refused to give up, no matter what was done to him.
Even if he could never go back there without experiencing the terror and pain of the scene he had walked into.
The agreement was that if anything happened and they got split up, that they meet up in Namimori in one year. More than enough time to alter their appearance and make it there.
Once assured that the fake baby wasn't anywhere near, Natsu immediately changed his appearance with the ease of long, long practice. His hair was dyed a red color, his skin was darkened using some plants he found, and his clothes were burned up so they couldn't get his scent.
He was gone before the "baby" known as Reborn realized he had been thoroughly tricked enough to backtrack.
Natsu was trying to sleep on a tree branch when he felt something land on it. Within an instant he woke up, saw red and tried to jump to another tree and get down so he could run like hell.
Tried being the operative word. His hand slipped and he almost fell flat on his ass...had something not grabbed his belt at the last second.
"Easy, little Sky. I mean no harm."
He slowly got back onto the tree, before looking down.
Unlike the first baby with the yellow pacifier, this one didn't set his instincts off to run like hell and not look back.
Oh, there was an undercurrent of "danger" and "beware", but it wasn't nearly as overpowering as the first one.
"I was trying to sleep. Stupid mafioso keep tracking me down if I use the caves," grumbled Natsu in the same tongue.
The red baby blinked, before a serene smile came upon his face. He was clearly surprised and pleased Natsu knew how to speak Chinese that well.
"Your Flames are leaking rather strongly, which is likely what lead them to you," he informed the boy.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Fon. I was sent to find out why so many of the loose Elements had suddenly taken to trespassing on my clan's land of late, since it was irritating the Elders."
Natsu felt a little guilty about that.
"Sorry. I was just trying to find a place to sleep until I gathered enough food to keep going."
"What are you running from, little Sky?"
If there was one thing that set off the protective instincts of an Element, especially one like Fon, it was the knowledge of a younger Flame in danger. That went almost triple if the Flame was a Sky...and from what he could tell unattached.
No Familigia would be stupid enough to let a Sky this young and strong out of their sight for an instant without tracking them down. They were too valuable, and far too rare to waste such a precious Flame.
Natsu didn't know why, but he felt he could trust this person. So he gave him an abridged version of why he was alone.
Fon was silent and let the child speak his piece.
From what he understood, the boy had been targeted deliberately by the Esterneo and lost his mother in the process. During his escape he harmonized with three other boys, one of them likely his Mist Guardian, but was separated when Reborn showed up...not that he could blame the kid for running away from the Sun Arcobaleno. Considering what he had already gone through with the Esterneo familigia, he wasn't surprised the kid's instincts told him to get as far away from Reborn as possible.
The man would have likely handed him over to the Vongola at the very least, considering he was rather close with them. Or one of the Allied familigias.
While they would have treated the boy like a prince, the fact they had recently lost their heir made the entire situation too volatile. Especially since there was a rumor that the head of CEDEF had recently lost his son...they might very well toss the child with them to shut the idiot up.
Fon patted Natsu on the head. It was clear he hadn't had an easy life since the mafia crashed into it.
Besides... he wasn't always with the Mafia either.
"You should become a Hunter."
Hunters were unaffiliated with any of the Familigias, and couldn't be "forcibly recruited" even if they were a Sky. The Association would come down on any Familigia that tried it like the wrath of the gods themselves.
The agreement came down to the simple fact that as long as the Mafia didn't force any hunters to join their ranks, the hunters would ignore their crimes and everything to do with their world unless they did something so stupid it brought the attention of the police down on them.
Like breaking Omerta.
Then it was merely a question of who would slap down the idiots first... the Association or the Vindice.
You could be both, of course...there was nothing that said a Hunter couldn't be a mafioso. However the requirements to become one were much higher than any other job in the world so most didn't bother.
Fon took out something that had the boy relax around him completely. It was his Single-Star Hunter's license... one he got after finding obscure martial arts and sharing them with others. He was a finder of the old ways and he didn't mind taking on students.
Besides, it enforced his status as a "Neutral" enforcer inside the Triads.
"As a Hunter you can tell any Familigias trying to recruit you to back off, and they have to respect that or the Association will come after them. Or worse, the Vindice for not honoring the agreement. Not even the Vongola can force a Sky to join them if they have a Hunter's License. However, becoming a Hunter isn't easy. At the very least you have to have some very impressive stamina to get through the exams."
Seeing he had the boy's full interest, Fon smirked.
Here was a good way to annoy the hell out of Reborn and kill time. The Triads would leave him alone for a while if he said he was training a possible Hunter candidate, which meant free vacation.
"I could train you to become a Hunter... the age limit is eleven, but I think I can get you up to standards before then."
"Is there any way to let my brothers know what I'm doing? Otherwise they'll worry when I don't show up."
"I can hunt them down and deliver a message."
It couldn't be that hard to find three boys, and he did hear one of the smaller familigias had taken in a bonded trio recently.
Needless to say they were pretty damn eager to find the obvious fourth, because all of them showed signs of having an Active Sky.