Hell is Empty, All the Devils are Here
Ah, my first KHR! plot-bunny. I haven't seen this before, so I think this might be a new take. Hopefully this gets adopted, because I would like to see how it would grow up.
This is based off the story The Difference Between, but far this is far less dark. This is an Abused!Tsuna/10thGen story as well, but more emotional/social neglect.
Only read The Difference Between if you have a strong stomach for full-on manipulation, physical abuse of children, brainwashing, psychotic breaks, outright cold-blooded murder and enough dramatic irony to make you scream in anguish at whatever device you read fanfiction on.
Blurb: Something is not right in the Sawada household. The Varia looms on the distant horizon, but Reborn is more unsettled by Tsunayoshi's eerily competent Guardians and that he hasn't heard the Vongola Heir utter a single word this whole time.
Theme Song: Numb by Linkin Park
Reborn carefully considered the information Iemitsu had given him about his own son. The boy seemed to be the opposite of the Cavallone boy. A full Guardian set, for one. But that was not all.
'My little tuna-fishie is so cold! I walked him through his first kill, but he was blank! No emotion whatsoever! Just disappeared off with his Guardians!'
Iemitsu was a ditz, yes, but not nearly enough to not notice if his son had killed before. One of those humans who simply had no empathy for those they deemed unworthy? Maybe. That attitude was a double-edged sword for a Boss. An edge that Reborn would have to temper.
'Like calls to like when it comes to Guardian bonds, you know that. Who does my son have? A homicidal psychopath Mist, another Mist who's a shrinking violet, a destructively hyperactive Sun, a perpetually-daydreaming Rain, a rabid Storm, a bratty useless Lightning and a feral Cloud who attacks everyone on sight!'
Certainly something to be concerned about; Guardians did reflect their Sky. Reborn could definitely hold his own though, no matter how well these brats had been trained by Iemitsu.
At least the fool hadn't gone through with the plan to seal his son's Active Sky Flames. Reborn had damn near shot the idiot when he heard about that. If the CEDEF Commander had been dropped on his head as a baby, the World's Greatest Hitman wouldn't be surprised.
At least it was a solid plan of introduction. Iemitsu would introduce him to the brats before immediately taking his wife on a two-week vacation to the other side of Japan. Two weeks for Reborn to get some asses in gear. More than enough.
The Sawada residence was thick with Sky Flame residue and Reborn felt a sudden pang of longing for a Sky to come home to. No; concentrate on the brats.
Nana Sawada was sickeningly naïve. After Iemitsu broke the 'wonderful news' about the two week vacation, she busied herself preparing tea and baked treats. Iemitsu quietly led Reborn up the stairs. The Sky Flames retreated cautiously as they ascended, curling protectively around now-discernable Guardian Flame-bonds.
"Ah, Reborn, why don't you introduce yourself while I make a few phone-calls?" Iemitsu smiled. "Maybe shake them up a bit as I know you like to do to people? They're dead set against me, so I'd rather not mar the first impressions."
The tiny hitman kicked the bedroom door down and was met with...nothing. In a Flame sense. No spikes of emotion, of Flames, no shouts or questions. The Flames of all eight children were oddly still, yet agitated, as if...boiling.
Physically, they were all looking directly at him, expressions unreadable. They were positioned unusually as well; barricading in the Sun. The boxer stood in the middle, fists at the ready, Tsuna next to him and the other Guardians arrayed in front. Protecting each other but for some reason their Sun most of all.
"Now then, Dame-Tsuna," Reborn pioneered, taking a step forward.
The wall of Flames that shot up in front of him was staggering. Not in strength, but in it's seamless blending of the seven Flame-types.
The Sky Flames' reaction unbalanced Reborn the most. His entire life as a Mafioso, Skies had tried to pull him in, cranking up the Harmony factor to the max. These Flames were rejecting him. Pushing him away, snarling and spitting with the Harmony using itself to become a lack of Harmony.
And their body language spoke, not of fury or protection, but rather the bitter, resigned satisfaction that they would make their deaths cost dearly.
Reborn may not have had the Vongola Hyper Intuition, but he had his gut instincts that had always served him well. Right now, they were screaming. Screaming not to assert his superiority and beat them down. Because now he looked, they seemed very fragile, like they would break and rage uncontrollably if he stepped towards them again.
Tsuna always slept with his Guardians, Reborn noticed. They would pile together on the bed like a pack of puppies deprived of their mother, despite how uncomfortable it must be. The taking watch was unusual. He didn't know for sure if this was habit for them or if it was because of his unfamiliar presence. Any conversation was subdued and inane, though so deliberately worded it had to be some sort of code.
It did Reborn's ego good at first to be treated with the respect and wariness one would give a dangerous predator, having been enduring being treated as a toddler for so long, but it quickly became unsettling. They took great pains to keep him in their sights and never let Tsuna or Ryohei Sasagawa go anywhere alone. They had the wariness of beaten animals.
And something niggled constantly in the back of Reborn's head. Tsuna was continuously leaching out Sky Flames; with a purpose. But what was he trying to accomplish? Every time he asked the Vongola Heir a question, he got a satisfactory answer despite the guarded demeanour...hold on.
The answers were always bland and satisfactory. But...why couldn't he remember the exact words? There had been no Flames around when he had cornered Tsuna without his Guardians, and his own Sun Flames were too strong for his mind to be tampered with without him noticing. He pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. Only his Sun and Tsuna's Sky Flames were present, he was certain. Tsuna had had his Harmony factor up and had answered...answered,...but...Reborn examined his memories with a fine-toothed comb.
The fluffy brown hair, the alarmed, then guarded, expression, the bruise on the left cheek from the morning's training, the miniscule emotions flitting across his face as he... didn't speak.
The proverbial lightning bolt struck Reborn dead on. Tsuna had not spoken a word. But how...Harmony. That's why it was up when it had been repelling him before. What was Harmony but encouraging acceptance, blending in, being unnoticed? Tsuna had given Reborn the impression that Tsuna had answered the question, everything was normal, never notice that he never actually said anything.
That was devious. Reborn approved highly. But that realisation made him recall all his other memories, only for him to realize that Tsuna never spoke, even to his Guardians. They aquiesced to his wishes(somehow), Tsuna made people think that they had heard commands being issued and their minds filled in the rest. Useful on the battlefield, useful when avoiding questioning. But not all the time. So why...?'
Sickening dread coiled in the hitman's stomach. Was the Vongola Heir...mute?
It took only a day for Reborn to confirm his hypothesis; Tsuna was mute. He suspected that the boy was using his Harmony trick to plant his words into his Guardians' heads, impressing that he had already told them what he wanted them to do, as he had with Reborn. It probably worked even better considering he was bonded to them. That way he could guide them even if they were far apart from him.
Ingenious, truly. Still didn't explain why and how they moved eerily in sync with each other, always moving in the right way as if they were part of the same person rather than completely separate people whose differing personalities should have meant conflict or weakness of some sort.
And why were they so protective of Ryohei Sasagawa?
He found out the answer to his second dilemma when he pulled the young boxer away for healing training. The boy was silent as he pushed himself harder and harder, agonizing over every detail but still staying tense and wary of Reborn the whole time. When he made a few minor mistakes from sheer exhaustion, he looked ready to cry and his eyes held the visceral fear of a man facing the firing squad.
Without even thinking, Reborn raised gun-Leon in preparation to fire a rubber bullet or two, just to snap the boy out of it. That was when Tsuna appeared in front of him, eyes the searing orange of Hyper Dying Will Mode, cratering the ground with his bare hands in the spot Reborn had been just a split-second before.
'NO!' Harmony screamed into Reborn's head and he blinked in shock at actual words being projected, before he registered the other Guardians running in, eyes glowing with Flames and defiance. And then they moved. Not like a full Guardian set raging together, but silently, vengefully and in impossibly perfect synchronisation. Unnaturally perfect. Then they started speaking and Reborn felt a chill run down his spine.
"Go away!" they yelled in perfect chorus, same inflection, volume, pronunciation and everything. Even as Reborn fought them off with hammer-Leon, he resisted the urge to just flatten them as he usually would have, because they were finally sort-of explaining their protection of their Sun. All in chorus, with the mental reverberation of Tsuna's Harmony Words underneath.
"Don't want you!"
"No more, not again!"
"Knew you would try and kill him!"
"Don't want your bond!"
What. Reborn's mind stuttered in consternation. They were convinced that he was going to kill Sasagawa to replace him as Sun. That these thoughts were fuelled from someone actually trying it before. No doubt they had been waiting for the shoe to drop the entire week he'd been here. The knowledge that he was the World's Greatest Hitman obviously only exacerbated the situation.
Running through ideas in his head, Reborn made a calculated decision and threw Leon away into the trees. The kids jumped back, circling in wary confusion.
"I'm not trying to replace, or kill, any of you," he called. "I'm here as a tutor, not as a job."
'Truth.' He felt Harmony Words tinged with Lightning echo through the Flame-saturated clearing. They all drew back, gravitating to Tsuna and each other as they mingled their Flames until they were almost one white blaze. Reborn suspected that Tsuna was holding entire conversations with them, but they seemed to be focusing on the Bovino brat who was gesticulating wildly, but still as silent as the rest.
After a moment, Tsuna walked over to him, hand wreathed in gently coiling Sky Flames. Reborn forced himself to still, but stayed alert. He did not expect that the moment the Flames touched his forehead the world would vanish into white.
"Hello," said Tsuna, smiling wistfully. "Welcome to Haven."
Reborn started at Tsuna's voice, at him speaking, only to gape as he looked down and saw his adult body. "What!" He spluttered. "How? And you..." His own voice trailed off as he took in Tsuna's appearance.
The teen's chest and torso were swathed in bandages, one eye was taped with gauze and his face was gaunt and ribs protruding alarmingly from extreme malnutrition. Judging from the spots of fluid seeping through the bindings, they were bad burns, maybe second degree.
Immediately Reborn knelt, now that he was somehow taller and urgently pressed his Sun Flames to the injuries. Except that his Flames didn't register the wounds as even existing. Instead Tsuna's smile became curious and a little sad. "Sorry," he said. "Your Flames only work on physical injuries and this is inside my head. It doesn't hurt so much now though, so thank you."
Reborn pulled back his Flames, finally looking around them. It was white and empty, with no distinguishing features whatsoever. "Your mind?" He wondered aloud. "That explains you talking, but...adult is how I think of myself, so that makes sense. But what about you?"
A rueful smile. "Oh, the bandages. Well...you said it yourself, you think of yourself as an adult. The mental avatar reflects a persons mental and Flame state; this is me. I think you look nice, by the way."
Stunned, Reborn reached out his hand, but Tsuna flinched away. He felt sick to his stomach; this boy was so fragile and he had trampled all over his boundaries. If this was the state of Tsuna's mind and Flames...his mind screamed abuse and then his stomach dropped to his boots. Tsuna was mute; Flames could heal and not even leave a scar if the user was skilled.
"Tsuna," Reborn said shakily. "When did you stop speaking?" Orange-brown eyes glanced away.
"I was about 5, maybe 6, I think. I remember being so frustrated that nobody would listen to me, they would wave off my concerns and opinions and tell me what I was going to do. I refused to speak to anyone, thinking I would finally get some attention. But nobody noticed. I was 7 when I realised that if no-one cared, why bother talking at all? I used my Flames to do minimum participation in school. When Hibari came across me, I tried to talk to him, only to find I couldn't, even when we Harmonized. I think a have a mental block or something, maybe Flame-enhanced. So I use Harmony to speak into their heads. Then Mukuro taught me to build a mindscape so we can come into my head and be together. We call it Haven, because it's safe. It means I don't exhaust my Flames speaking to them, even if it's easier because they're my Guardians."
Reborn relaxed slightly; that it wasn't physical was some form of relief, but this still didn't bode well. Also, that the metaphysical injuries were burns was ringing alarm bells, and their prior conviction that he was there to kill Sasagawa. Those could be addressed later, for now there was something the Hitman needed to do.
"I am sorry," he breathed, bowing his head. "I'm sorry, I didn't realise, I'm truly an idiot, I should have realised..." Warm arms wrapped around his head and shoulders, pulling him into a scrawny bandaged chest.
"It's okay," Tsuna said softly. "I know now you were just trying to help us in what you thought was the right way. And you tried to heal me the moment we got here, so you do care a little bit. And you didn't try and burn me with your Flames, so that's good as well."
Ah yes, the burn wounds. Reborn pulled himself together, drawing back a little. "If your injuries are a direct representation, then...who forced their Flames on you, Tsuna?" The little Sky backed away nervously at his growl.
"N-no, I won't!" He cried desperately, trembling and clutching his chest. "I can't accept his Flames, it hurts! You can't make me!"
"He will never come near you again!" Reborn said as reassuring as possible, promising himself and Tsuna that this person would be eliminated with extreme prejudice and great satisfaction.
A quavering, hysterical laugh tore itself from Tsuna's lips. "You can't...I'll...we'll never be free of him! He's my own personal demon, and he's dragging my precious Guardian's down to Hell with me!" Tsuna didn't resist when Reborn put his hand on his shoulder, his unsteady speech becoming choked with sobs.
In a flash of their respective Flame-colours, Tsuna's Guardians appeared in the mindscape, and Reborn took in their own appearances.
Chrome the Mist was bruised and battered, an oxygen mask fixed over her mouth and nose, but she held herself tall, her hair was clean and neat and she wore a pretty sundress. Unfortunately, the dress's bodice was crusted with dried blood and underneath she was liberally bandaged right up to the neck.
Mukuro Rokudo the other Mist was heavily marked with keloid scar tissue, yet his suit was impeccably clean. The only mar was a bandaged left hand.
Takeshi Yamamoto was undamaged save for considerable bruising.
Hayato Gokudera was badly mauled, but the savage cuts were stitched and looked clean and on their way to closing over fully.
Ryohei Sasagawa was littered in band-aids protecting tiny, deliberate-looking slices.
Hibari Kyouya had heavy chains hanging from the shackles on his wrists, but he snarled and rattled them defiantly.
Lambo Bovino had one eye taped with gauze, the same as Tsuna.
"Tsuna explained then?" Yamamoto asked as he took in Reborn's protective demeanour.
"Aah," Reborn affirmed. "I apologised for not realising what was going on sooner. But I asked who had forced his Flames on him, so I could make him pay, but...'"
"Trust me, if you think the little fish looks bad now, you should have seen him when we first built this place," Mukuro grimaced, conjuring his trident from thin air and leaning on it. "His bandages were completely soiled and he was as thin as a Holocaust survivor. It's his bonds to us that healed him to this point."
"Starved of any affection whatsoever," Chrome clarified.
Hibari rattled his chains again, scowling at Ryohei, who sighed and hefted the ends off of the floor to share some of the weight. "Otouto is extremely brave!" He exclaimed, before his expression fell. "He is in so much pain," he said miserably.
"Do not crowd the little feral," Hibari hissed, stalking over to Tsuna with Ryohei in two. Reborn backed away, not wanting the agitate further the already stressed Cloud. The self-proclaimed carnivore put his arms around Tsuna's waist, humming gently. The young Sky leaned back into the embrace.
"I'll help you," Gokudera spat furiously at Reborn. "We all will. The Vongola can rot for all we care, the Boss comes first and...we're not strong enough yet. We won't rest easy until the fucking Commander screams in the darkest bowels of Hell."
"Commander is bad," Bovino sniffled dejectedly as Chrome picked him up and passed him to Tsuna, who clung to him like a lifeline. "Future Lambo knows that Reborn is good for Tsuna-nii and will help. So Lambo tells Tsuna-nii and now Reborn is here!"
Reborn practically pricked his ears at the mention of the name 'Commander'. "Who is this Commander and why is Tsuna so frightened of him? Besides the obvious."
It was Tsuna who spoke up, barely above a whisper as he turned his one desolate and despairing eye to Reborn.
"The Commander of the CEDEF, Iemitsu Sawada."
Going to stop it there, but there will be a part 2. I've left out why they thought Reborn was going to murder Ryohei, after all.
Clarification: Tsuna started out with Selective Mutism, but it soon became Progressive Mutism, which is why he can't even talk to his Guardians, whom he trusts implicitly.
Iemitsu was semiconsciously trying to mould Tsuna with his own Sky Flames, but he didn't notice when they burned Tsuna's soul instead.
Because of being so invested in the mindscape Haven and only communicating through the Harmony factor, Tsuna internalizes his emotions, which is why he seemed so unaffected at his first kill. That night they all piled into Haven and comforted him as he cried.
What do you guys think? About a semi-hive-mind 10thGen?