Chapter Two - Where Nothing Is As It Seems
The morning had started out well. Tsuna had woken up, bundled in the covers of his new bed and listened to the crashing waves of the tide pressing against the shore, closer than the night before.
He'd gone downstairs, bundled in a dressing gown and slippers and chose to forego breakfast in favour of brewing coffee. Stepping onto the patio, he'd simply breathed the sea air, knuckles going cold in the breeze but palms kept warm by the coffee he cradled.
After breakfast, everything had gone weird, horribly fast.
Tsuna had been crossing the living room, one of his still packed boxes balanced in his arms, a collection of books and movies for one of the empty shelves, when he'd caught sight of a blob of black next to his car parked in the driveway.
Turning fully, he saw it was a person and nearly dropped the box. His first thought was indignation, but it was quickly drowned under the flash of unease that curdled in his gut.
His best quality was his ability to drown out problems too small to be a real cause of concern. So if a man wanted to stand in his driveway, dressed in an all-black suit and hat, as if Tsuna's new home wasn't in the middle of nowhere, Tsuna would let him.
But surely, another cup of coffee would settle his nerves.
By the time his third coffee had been drunk, and Tsuna had unpacked another box, the weirdness continued. On his cursory glance out of the window, to check if the weirdo was still there – he was – Tsuna was in the process of flattening an empty box when something even stranger happened.
Opposite his house was woodland. The asphalt of the road abruptly met with tall, dark green trees, leaves swaying, branches heavy with age.
From between them stepped a man, dressed in the traditional postal service, bag and all slung over his shoulder looking very unruffled for what must have been a brutal hike.
Tsuna knew he lived very unlocal. There was no way to reach the cottage by foot, unless you wanted to take the several mile trek from the town on tight country roads, or through densely packed forest. There wasn't even a footpath through the woods to the town; Tsuna would have to drive over a mile down the road to reach the nearest footpath which would take him out to a road nearer to the town but nowhere within it.
Muffled, but loud enough, he heard the postman greet the strange man in his drive through with a cheery, "Good morning!"
The strange man simply inclined his head, the first movement Tsuna had seen him make all morning – the three hours he'd been there anyway. It had taken him a long moment to wonder if it was just hazing, a statue of a random character in his driveway. But no, this was a person.
The postman dropped several letters into his mailbox – a mailbox that Tsuna wouldn't be approaching so long as there was a man in his driveway – and then inexplicably made his way to the front door, giving it three, sure hard knocks.
He wasn't holding any parcels the mailbox wouldn't hold. Tsuna briefly wondered if he was going to get murdered on his second day but decided to bite the bullet as it were and answered the door.
Only a crack, though.
"Good morning!" The postman greeted him, if possibly, more cheerily than he'd greeted the man in his drive.
Out of his peripheral, Tsuna saw the strange man shift his weight.
"I'm Sasagawa Ryohei," the postman continued, and Tsuna's head snapped up in rapt attention as he eased the door open a little wider.
"That's right!" Ryohei was downright delighted and, as he grinned at Tsuna, Tsuna felt Ryohei was also downright delightful too.
"It's nice to meet you," Tsuna said sincerely. "I've heard a lot of good things. Would you – would you like to come in? I can put a pot of coffee on." Probably not a good idea giving the tremble of his fingers from all of his coffee drinking to kill the nervousness from before. Bashfully, he remembered he was still in his pyjamas and dressing gown, probably a little flushed from his unpacking efforts. He was not a fit man.
"I'm extremely busy today," Ryohei said, sounding genuinely disappointed. "But perhaps we can meet up some other time! I've heard many wonderful things about you too!"
"Oh, of course," Tsuna replied, flustered. "Don't let me keep you from your job, I'm sorry."
"No need to apologise!" Ryohei reached out for Tsuna's hand and Tsuna, bewildered, let him. A folded square of paper was pushed into his palm, Ryohei grinning wide.
Tsuna unfolded it to the scrawl of numbers.
"Let me know if there's anything I can do to help your stay here!" Ryohei added, and if his grin turned sharp when his eyes darted to the stranger in Tsuna's driveway, Tsuna didn't see it, feeling bashful all over again at the number.
"Thank you," Tsuna murmured, folding the number back up and keeping it tucked reverently in his palm. "Have a good day, Sasagawa-san."
"Please call me Ryohei!"
"Then, please call me Tsuna," Tsuna offered in return, rewarded with another blinding smile. Ryohei put his hand on Tsuna's shoulder and squeezed, voice going softer.
"I really hope you enjoy your time here. Have an extremely good day!"
Ryohei stepped back, sparing one more unreadable look to the stranger and despite the completely mundane conversation they'd just had, Tsuna watched as Ryohei just up and disappeared back into the woods he'd come from like it wasn't a nearly impossible terrain to traverse.
Then Tsuna slammed and locked the door, throwing the bolt across for good measure.
Not once had they mentioned the weirdo on his property. Maybe he should have asked Ryohei for advice.
It was nearing lunchtime and the stranger was still there. Tsuna had cycled away from anxious, to annoyed, back to anxious, to concerned, back to annoyed. The weather wasn't freezing, but it certainly wasn't warm on the coast at this time of the year.
And there was no saying how long the person had been there. He certainly hadn't been then when Tsuna had opened the curtains first thing before coffee, but he'd been there an hour later when he'd passed by, and certainly stayed there since then.
Tsuna stared at the cup of rice already in his cooker, perfect for a meal for one. Then he dug the cup back into the rice bag and added another liberally filled cupful to the cooker. He set it up, hit the timer, and dug out his phone.
12: 46 Tsuna: would you like dinner tonight? Sorry for short notice.
12: 48 Gokudera (Lawyer): Tonight is perfectly fine. Please send a time. I will be free.
Tsuna debated the contents of his kitchen, wanting to make a good first impression as more than client with Gokudera.
12:51 Tsuna: is between six and seven acceptable?
12:51 Gokudera (Lawyer): I will see you then.
There. Now if his current, absolutely stupid, decision got him killed, someone would discover his body or disappearance in the next six hours. Sorted.
Double checking the rice cooker, Tsuna sucked in a quick nervous breath, drawing on what he imagined his gran would do in a situation like this, kind hearted and lovable as she had been. He ran upstairs, tearing off his still worn pyjamas and exchanging them for socially acceptable clothes before he returned downstairs and faced the door.
The latch was unlatched, the door was unlocked, and with another quick, fortifying breath, Tsuna opened the door in a sharp motion.
"If all you're going to do is stand out there all day," he started, his voice breaking embarrassingly on the first word, "do you want to come in for some lunch?"
The man made an aborted movement, like he was going to flinch and had refrained from following through with it. Tsuna kept his white knuckled grip on the door handle, in case he had to slam it shut in the face of an actual maniac.
The man had eyes as black as his suit. Tsuna hysterically wondered if they were as black as his soul, because who was weird enough, or cruel enough, to just hang around outside of his house for so long and worry him so much.
"Did you want some lunch? You've been out there all day." This time his voice didn't crack. The man turned to face him, and Tsuna let his eyes briefly track over his shoulder to glance down what was visible of the road. No car. How had this stranger gotten here? Tsuna would have most definitely heard a taxi or bus pull up.
He stepped closer.
Cool, cool, cool, Tsuna thought, opening the door wider in invitation. His hand still felt too tight around the handle, his fingers close to cramping.
"I'm Sawada Tsunayoshi," he offered, to continue being polite. He kept his hand to himself. This was another person who he wouldn't be offering his hand for a handshake to. For the sake of keeping his hand, of course, not because he was creeped out in any more capacity than he already was.
Close up, the man towered over Tsuna. He lifted a hand to remove his hat from his head, arm ramrod straight down his side, hat flush with his leg. Even his hair was black. There were curls of hair that bounced by his cheeks. Tsuna bit his tongue trying not to laugh. Or cry. Even his sideburns were weird.
All sorts of good people had one name, Tsuna deliberated. Madonna. Cher. Bono. He didn't dare ask for a second name, or any kind of elaboration. Instead, he stepped aside and opened the door fully.
Reborn, if that even was his real name, lingered on the doorstep. Tsuna had the quickest, craziest thought that, if he had to invite this man across his threshold before he could be allowed in, he'd be barricading every entrance instead.
But Reborn stepped through and Tsuna shut the door behind him, keeping his back to the man and the room at large, wondering if he was being the biggest idiot in all the land because what else was he.
"You're Kaoru's grandson," Reborn said, taking in the space with barely a glance as he toed off his shiny shoes before walking towards the windows across the room, the one's that splayed from wall to wall, barely a gap in between to encompass the ocean.
"Yes, I am. She gave me the house in her will." Tsuna watched him, and when no more conversation was forthcoming, he retreated into the kitchen, trying his best to ignore the prickling at the back of his neck that warned of someone in the house that normally wouldn't be there.
If Reborn complained at the lacklustre options that Tsuna laid out on the table, rice, miso soup, side dishes, like his grandmother had shown him how to make in that very kitchen, then he could get lost.
Instead, something wickedly like nostalgia crossed Reborn's face at the spread. And in a very, very deliberate motion, he shrugged off his jacket and hung it delicately at the coat rack by the front door.
As Reborn returned and sat down and Tsuna set the last plate on the table with a soft clunk of china to wood, he asked, "Would you like a drink? I haven't many options, I'm afraid."
"Water is fine."
Tsuna felt Reborn's eyes track him back to the kitchen, and when he returned to the table, nothing had been touched.
"You can help yourself," Tsuna added, setting a glass down by Reborn's placemat.
"It would be rude, to start without the host," Reborn waited until Tsuna was sat, watched unerringly close as Tsuna served himself, and then moved to pick at the dishes himself.
"Let me know how it is," Tsuna murmured, and dug in with fervour, hungry from the hard work unpacking his multitude of boxes. And it meant he didn't have to hold a conversation with the weirdo he had invited into his home.
Reborn was more reserved, eating more civilly than Tsuna was, taking measured sips of water between bites. It made sweat bead at the back of Tsuna's neck, because it was exactly like someone trying their best to be human acting it out. It was not natural at all.
"I'm sorry," Reborn suddenly said into the not quite silence of two people eating. "About Kaoru. She was…"
Tsuna suddenly felt a lump in his throat and he was forced to put his chopsticks down, blinking down at his plate of scattered food and trying to ignore the burn of tears that had decided to take residence in his eyes.
It wasn't a fresh hurt. It wasn't quite old, either. Not even half a year, yet. Tsuna cleared his throat, and then again, trying to clear the lump. He probably cleared his throat one too many times before he managed to speak.
"Thank you – you don't have to," Tsuna began, "I mean." He swallowed, looked up at Reborn who had also stopped eating, and hated how his voice went small as he asked, "What was she like?"
"She was well loved," Reborn replied easily. "A pillar of this community. She kept her health very well…very well hidden."
"It was definitely a shock," Tsuna murmured. "When the letter came through, and Gokudera-san followed after." Shame clogged his throat for a moment, tasting bitter. "I should have visited more often."
"It may not be the same coming from me," Reborn began lightly, as if choosing his words, "but she loved you, dearly. I can't pretend to know the pain you have felt with her passing, but she was…"
"She was," Tsuna simply agreed, and picked up his napkin to scrub at his eyes. "That's all she needed to be, was herself."
"I'm sorry for bringing up a difficult topic. Would you like me to leave?"
Reborn did seem sorry. He also seemed somehow critical in a way that Tsuna didn't want to analyse.
"No, no. I invited you for lunch and you haven't even managed to get halfway there yet. I'm not going to kick you out for talking about my grandmother, I loved her. I still love her. I'd love to know everything about her that I missed. Just…not now." Not when it was still raw. Tsuna wasn't sure the wound would ever fully close.
Reborn silently picked up his chopsticks and continued eating. After a moment of trying his best not to sniffle, Tsuna did the same.
The silence wasn't comfortable, but it wasn't overbearing either.
There were leftovers – Reborn's eating, freakishly inhumane or not, was light, like a bird. Tsuna dutifully packed them up, taking plates to the kitchen as he asked, out of obligation to be a good host more than anything, if Reborn wanted coffee.
Reborn stood at the doors that led to the deck, eyes far on the sea as the kettle boiled and Tsuna packed food away into tubs.
"Did you want to have coffee on the patio?" Tsuna asked, closing the fridge on the boxes of food. "Take a seat, I'll bring the tray out." More coffee for him was probably a bad decision. He'd made many bad decisions today. One more wouldn't hurt.
He heard as Reborn crossed to the door and returned, shoes in hand. Tsuna wouldn't have begrudged him putting the shoes on to cross the main floor but some habits died hard. The click of the door shutting was nearly drowned out by the kettle, and Tsuna glanced over as Reborn stepped down towards the beach.
It was fine. The coffee needed time to cool, and Tsuna could clean the dishes until Reborn was ready to drink.
He was okay, for a weirdo.
But when Tsuna turned around, coffee mugs nicely aligned on his tray, a little jug of milk, tiny sugar cubes and all, there was no sign of Reborn, anywhere.
Going outside and setting the tray down on the outdoor table, there weren't even any footprints in the sand. Tsuna took a seat, sorting out his own coffee. Adding sugar and milk, he watched the waves.
If Reborn wanted to disappear as quickly as he appeared, he was welcome. Tsuna sipped his coffee indulgently and listened to the sea.
It hadn't been all bad after all.
He would have thought it all a hallucination if he hadn't gone back inside to dump the spare coffee and put the dishes to dry and seen the left behind jacket.
"Gokudera-san! It's good to see you!" Tsuna greeted Gokudera warmly, as if he hadn't seen him the day before. Gokudera gave him the beginnings of an answering smile that froze as his eyes crossed to the jacket slung up over the coat rack.
"Someone came to visit?" he asked, voice stringent, and Tsuna followed his gaze.
"Oh, yeah. Some person just stood in my drive for hours and I worried about him, so I asked if he wanted some lunch. He left after and forgot to take his jacket." Tsuna neglected to mention how he was sure the strange Reborn had just disappeared off the face of the planet.
The look Gokudera gave him was reminiscent of the looks Kyoko would give Tsuna when she was disappointed in his life choices.
"I know," Tsuna immediately placated.
"Did he give you his name at least?"
"Reborn, or something ridiculous like that." Tsuna stepped aside, suddenly realising how rude he was being at letting Gokudera just linger on the doorstep. "Sorry, sorry, come in. Would you like me to take your coat?"
"Are you going to return it?" Gokudera asked, shrugging off his own coat and hanging it up before Tsuna's hands could take it from him.
"To be honest," Tsuna admitted, "I don't know where he came from or where he went. If he wants it back, he'll have to come and get it. If it weren't for the fact that it was there, I thought maybe I'd imagined the whole thing."
A rigidness seemed to leave Gokudera then; his shoulders lowered and the smile that rose to his face was less taut. Tsuna glanced as surreptitiously as he could between Gokudera and the jacket, wondering what was so bothersome about it.
"I could take it down and fold it into a bag I guess…" he mused, reaching for the black material. Gokudera's hand snatched at his wrist and when Tsuna looked up at him, startled, there was panic on his face.
"Sorry!" Gokudera hastily let go, clearing his throat. "Just – just leave it there. I know Reborn. He'll see it's missing soon enough and come and get it."
Tsuna just wanted a nice dinner with the normal lawyer and even that was going absolutely bonkers. Hand still half raised, he watched Gokudera as, his hand lowered back down, the other man relaxed in increments.
"You're right I guess," he relented. "How do you know Reborn?"
"Everyone knows everyone here," Gokudera supplied not so helpfully. Tsuna waited a long moment to see if he'd elaborate, but he didn't.
"Okay." Tsuna said, to fill the silence. "Would you like to take a seat? I'll bring dinner out soon."
"Let me help," Gokudera offered. "I can at least set the table or pour drinks."
"You're a guest," Tsuna protested.
"And you're the host. You're giving me a meal. It's the least I can do to help."
"Gokudera," Tsuna replied, voice stern enough that Gokudera seemed to stand to attention, "You helped my family through a very, very hard time. You've done more than enough to help. Please, just sit down and let's have a hopefully nice evening. Please."
Gokudera stood still, stubbornly, for a good few seconds as Tsuna stared him down.
"It doesn't have to be at the table," Tsuna added softly. "I can just let you know when it's ready."
Gokudera faltered for a second, before bowing his head subtly. "Thank you. Then, I will take a seat."
Tsuna relaxed, unsure as to when his shoulders had gone stiff and tense, but he watched as Gokudera picked his way across the room to perch on one of the sofas. After a moment's hesitation, he even reached towards the adjacent bookcase, and Tsuna sighed in relief as his guest relaxed.
Apart from the jacket incident. Tsuna eyed the offending garment as he walked to and from the kitchen and decided, that if Gokudera purposefully left without his jacket, Tsuna would cut his losses and never socialise again.
He'd have to keep a journal, and that way if he turned insane at least Kyoko and his parents would have the information necessary to know why he'd lost his mind.
Tsuna abruptly stopped pouring water into a glass, suddenly remembering that while he'd taken Ryohei's number and shoved it into a pocket, he hadn't actually punched the number into his phone.
The guilt set in almost immediately, as he wondered if Ryohei had been waiting for a text or confirmation all day.
A quick, cursory glance of his kitchen showed he had enough time and that pots wouldn't simmer and bubble over while he was gone. Taking the water glasses with him, he set them down at the table, two places, and eerily reminiscent of that afternoon. If Gokudera went out onto his deck and disappeared, leaving his jacket behind, Tsuna was calling the police.
He froze at that notion, hung over the table. In fact, he probably wouldn't, at risk of Hibari showing up on his front door step and learning where he lived – if he didn't already.
If Hibari didn't know where everyone was at any one time, Tsuna would buy a hat and eat it. That was the impression the man left after just two minutes. But still, despite everything that had happened this day versus the previous, nothing could yet top the terrifying duo of Mukuro and the unmet Chrome.
"I'm just running upstairs, and then dinner should be ready," Tsuna told Gokudera as he passed by the sofa. Gokudera was thumbing through a fiction novel and nodded in acknowledgement, making sure to meet Tsuna's eye and smile while he was it.
Tsuna knew he was just trying to be polite but it felt a little, tiny bit intimate. It was probably his overworked brain nitpicking even the smallest of things. He vowed he'd never drink quite so much coffee ever again.
His pyjamas were hastily thrown onto his unmade bed, from where he'd rushed to get changed before entertaining the notion of lunch and inviting Reborn into his home. In the dressing gown pocket was the piece of paper Ryohei had given him that morning.
He entered the number into his contacts and quickly typed out a message, thumbs flying over the screen even as he walked back towards the stairs, eyes on his phone.
18:32 Tsuna: sorry for taking so long! this is Tsuna, you gave me your number this monring
18:32 Tsuna: morning*
Sorted. If Ryohei replied, then Tsuna could check after - oh, his phone was already buzzing.
18:33 Ryohei: That's extremely okay! Glad to hear from you!
Tsuna felt a smile cross his face briefly.
18:34 Ryohei: Did that man ever leave your driveway?
Tsuna suddenly wanted to wail. Why hadn't Ryohei mentioned anything at the time?!
18:36 Tsuna: it's all sorted. talk to you later!
18:37 Ryohei: Enjoy your dinner!
Tsuna missed the last step on the stairs and cursed as he staggered and nearly hit the floor, hand thrown out so he could catch himself on the banister.
How in the hell did Ryohei know Tsuna was about to have dinner? Unbidden, his eyes darted to the window, but as the sun had started to set earlier in the evening he'd already drawn the curtains. Nobody could see in.
"Tsuna?" Gokudera asked, concerned as he rose from the sofa. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, thank you Gokudera-san," Tsuna placated. "Just missed the step. But, if you like, you can sit at the table now. I'll set dinner out in a moment." Everyone he had thought as even the slightest bit normal was turning out to be weird.
Gokudera's moment could probably be credited to a dislike for Reborn, perhaps, considering his reluctance to speak about how he knew him, and how he hadn't liked him being in Tsuna's house.
Ryohei and Reborn was just on a whole different level of weird. Reborn, with his lingering in the driveway for hours and disappearing, Ryohei with his emergence from dense woodland, subsequent disappearance into dense woodland, and innate knowledge that let him know Tsuna was about to have dinner.
Gokudera just didn't like Reborn. That's all it was.
Tsuna turned the cooker off and set the table with cutlery, organising neatly next to the placemats and water. Then he returned to the kitchen to scoop food into bowls and plates, setting it up neatly.
Gokudera probably wouldn't mind the presentation, but Tsuna was really hoping to make a good impression, if he hadn't already blown it with having invited Reborn in earlier.
Surely Gokudera wouldn't be that petty. Surely.
Taking his seat, Tsuna found it strange to see that Gokudera hadn't started eating yet, but as Tsuna picked up his chopsticks so did he.
"So how have you found your first day?" Gokudera asked carefully into the silence.
Weird, Tsuna wanted to say.
"Tiring," he offered. "I did much of my unpacking today. Then obviously…" his eyes darted to the coat rack.
"Was he a bother?" Gokudera asked, and now his voice was serious, a steely glint to his eye.
"Oh, no, he just…" Tsuna glanced down at his plate, feeling like he was suffering from deja-vu. "We spoke about my grandmother."
He set his chopsticks down neatly to the side and dabbed at his mouth with a napkin as he tried to find the right words. When he looked up, Gokudera had also set aside his cutlery and Tsuna was almost thankful for the sombre atmosphere that was brought around by it.
"Gokudera-san," Tsuna began. "Really, truly, honestly, I would like to thank you so much for what you've done for me and my family. Grandma's passing was hard but...you dealt with everything complicated so we could grieve."
Tsuna leaned forward and touched Gokudera's wrist, trying to convey through touch as well as words.
"From the bottom of my heart, thank you."
The only explanation that Tsuna had for what happened next was that somehow, inexplicably, Gokudera had set the table cloth on fire with his bare skin.
Hello, yes, welcome back to my self-indulgence. I hope you enjoyed your visit!