Title: Life is a Zoo

Pairing: 1827 (Hibari x Tsuna)

Rating: PG-15 overall

Warnings: boys love (male x male), adult situations, violence, language, an OC or two

Summary: From the very beginning, Tsuna's life has always been a game of carnivores and herbivores. 1827

Disclaimer: I do not own Kateikyoushi Hitman REBORN! This is a work of fanfiction, and I am not making any financial profit from it.

The first time Tsuna met Hibari was in preschool. Namimori, while not of elite status, functioned in a similar manner as Keio and other escalator systems. If you went to Namimori Preschool, then it naturally followed that you would attend Namimori Elementary. From there, you would progress through Namimori Middle and High as well. Therefore, the children who entered the system at an early age were together for most of their youth. Tsuna had known Hibari Kyoya since they were three and four respectively.

"I will now build an EXTREME sandcastle!" declared a silver-haired boy in the sunflower class. Many children were watching from a safe distance. They wanted to play in the sandbox too, but they didn't dare get within a meter of the hyper-active child. Tsuna had especially wanted to play in the sandbox that day. He even brought his plastic red shovel to school with him for that very purpose. Too bad the extreme boy was there; that meant no one else would be able to play in that area.

Sighing in defeat, he walked past where some of the boys were playing a ball game. A group of boys had crowded around and were arguing amongst themselves.

"He's on our team! If Takeshi's on our team, there's no way we'll lose!"

"Well I don't want to be on the losing team either! Takeshi, be on our team!"

"No, be on ours!"

"No, ours!"

Tsuna pouted as he scuttled past them. No one ever fought over him like that. Or, if they did, it was a contest of not getting him on their team. He was always the last one to be picked for those kinds of games.

Next, he came upon a group of girls who were doing each other's hair in lopsided pigtails. He stopped to stare for a moment, his cheeks turning red as he glimpsed one girl in particular: Kyoko-chan. She was in his class, but he had never had the courage to talk to her. One time, she had approached him to ask if she could share his crayons to draw a picture for her big brother, and Tsuna had been so nervous he wet himself in front of everyone. Kyoko had run away crying. She had never spoken to him again since that time, and Tsuna couldn't even face her let alone try apologizing. On top of that, some kid named Mochida from the sunflower class had beaten him up for it. At the time, Tsuna had just been glad that it wasn't the EXTREME kid; he was sure that he would have been sent to the hospital.

Sighing, Tsuna decided it was time to move on. If Kyoko noticed him watching her, he would never live it down. Walking farther away from the center of the playground and the watchful eye of the teacher, Tsuna meandered into the small wooded area just beyond the playground. It was still within the fenced property of the preschool, but the children weren't allowed there without supervision. Luckily for Tsuna, no one seemed to take much notice of him as long as he wasn't doing something to humiliate himself in front of the class, so he had never been scolded for wandering off.

Plus, whenever he snuck out, that person would always show up to bring him back.

Sure enough, not even five minutes after he entered the woods, a cool, collected voice said, "Students aren't allowed out here. Sawada Tsunayoshi."

Jumping to attention, Tsuna turned to face the other boy. He tried not to look to happy about being caught. Last time he'd smiled at the boy, he'd gotten beaten half to death. "H-Hibari-san!" he exclaimed, his cheeks turning pink. Hopefully they were pale enough to be mistaken for nervousness rather than the excitement it was. "I-I'm s-sorry! I'll g-go back now!" The teachers never cared when he went missing, but Hibari Kyoya-senpai had never failed to notice him sneak off.

"What were you doing out here?" Hibari questioned him coldly, closing the gap between them with an intimidating smirk on his face. "Causing trouble?"

Tsuna gulped. "No! I would never!" he swore. It was silent except for the god-awful bird that was squawking its head off in a nearby trea. "I just…" Quick, think of something! Shut up, stupid bird! Ah, that's it! Birds! "I just wanted to feed the birds."

Hibari looked at the annoying bird perched nearby before his eyes slid over Tsuna's tiny frame testily. Tsuna gulped again, hoping the older boy would buy it. He really didn't want to have to admit he had come looking for Hibari. "You…like birds?" the older boy said dubiously.

"Yep! I love them!" Tsuna lied. Actually, he was afraid of them. They had sharp beaks and made scary noises, especially crows.

"Hn." Hibari turned to leave. "Don't get caught, Sawada Tsunayoshi," he said before departing. Tsuna blinked and stared at the disappearing back before breaking into a wide grin.

"Hai!"

When Tsuna first entered Namimori Elementary School, he didn't have any friends, and he had even less hope of making any. Most of his classmates were from his class in preschool, and those that weren't were warned away from him, told that he was a loser not worth their time. Tsuna did nothing to deter these rumors, and any attempts he made to make friends ended in failure. He quickly lost count of how many times he spent his lunch time crying in the bathroom. Bullying, too, had fast become a regular part of his daily life.

"So what did Mommy make us for lunch today, Tsu-kun?" a group of fifth-graders circled around Tsuna's desk. Tsuna sighed in defeat and handed over his lunch without a fight. He had tried fighting back the first time, but he'd been beaten up so bad he decided that eating lunch wasn't worth the pain. And it's not like he had eaten lunch the day he fought back, anyway.

Moping out of the room dejectedly, Tsuna rubbed his growling stomach and tried to think of something other than how empty his stomach was. Why, oh why, hadn't he woken up earlier and eaten breakfast?!

Instead of heading to the bathroom to cry in a toilet stall like usual, Tsuna opted for wandering around the school grounds. He soon found himself outside of the building, walking around the back of it. In back of the main building was the trash dumpster. It gave off a repugnant odor, but Tsuna was hungry enough to consider searching it for edible leftovers. He began digging through the combustible garbage bin, cringing every so often as he caught a whiff of the stench or whenever his fingers curled around something slimy or moldy or filled with bugs. He was so absorbed in his task that he didn't hear the soft footsteps approaching.

"What do you think you are doing, Sawada Tsunayoshi?" a cool, familiar voice said.

Tsuna squeaked and quickly turned around to face the owner of the voice. "Hiiii!" he yelped in surprise, dropping the rotten sandwich he'd been thinking about eating. "Hibari-san!"

"Digging through the school dumpster is not allowed," Hibari remarked casually, stepping past Tsuna and pulling out a fancy, expensive-looking bento box. "You're making a mess."

"S-sorry." Tsuna watched as Hibari opened the bento box. He'd expected to see old, expired food (perhaps Hibari had left it at school over the weekend by accident or something), but it looked and smelled fresh! Hibari held it over the trash and prepared to dump it out. "You're throwing that away?!"

Hibari's hand froze in midair and he slid narrow eyes to Tsuna's face. "Yes." There was a hint of curiosity in his voice as he trailed his eyes over Tsuna's filthy, trash-covered form.

"That's a waste!" the small first-year argued.

"So?"

"Think about the people who don't even have a lunch!" Tsuna quickly slapped a hand over his mouth. It wouldn't do to yell at Hibari Kyoya. Sighing, he added in a calmer voice, "Why don't you want to eat it? Won't you be hungry?" Hibari held up a plastic-wrapped bread from the convenient store and then once again made to throw out his bento. "Wait!" Once again, Hibari observed the younger boy silently. Tsuna fidgeted. "Umm, if…if you don't want it…will you…I mean…can I have it?"

"Sure," Hibari said. Tsuna looked up at him hopefully. "I don't care, as long as it's gone." He handed the exquisite feast to Tsuna and took off. "Return the box by the end of the day. If it's not clean, I'll bite you to death."

When Tsuna was in second grade, he was accused to stealing the teacher's super-special-magic grading pen. He didn't do it, of course. Who cared about the stupid pen that always gave him bad scores? Someone suggested that he had taken it to try and use its magic powers to raise his grades, but Tsuna argued back that not even magic could do that.

No one believed him, not even his mother, who went in and apologized for her no-good son's simple-minded delinquency, and he was forced to bow in front of the whole class and apologize for his bad behavior. Everyone else was so convinced that he had committed the act that Tsuna himself started to wonder if maybe he had. Maybe he did it in his sleep or had a second personality or…or maybe he really was so stupid that he'd simply forgotten he'd done it!

"Oh, look, it's the thief," one kid sneered as they passed Tsuna in the hallway at the end of classes.

"Cheater."

"Rat."

"Coward."

"Loser."

Tsuna clenched his fists tightly, biting his lip to keep it from quivering, and hurried down the hall, eager to leave and hide in his bed, where he could cry in peace without being made fun of. Someone gave him a rough shove as he passed by the stairs, sending him tumbling downward. As he fell, he noticed with dread that someone was coming up the stairs, and they would probably be knocked over by him as he fell. Closing his eyes and bracing himself for impact, he prayed that the other person wouldn't be hurt too badly.

His body collided with that of the ascending person, sending them both tumbling backwards. Once they had stopped falling, Tsuna carefully opened one eye, then the other. He was sprawled out completely on top of the other person, their bodies in contact at almost every point, including their mouths. He absently noted that the person beneath him tasted sweet and slightly of cinnamon. A familiar scent he usually associated with danger wafted to his nose, causing his eyes to widen.

"Hiiiii!" Tsuna squeaked, almost fainting when he realized just who it was that he had collided with, who he had just inadvertently stolen a kiss from. "H-Hibari-san!"

"Sawada Tsunayoshi, just what do you think you're doing?"

Tsuna gulped. "I, uh, tripped," he offered lamely. "I'm very sorry."

Hibari scowled at him. "You're a terrible liar, Sawada Tsunayoshi." Standing up, he righted the smaller boy and held onto Tsuna's shoulder until he was sure the other wasn't going to fall over. Then, without another word, he continued on his way, leaving Tsuna alone on the staircase. As soon as Hibari was out of sight, Tsuna's legs promptly gave out.

He would have been content to sit there shakily on the floor touching his lips in a daze for the rest of the afternoon had he not heard a terrified shriek and then screams of agony fill the hallway. Crawling up the half flight of stairs, Tsuna peeked timidly around the corner. Hibari was beating some kids up mercilessly. Just as silently as he had crawled up the stairs, he snuck down to the first floor and then fled from the building, running home to hide under his covers and pretend he had seen and heard nothing, and also to pretend that he had not just given his first kiss to another boy.

Ironically, the next morning, the teacher whose pen had gone missing came in and apologized to Tsuna, saying that he had merely misplaced it in his desk at home. All of the torment Tsuna had endured had been for nothing.

By third grade, Tsuna had already developed his official nickname of 'Dame Tsuna.' Everyone, even Tsuna's own mother, called him by that name. One time, when he had a fever, Kyoko had asked him if he was feeling all right, but her words had sent him into a state of shock. She hadn't asked if "Tsuna-kun" was all right; she'd asked if "Dame Tsuna-kun" was all right. It had broken his little eight year old heart and sent him running to the roof with every intention of jumping off it.

Of course, when he got to the roof, Hibari Kyoya, now a fourth year class president, informed him none too nicely that the roof was off limits to students.

"Sawada Tsunayoshi, you are trespassing. Leave now." In his hysterical state, the only thing Tsuna could process was his name. Not Dame Tsuna, but his actual name. Sniffling, he looked at Hibari with tear-filled eyes. If someone as strong and cool as Hibari Kyoya didn't think of him as 'dame Tsuna,' then maybe that was enough. "Why are you still here? Do you wish to be bitten to death?"

"W-would Hibari-san really bite me to death?" Tsuna asked the older boy. "I'm not doing anything wrong."

Hibari glared. "You're not supposed to be up here."

"Neither are you," the younger child said in a fit of defiant boldness. Blushing at his outburst, he added meekly, "I won't cause trouble."

"What did you come up here for?" Hibari scowled, impatient but curious. Tsuna sniffled and shifted awkwardly, not wanting to admit his original plan. "Well?"

"The birds." Hibari raised a delicate eyebrow. Tsuna laughed uneasily, fidgeting as Hibari gave him a scrutinizing once-over. "I wanted to feed the birds."

"Birds?" Hibari repeated, looking at the other boy like he was stupid.

Tsuna nodded hastily. "Hiiiii! I mean, err, yes! The roof is outside, so I can see the birds from here, you see? I…I like birds. They're nice birdy animals."

"Are you…" Hibari leaned in really close until their noses almost touch. "…mentally handicapped?"

"H-hiiiii?" Without waiting for a more coherent answer from the boy, Hibari turned on his heels and walked away. For some reason, Tsuna found this action highly offensive. "W-wait, where are you going?"

The older boy shook his head. "It's not right to bite the mentally ill," Hibari muttered under his breath.

"I'm not crazy!" Tsuna yelled, pouting. Of course, he'd rather be labeled crazy than be bitten to death, but the words just slipped out before he could restrain himself. Hibari stopped and turned to face him again. Tsuna braced himself for a beating, because Hibari's violent reputation preceded him, and Tsuna knew he wouldn't get away with yelling at Hibari Kyoya unscathed.

Towering over him, Hibari smirked dangerously. "Sawada Tsunayoshi," he said. "You are a pathetically weak herbivore, and yet you think you can defy me?"

Tsuna put on his bravest face (which sadly included teary eyes and quivering lips) and replied, "I'm not crazy, and I'm not 'no-good Tsuna.' I'm sick of people calling me that. Don't call me weak!"

Hibari blinked and took in the sight before him. Tsuna, who had not yet had his elementary-school growth spurt, stood on trembling legs looking up at him with the most miserable, captivating pair of sad puppy eyes Hibari had ever seen. There was no doubt that Sawada Tsunayoshi was a weakling, an herbivore, but in that weakness laid the untouchable strength called cuteness. And Hibari Kyoya found himself completely powerless against it.

"I'm sick of being picked on just because I've never passed a test and am bad at sports and can't swim and trip over my own feet sometimes and—"

"Wao, you really are a no-good herbivore," Hibari said in awe. Was it really possible for any one person to be so wholly bad at everything? It was almost laughable. This boy was the epitome of what he hated, and yet Hibari couldn't bring himself to hate him.

"I'm not!" Tsuna cried in a high-pitched, whiny voice that made Hibari grit his teeth. "I'm not no-good!" he screeched. Then, in a soft voice, he whimpered, "…am I?"

Hibari sighed. This was why he hated weak herbivores. "Sounds like it to me." This answer, of course, only made Tsuna cry harder. "Tch. Crybaby. Stop crying. If you don't like it, then do something about it, Sawada Tsunayoshi."

"Easy for you to say. You're not 'dame dame no kono dame Tsuna,' after all." Despite his irritated tone, Tsuna couldn't help the heat that seeped into his cheeks.

"I don't believe I said for 'dame Tsuna' to do something about it," Hibari replied, smirking. "I believe I said for 'Sawada Tsunayoshi,' who claims not to be a weakling, to do something about it."

Tsuna sniffled. "Can you at least help me find my shoe?" Hibari looked down at Tsuna's feet. Sure enough, one of his shoes was missing. "Mochida-senpai and some other fourth years stole it and hid it somewhere."

"That's not my problem. Search for it yourself," Hibari said and walked away, leaving Tsuna alone on the rooftop still in tears.

Tsuna never did find his shoe, but he did notice that Mochida was sporting a broken nose and three fractured ribs the next day.

In fourth grade, Tsuna was put in charge of taking care of the class pet, which was a fuzzy brown hamster with a strange twitch and a habit of biting and latching onto any male that stuck his hand in the cage (strangely, this did not apply to females; Tsuna secretly came to believe later on in life that the hamster and Dr. Shamal were old friends). Needless to say, it died within the first week, and Tsuna was required to buy a replacement and write a letter of apology to his heartbroken classmates (Kyoko-chan actually cried over the stupid thing!).

Stepping into the pet shop, Tsuna grumbled to himself about how unfair his life was. Just because the stupid hamster decided to role over and die, Tsuna was being punished. It wasn't his fault. The dumb rat probably drowned itself. Scuttling over to where they were selling the small caged pets, Tsuna glowered at the entire batch hamsters. Hell if he was getting another one of those god awful things.

In the next cage over, there were several ferrets sleeping belly-up. After a moment of consideration, Tsuna decided they looked too dead to take back to school; they might think he killed it on the way.

Birds didn't seem like such a bad idea…until Tsuna realized just how much noise their squawking actually made. The teacher would definitely get mad at him. Plus, despite the fact that he'd told Hibari he liked birds, he really had a bit of a phobia about them.

Maybe a snake? Tsuna shuddered. There was no way he was going to sit in the same classroom as an icky snake. The same went for any other reptile or amphibian. No bugs either. Yuck. He didn't think the girls would like them much, either, and if Kyoko didn't like it then there wasn't much point.

The next cage only had one animal in it: a small, spindly little rodent labeled 'hedgehog.' Tsuna had never seen a hedgehog before, but to his eyes the spiky creature looked dangerous. He didn't want to get pricked in a hundred different places just by getting close to it. The hedgehog shifted in its sleep, curling into an even tighter ball. Tsuna crouched down so that he was eye-level with it through the glass and let out a soft giggle. Actually, it was kind of cute. It reminded him strangely of Hibari-san, who threatened to bite if people crowded into his personal space.

A long-haired girl dressed in a high school uniform came over and crouched down next to him to see what he was looking at so intently. "A hedgehog?"

Tsuna's head snapped in her direction, his eyes wide like a deer caught in the headlights. "Umm…?" He wanted to ask her who she was, but for some reason he felt a dangerous aura coming from the seemingly innocent high school girl.

"Whatcha want a hedgehog for?" she inquired casually, brushing a few long, black locks of hair away from her face.

"I-I…killed the class pet," Tsuna stammered uncomfortably. "I didn't mean to, though!" he added hastily in his own defense. The girl let out a bark-like laugh. Tsuna got the feeling that she was probably a delinquent.

"So you're replacing it with a hedgehog? Isn't that a little dangerous for a fourth grade classroom?"

"I wasn't going to…I mean…it's just that…it's kinda cute, isn't it?"

"Cute? How the hell is that thing cute?" she exclaimed incredulously. Tsuna flushed a deep red, feeling stupid. Yeah, it probably was just an ugly, spiky rat. He was probably just no-good enough not to know the difference between when something was cute and when it wasn't. But, wait—did that mean he thought Hibari-san was cute? Yeah, he guessed it did. But maybe Hibari-san was an ugly, mean person, too. After all, none of the girls fawned over him like they did Yamamoto. In fact, everyone shied away from him. Did that mean Hibari-san was not good? No way! Tsuna was sure that Hibari-san was cute…and cool, and strong, and smart and—

"I like hedgehogs," Tsuna replied defiantly, cheeks flaming in a strange mixture of embarrassment, adoration, and rebellious energy. "I think it's cute, and I don't care what anyone else says!"

The girl snorted and mussed his hair. "You're a cute kid. No wonder he likes you so much."

Tsuna blinked in confusion. Wha…?

Standing, the girl called over the shopkeeper and told him to pack up the hedgehog. When Tsuna pulled out his wallet, she shook her head. "I'll pay for it."

"Thank you," Tsuna said earnestly. "Umm, onee-san, why are you being so nice to me?"

The girl's lips tilted upward in a wry smile. "You've gotta be the only kid in Namimori that thinks that bastard hedgehog brother of mine is cute, Sawada Tsunayoshi."

Tsuna's eyes widened. "How'd you know my name?"

"Kyoya talked about you once at home," she replied as she handed the man at the register the money. The shopkeeper's assistant handed Tsuna a small carrying cage with the hedgehog in it. "My brother doesn't usually talk about his life, so I guess it stuck."

Tsuna's face lit up in realization. "H-H-Hibari-san's big s-sister?"

The girl smiled and nodded. "My name's Reiko," she told him. Tsuna felt his cheeks heat up slightly. This was Hibari-san's sister. "So, whatcha gonna name it?"

"Hmm…I don't know if I'm allowed. I think the whole class gets to pick," Tsuna replied.

"Bullshit! You're the one who bought it, so you should get to name it," she insisted. Suddenly, her eyes lit up. "I know! Why don't you name it after the person you like? Y'know, that red-headed girl in your class? What was her name?"

"Kyoko-chan?" Tsuna said. Then, his eyes grew to be the size of baseballs. "Hiiii! How did you know I like Kyoko-chan?!"

"I told you, Kyoya talked about you at home."

"You said he only did it once!" Tsuna couldn't believe that Hibari-san had told his family about him liking Kyoko-chan! Even worse—that meant that Hibari-san knew he liked Kyoko-chan! Hiiiiii!

"Yep. One evening at the dinner table, he suddenly started complaining about this bird-obsessed herbivore—why herbivore, by the way?—whose average test score was in the single digits and who couldn't jump over the third level on the vaulting horse and who nevertheless liked the school idol, and how she was the only one who didn't realize it. It was kinda freaky, actually, since he's made a point of being completely silent around our parents since our dad remarried. You must have made quite an impression. Heh."

"…thanks…I guess." Tsuna wasn't exactly happy to hear that he had bothered Hibari-san so much that the boy had felt the need to break a vow of silence to complain about him, but he didn't want to make Reiko mad. She might have the same temperament as Hibari-san and try to bite him to death.

"So, what'll you name it? Why not 'Kyoko-chan'?"

"Hiiiiii! No way!" Tsuna could feel his face flaming.

"Hnnnnnn," Reiko made a long, drawn-out sound of disappointment before suggesting, "Then how about shortening it to 'Kyo-chan'?

"Yeah, I like that idea better. That way, no one will know who I like."

"I see. Fufufu," she trailed off in a fit of giggles that Tsuna didn't understand. Why was she laughing so hard? Was 'Kyo' such a funny name? Tsuna didn't think so. After all, if 'Kyo' was strange, then didn't that make the name 'Kyoko' strange, too? And 'Kyoya', too, for that matter?

Ah…Kyo-chan…Kyoya…Hibari-san.

That explained a lot.

Tsuna's face felt like it was on fire.

Tsuna ended up taking care of 'Kyo' the hedgehog for the rest of the year because no one else would get near it. Sorta like how no one would go near Hibari-san's domain on the roof. Tsuna seemed to be the only one who ever went up there. Funny, that. Heh. Heh.

When Tsuna entered the fifth grade, he found a stray kitten on the way home from school.

It was pouring rain and very cold. Tsuna could see his breath as he walked home carrying the umbrella his mother had handed him this morning. It was pink and frilly, much to his embarrassment, but now he was glad he had taken it. He dallied every so often, splashing in the puddles along the way. His mother would be upset when she saw how muddy his clothes had become.

Leaping onto another puddle, sending water flying in every direction, Tsuna's ears picked up a faint mewling sound from the bushes lining the sidewalk. Stepping over to the edge of the pavement, Tsuna crouched down and peeked at the bottom of the bush.

"A kitty?" he murmured to himself. Shifting his umbrella so that it sat covering him without being held up, he reached a hand out to the kitten, only to recoil hastily with a loud, injured yelp. He examined his now bleeding hand with a frown. "That hurt, kitty. Nyanko-san shouldn't bite," he told the cat, once again reaching out his hand. "Aren't you getting wet over there?"

The kitten sniffed at his fingers briefly before taking a slow, tentative step in his direction. Tsuna smiled and pet the cat's head gently with his uninjured hand. "Good kitty. See? I'm not gonna hurt you." He picked the filthy ball of fur up and cradled it gently in his arms. The poor thing was soaked to the bone and shivering violently. It was very young, too. How could such a little thing survive on its own? Tucking the kitten underneath his shirt so that it would get warm faster and not get wetter, he hurried home.

Nana was beyond surprised to see her little boy, who usually bawled like a baby in terror around even small animals, had brought home a cat that had scratched him. However, being the type of person that she was, she welcomed the idea of a new family member with open arms. Taking the kitten from her son, she told Tsuna to go put on some dry clothes. Tsuna dashed upstairs to change and was back in the kitchen with his mother and the cat in record time.

Once they had given the reluctant animal a bath and dried it off with a towel, Tsuna looked up at his mom with big, pleading eyes. "Can we keep her, Mommy?"

"I don't know, Tsu-kun," she replied, "Remember what happened when it was your turn to take care of the class pet? That poor hamster…"

"But I'll take good care of her! I promise! So, please?" Tsuna begged.

"A cat costs money, Tsuna. There's food and vaccination and supplies and all sorts of fees. And I know I'm going to end up taking care of it." Nana tilted her head in consideration. "Hmm, well maybe if your test scores were a little higher…"

Tsuna sighed. He should have seen this coming. "What score do I have to get?"

"Pass." Tsuna stared blankly at the woman. "Pass one test, and the cat is yours," Nana said. Tsuna gawked and then let out a dejected sigh, his shoulders slumping. "Aw, come on, Tsu-kun, it's just one test. Maybe if you study a little, you can do it!"

Tsuna looked at his mom and then at the kitten that was curled up happily in his lap. "Fine, I'll do it. I'll pass my test."

Tsuna's test average made a miraculous leap from its usual single-digit to a grand total of 17.5 and leveled off, at which point Nana simply gave up hope in her no-good son ever getting a passing grade. Unfortunately, Nana insisted on getting rid of the cat.

"Ask your classmates if they're interested in taking in a cat, okay Tsu-kun?"

"Fine…" Tsuna grumbled out reluctantly, eyeing the kitten out of the corner of his eye wistfully. He didn't want to give it away, but he had failed to hold up his side of the bargain. "I'm sorry kitty," he whispered as he left the house. "I guess I really am good-for-nothing after all."

By the end of the day, not only did Tsuna feel 'good-for-nothing,' but he was quite certain he carried a distinct cloud of misfortune around with him. There was not a doubt in his mind: he was unlucky. Everyone in his class and in the classroom next to him all had viable reasons not to take in the kitten. He contemplated going to see if any of the sixth years down the hall (the only sixth years on their floor) were interested, but then he remembered just what kind of students occupied that classroom.

Still…it was for that poor, cute little kitten. Tsuna gritted his teeth and whispered to himself, "ga-ma-n," before going to ask the students of Class 6-D.

The second he slid open the door, he was hit in the head with a textbook. "I QUIT TO THE LIMIT!" the crazy extreme boy shouted loudly. "Who needs books anyway when there's boxing!?" Then, noticing where his textbook had landed, he grinned sheepishly. "Yo, Sawada!" Tsuna nodded awkwardly in greeting, rubbing the bruise that was forming on his head. "What's up?"

"I have a favor to ask everyone," he said. He then explained about the kitten, and the extreme boy beamed widely at him.

"Well, if no one else wants it, I'll take it home with me TO THE EXTREME!" he declared. "My sister likes cute animals. She was so sad when I accidentally pet our dog too hard and its neck snapped. And then she cried when I accidentally crushed the bird. And then when we got a rabbit, I accidentally put it in water that was EXTREMELY deep, and it drowned. Yeah, I bet she'd like a cat!"

Tsuna gaped in horror. How was this person not in jail?! His poor sister must be a saint to put up with him! "N-no, that's okay, really! Isn't there anyone else who could take it?" Everyone looked slightly guilty, knowing what would happen to the poor thing if they didn't speak up, but not a single soul said a word.

Tsuna sighed in defeat and turned to leave the room. On his way out, he caught the tail end of a conversation inside the room. "…I guess he's not here today, but doesn't Hibari-san seem like the cat type?" one girl said.

"No, he seems more like the 'cat for dinner' type," her friend replied. "He took a stray dog home once, and someone said they found its skeleton on the street the next day, picked clean of meat. He gives me the creeps!"

"Yeah, he's so scary!" the first agreed.

Spinning around, Tsuna realized that Hibari was, indeed, part of the class. His desk, at the back of the room, had terrifying threats graffitied all over it, and everyone else's desk was at least two desk spaces away from it. Tsuna left the room and stumbled down the hallway. He climbed the two flights of stairs that led to the roof. Maybe Hibari-san would take it! Even Hibari-san had to be better than the EXTREME kid…right?

Throwing open the door to the roof, Tsuna cried out excitedly, "Hibari-san!" The pleasant smile froze on his face and melted into an expression of horror when he saw what Hibari was currently doing on the roof. At least a dozen junior high thugs were sprawled out unconscious on the ground, complete bloody messes. Two were still fighting with the sixth year, but they soon joined their comrades.

Hibari turned his head and cast a sidelong glance at Tsuna. "Sawada Tsunayoshi," he acknowledged. "What business do you have up here? I thought I told you that the roof if off limits to students."

"Hiii! Ah, umm, gomen nasai!" Tsuna bowed frantically. "I'm really sorry! I just—there was—I needed to ask you something and I thought you might be up here—"

"Enough babble. Be quick, or I'll bite you to death like I did these trespassers."

Tsuna decided to get straight to the point. "Can you take in a cat?" he said quickly. Hibari raised an eyebrow at the strange request. "Well, you see, I found a stray kitten not too long ago, and my mom said I could keep it only if I passed a test this semester, but my average test score ended up being 17.5 percent, and so I have to get rid of it, and I didn't want to just abandon it on the streets, so I asked if anyone at school could take it, and the only one who volunteered was the EXTREME guy, and I feel too sorry for the kitty to give it to him because he'd probably kill it, and so I thought, umm…err, well, I thought that maybe Hibari-san might take it." He swallowed audibly. Listening to himself, and looking at the bloodied and bruised bodies littering the rooftop, it sounded like a really bad idea. What had he been thinking? "But, I can see now that it would be troublesome, so I'm sorry for taking up so much of your time—"

"I have a dog."

Tsuna blinked. "What?"

"I have a dog at my house," Hibari repeated.

"You mean you didn't eat that dog for dinner?" Even before the words had left his mouth, Tsuna wanted to crawl in a hole and die. Did he really just say that out loud?! When Hibari pinned him with an incredulous, slightly offended glare, he just about wet himself. "Hiiiii! I-I-I hear they're pretty good with a little seasoning. You can buy them as ingredients in China. Heh heh."

Hibari's glare intensified a hundred fold. "Sawada Tsunayoshi, leave now or I'll bite you to death."

Tsuna whimpered and was about to leave when he remembered something. "Ne, doesn't H-Hibari-san have a sister?"

Hibari glowered dangerously. "What nonsense are you spewing, Sawada Tsunayoshi?" he growled threateningly.

"R-Reiko!" Tsuna cried. "Her name was Reiko! I met her at a store, and she said you were her brother!" Hibari was quiet for a minute. Tsuna eyed him warily, his curiosity getting the better of his flight instincts. "Hibari-san…?"

"That rabid beast is no sister of mine," Hibari spat coldly. "She's the devil."

Tsuna fought back the urge to giggle. Despite the fact that Hibari's face was truly terrifying at the moment, it seemed in a way that he was sulking. Tsuna guessed that even people like Hibari had problems with siblings. Stepping closer, Tsuna said, "Well then, do you think that the 'devil' could take in my cat?"

"She's allergic to feline hair."

Tsuna's face fell. It was looking pretty grim for the kitty. "Oh," he sighed. Trying not to look too depressed, he forced a grin and added, "Well, thanks anyways, Hibari-san!"

The next morning, a scary-looking thug from Namimori Middle approached Tsuna, introducing himself as Kusakabe and offering to take in the cat. Tsuna handed the kitten over with tears of relief in his eyes. He almost hugged the guy. It wasn't for another two years that Tsuna found out Kusakabe was one of Hibari's underlings and acting under orders.

When Tsuna was in sixth grade, Hibari had already moved on to middle school, so he didn't see much of the boy. Once in a while, when the 'discipline' of the school was being interrupted, the older boy would make a brief appearance, bite someone to death, and then leave, but Tsuna didn't talk to him for almost the entire year. Even with Hibari gone, most kids were still too scared to go up on the roof. For that very reason, Tsuna liked it up there. The bullies wouldn't chase him once he'd gotten past the door to the roof.

He had never considered Hibari a friend. Tsuna didn't know enough about friends to make let alone keep one, Hibari Kyoya wasn't the type to have friends. But with the other boy gone, Tsuna realized that there was no one for him to talk to. Not that he used to talk to Hibari a lot, but even the little bit of interaction the two had had was significantly more than the interaction he had with anyone else at school.

Tsuna felt trapped by his own good-for-nothingness in the small Namimori community. So, he took up volleyball and started skipping school more. Needless to say, he did a poor job at both. He was a permanent bench warmer on the volleyball team, and no one cared when he cut classes. The teachers didn't even notice, and his test average didn't change at all. On top of that, he didn't even enjoy the times that he skipped! He got bored out of his mind! And no one even cared that he skipped in the first place! Didn't that say something?!

No one noticed or cared, or so he thought.

Tsuna wandered into a game center once he was sure that there were no police officers inside scouring the facility for truants like himself. He sat down at the Initial D racing game and put some money in. He lost in the first round. Next, he played the taiko game. He lost in the second round. He tried a claw machine and completely failed. Looking into his wallet, he sighed. He had four hundred yen left, so he decided to go do photo stickers to commemorate his typically pathetic day.

Stepping into the purikura booth, ignoring the 'girls only' sign, he put in the four hundred yen and stood forlornly in front of the camera as it began to snap pictures of him. He didn't know how much time had passed or how many pictures had been taken, but he heard confident footsteps approach the machine and looked over just in time to see someone brush aside the curtain. Hibari stood before Tsuna in his middle school uniform, adorned with a red strip of fabric proudly proclaiming its wearer a member of the disciplinary committee, looking down at the truant boy furiously.

"Sawada Tsunayoshi." The camera flashed and captured Tsuna's horrified, 'facing death' expression with a cute, sunny background. "What do you think you are doing?"

Tsuna frantically searched for words to excuse his actions. Looking hysterically between Hibari and the camera, he managed to stammer out a pinched, "Purikura?" Before Hibari could bite him to death for skipping school (and instead going to a game center of all places!), Tsuna tugged the prefect's arm so that they were both standing in front of the camera. The camera flashed and the screen displayed a picture of Tsuna smiling nervously, clinging to a livid Hibari, who was glowering at the smaller boy. The next background came up of a cartoony tropical island.

"Pose with me?" Tsuna said and looking at the camera, pulling Hibari closer. Hibari reluctantly acquiesced, turning his attention to the camera. Tsuna looked at the photo that was taken and frowned at it. "You've gotta smile, Hibari-san!" he insisted. Hibari opened his mouth to tell the boy that he did not 'gotta' do anything, especially not just because a weak herbivore like Sawada Tsunayoshi said so, but just then Tsuna looked up at him pleadingly, once again employing those big doe eyes and cute pout, and instead of scolding the boy Hibari found himself obliging Tsuna's request, leaning into the clinging boy and smiling at the camera. Tsuna smiled too.

It was probably the first time Tsuna had smiled like that all year.

The first time Hibari actually bit Tsuna to death was in middle school. In the span of a year, Hibari had become the head prefect in charge of a small army of thugs who claimed to be the 'Disciplinary Committee.' In a way, they did maintain the discipline of Namimori Middle—by beating up anyone who interrupted the order. Tsuna, by nature, was a person who disrupted the natural order. His 'no-good' behavior, and also the bullying and misconduct it attracted, often set him at odds with the committee.

Tsuna couldn't complain, though, because he knew that he was a disruptive person and that, despite claims otherwise, Hibari did hold back quite a bit when biting him to death. Apparently, the Disciplinary Committee Head applied different levels of violence depending on the nature of the crime and on the strength of the perpetrator. He never bit a weak person as hard as he did a strong person; Kusakabe once told him it was the difference between a nose-breaking punch and a slap on the wrist (even if it didn't feel that way). Therefore, Tsuna didn't complain, because he knew it could be much, much worse (and it did get much, much worse when Reborn came along and started instigating trouble, but at first it wasn't so bad to the point that he felt the need to hide from the older boy; at least, he didn't feel like he was being targeted). He learned not to take it personally, at any rate.

Tsuna wasn't wearing his school uniform that day, so he had snuck down the hall to his classroom while trying to avoid the prefects as if his life depended on it. His head had been dunked in the toilet that morning by some upperclassmen under the command of Mochida-senpai, so he had snuck down to his locker and changed into his P.E. sweats and jersey instead. Hibari had beaten people up for less, so he really didn't want to get caught.

Of course, as fate would have it, Hibari had apparently had business with someone in Tsuna's class that day (business that left the poor boy with a broken nose and black eye). Upon entering the classroom, Tsuna was immediately the object of Hibari's disdainful stare.

"Sawada Tsunayoshi," he said. "That attire is not permitted during normal school hours." Tonfas already out, he approached Tsuna at a deadly slow pace. Tsuna backed away on wobbly legs, knowing better than to try and flee.

It was over fairly quickly. One, two blows that sent him flying back into the wall with a bloody lip and bruised stomach, a clear warning glare, and then Hibari disappeared down the hallway. That was the end of it. Tsuna groaned, wiped his nose clean of blood, and went back to class. At the end of the school day, he packed up his things and headed home.

On the way out, however, he overheard a conversation between a pair of prefects.

"…sick?"

"I think he has a fever, but he won't let anyone get close enough to check."

"That's Hibari-san for you."

"I wish he would just let us give him some medicine and send him home. Stubborn little boy."

One of the two voices he soon recognized as belonging to Kusakabe, Hibari's right hand man. If Kusakabe said Hibari was sick, it was probably true. Tsuna bit his lip worriedly. Hibari's beating had been less painful than usual. Maybe that was the reason? Half of Tsuna wanted to go see if the older boy was all right, but the other half, his 'dame Tsuna' half, told him to count his blessings and not to question a good thing.

Against his better judgment, Tsuna approached the two prefects. One of them gave him a dirty look and grunted, "Whadda ya want, brat? You lookin' for trouble?"

Kusakabe observed him thoughtfully. "Sawada-kun," he said.

Tsuna jumped and stuttered out, "Hiii! Y-y-yes?"

"I have a favor to ask of you."

Tsuna gulped. "H-hai?"

Ten minutes later found Tsuna standing timidly in front of the door of the prefects' headquarters, medicine in hand. He knocked softly. Upon receiving no reply, he tentatively slid open the door. The room was empty save for Hibari, who was reclined on the couch in the center of the room.

"H-Hibari-san?" he whispered, stepping inside and closing the door behind him. He tiptoed closer to the couch. Hibari shifted slightly, one of his arms slipping off the couch, causing the tonfa in his hand to clang loudly against the floor. Tsuna jumped and let out a fearful "hiiiii," afraid that he had angered the head prefect. However, when there was no further reaction from the boy, Tsuna crept closer until he was standing over Hibari. "Hibari-san?" he repeated softly. Hibari's eyebrows twitched, but he did not open his eyes. Tsuna began to suspect the boy was sleeping.

"Hibari-san," he said again, " Kusakabe-san said you weren't feeling well. I've brought some medicine…"

No response.

He didn't dare wake the boy, but he didn't think Kusakabe would appreciate him simply leaving without doing anything. He made sure to leave the medicine and a glass of water in a place that was easy to spot. He found Hibari's uniform jacket discarded across a chair nearby and used it to cover the boy's upper body. He removed his own jersey jacket, leaving him slightly cold in his tank top undershirt, and covered Hibari's legs. Tsuna lifted a shaky hand and gently brushed aside Hibari's bangs. The older boy stirred slightly at the touch but did not wake.

Hibari's forehead did feel rather warm, Tsuna thought. Maybe he was sick. Tsuna trailed his fingers down from Hibari's forehead, tracing the straight like of his nose, down to his lips. He brushed his fingers over the pink flesh gingerly and then mimicked the action on his own lips, swollen at one corner from the earlier blow from Hibari's tonfa. He had accidentally given this boy his first kiss. At the time, he had tasted sweet yet spicy. Licking his lips, Tsuna wondered if Hibari still tasted like cinnamon.

Before he knew it, he found himself leaning down and pressing his lips against Hibari's. Closing his eyes, he put his hand on Hibari's chest to hold himself up and cautiously darted his tongue out to lap at the edge of the older boy's mouth. Instead of cinnamon, this time Hibari tasted like apples. Tsuna decided that he really liked the flavor. When he opened his eyes, he found himself staring into dark, slanted eyes that were gazing up at him emotionlessly. Tsuna drew his face back in a panic.

"Hiiiiii! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!" he whimpered pathetically. "I-I came because Kusakabe wanted me to check on you and bring medicine—there's medicine on the table! You should take some! Hiiii! Not that you have to take it, but it might help! Hiiiiiii! Not that you need any help or anything! Oh please don't kill me!"

"Sawada Tsunayoshi," Hibari said, his voice and eyes still weighed down by the effects of sleep. Tsuna gulped and fearfully anticipated what would be the second beating of the day. "Your hand is cold." Tsuna looked down to find his hand still pressing down on Hibari's chest. He quickly removed the appendage with a "hiii" and a sheepish blush. Hibari sat up and looked around the room sleepily. Yawning he asked, "Where is Kusakabe?"

"Huh? Oh! He's downstairs making sure everyone leaves campus in an orderly fashion." More like threatening the entire student body to be on their best behavior and beating people into submission. "Would you like to take some medicine?" Without waiting for a response, Tsuna scurried over to the table to retrieve the medicine and the glass of water. When he returned to Hibari's side, he found the older boy staring blankly at the jersey jacket covering his legs. "I, uh, thought you might be cold," Tsuna explained sheepishly. "Sorry for doing something unnecessary," he apologized and retrieved his jersey, happy to have it back. He handed the medicine to Hibari, who eyed it warily.

"It's just cold medicine," Tsuna assured him. "You have a fever. It might help bring it down." Hibari stared at the medicine for a long moment before putting it in his mouth and downing it with the entire glass of water. Tsuna tried to smile approvingly, but it his injured mouth hurt too much to actually smile and it ended up looking more like a grimace.

"What are you still doing here?" Hibari said. "I'll bite you to death."

"Hiii! Gomen nasai!" Tsuna leapt to attention. "I'm leaving right now!"

Before he had a chance to make his escape, Hibari had wrapped slender fingers around Tsuna's arm and yanked him down so that their faces were inches apart. Calloused fingers prodded at the wound on his mouth, and Tsuna tried not to wince. Fingers were soon replaced by lips, which placed an almost tender kiss on the bruise, and then lips were joined by tongue. Tsuna stood there wide-eyed, paralyzed as Hibari's tongue lapped at the injury.

Then, the tongue traveled from the corner of his mouth to the center of it, tongue diving in between Tsuna lips, which were parted in surprise. Apple and spice flavors filled Tsuna's mouth, and he could now taste a little splash of cinnamon amidst the apple. He found himself yearning for more, his tongue instinctively slipping into Hibari's mouth in search of more of the delicious taste that he had come to associate with the beautiful yet deadly youth before him.

Hibari's free hand (the one that didn't have a vice grip on Tsuna's arm) came up to the back of Tsuna's neck to hold the smaller boy's head in place. The other hand released Tsuna's arm in favor of wrapping around his waist, pulling boy into his lap. Tsuna straddled Hibari's legs and allowed the older boy to pull their upper bodies closer and to deepen and dominate the kiss. Tsuna melted against him with a tiny moan.

At length, Hibari pulled away for air, pecking Tsuna one final time on the lips. Tsuna looked at Hibari through glazed eyes, flushed and panting. Hibari was flushed, too, but the older boy's labored breathing hinted more at fever than anything else. "H-Hibari-sa—hiiiiii!" Hibari fell over onto the couch, taking Tsuna with him. He snuggled into the smaller boy, his entire body shaking with fever. Tsuna lied there cuddled next to the older boy tensely, not sure what to do. "Hibari-san…?"

"I'm cold." Tsuna blinked in confusion at the random comment. Hibari pulled Tsuna closer. "I'm cold," the prefect repeated. Tsuna didn't understand why the older boy kept telling him that. Of course Hibari was cold—he had a fever! He was so stupid that he couldn't even figure out that much on his own. More importantly, what was that kiss about just now?! Tsuna wanted to ask, but when he looked up at the other boy, he found that Hibari was already sound asleep, and Tsuna didn't dare wake the carnivore.

Tsuna didn't get home until almost midnight. It was the first time He had stayed at school so late. Nana had been furious, but the memory of cinnamon and apples made everything else, including his mother's wrath, fade into the background. She soon gave up on scolding him, seeing that he wasn't even paying attention, instead staring off into space with a dreamy look in his eyes.

The next morning, Tsuna woke up with a fever. He stayed home from school, and the reason he wasn't punished for his truancy, Kusakabe told him upon his return to school, was because Hibari had checked himself into the hospital. Tsuna had worried that it had been due to some form of neglect or oversight on his part, but the vice president of the disciplinary committee assured him that Hibari had an unexplicable fondness for Namimori Hospital. Nevertheless, Tsuna felt at least partially responsible, and, brushing off Kusakabe's warnings, he had gone to visit the boy.

The secretary gave him an incredulous look and asked, "I'm sorry, I must have heard you wrong. Who is it that you came to visit, dear?"

Tsuna swallowed and clutched the bouquet of flowers tighter. "H-Hibari Kyoya-san…is he not checked into this hospital?"

The secretary looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Oh, no, he's here…" she trailed off.

A terrifying thought gripped Tsuna, and he exclaimed, "Is he so sick that he can't even have visitors?!" Was Hibari-san dying because Tsuna hadn't watched over him properly the other evening?! Tsuna wasn't sure he could live with himself if that was the case! And the Disciplinary Committee would definitely blame him. "Hiiii! I'm gonna get bitten to death!" he cried fearfully.

The nurse tried to calm him down. "No, Sir, he's here, he's fine," she assured him. "I'll send for someone to show you the way to his room right away."

Tsuna relaxed at this and waited somewhat impatiently for his guide. He fidgeted nervously, wondering if Hibari would be happy to see him, or if the prefect would bite him to death for 'crowding' or something. Soon enough, a young nurse had arrived to take him to Hibari's room. Once they were outside the door of room 218, the nurse was quick to flee the area; probably a wise decision, in case Hibari was not in a good mood. Gathering his courage, he rapped on the door softly.

"Come in," a female voice replied. Tsuna was immediately put at ease by the sound of it. Sliding open the door, Tsuna held back a giggle at the scene that greeted him. Reiko was arranging flowers for the windowsill, humming happily to herself, and Hibari-san was glaring daggers at her back. Reiko turned to see who was at the door and broke into a wide grin.

"Ah, Tsu-kun! Did you come to visit my little brother?" she cried, giving him a backbreaking hug. "Look at you! You've gotten taller!" It was very kind of her to say so. He really hadn't grown all that much since elementary school. "Isn't my little brother such a baby? He catches a cold and all of a sudden he's in need of twenty-four-hour medical assistance! Honestly!"

Tsuna didn't dare agree with her, for fear of his life, but he still suspected her to be a fearsome creature with a secret dark side, so he opted to remain silent instead of standing up for Hibari-san. He bowed to her and then to Kyoya, who was brooding moodily in his bed. "These are for H-Hibari-san," he said, holding up the bouquet. Kyoya's eyes flickered over to Tsuna and the flowers for a brief moment before darting away to glare out the window some more.

"I'll put them in a vase," Reiko offered, taking the flowers off his hands. "You can go sit by my brother if you want." With Hibari-san in such a bad mood, Tsuna was hesitant to comply. Sensing his reluctance, the older girl added, "Go on, Tsu-kun. I'm sure he's glad you're here, if for no other reason than to get rid of me for a little bit." Tsuna sat down in the chair next to Hibari's bed, not missing the sharp glare that was directed at him the second he stepped inside the boy's personal space. He gulped and looked down at his hands.

"I'm going to run to the store," Reiko said. "I'll be back in a little while. Don't do anything naughty to Tsu-kun while I'm gone, okay Kyoya?"

A knife lodged itself into the wooden door next to her head. "Get out, or I swear I will bite you to death."

Reiko seemed unaffected by the assault and threat. "Save the biting for when you're alone with Tsu-kun," she teased and disappeared before Kyoya could make good on his promise to kill her. Having lost the object of his wrath, Hibari turned his wrathful glare on Tsuna, who let out an unmanly "hiiie" and pressed his back against the chair fearfully.

"I, uh, I came to visit," Tsuna said uncertainly. When Hibari didn't respond, he added, "How is Hibari-san feeling?"

"Get out, or I'll bite you to dea—" His voice caught in his throat when Tsuna, ignoring the threat, leaned over to feel the older boy's forehead. His eyes were slightly wide from the surprise he felt at the unexpected move.

"It doesn't feel like you have a fever," Tsuna observed. His hand trailed from Hibari's forehead down the side of his face, cupping Hibari's pale, flawless cheek. "Is…are-are you o-okay?" Tsuna's thumb unconsciously stroked Hibari's cheek sweetly. "When I heard that you were in the hospital, I got worried," the smaller boy admitted.

"Foolish," Hibari scoffed, swatting Tsuna's hand away and sitting up in bed. Tsuna made to help him, but a warning glare stopped him in his tracks. "I am not some weak herbivore that requires help from others. I do not group together with weaklings." Hibari's gaze wandered, straying from Tsuna as if Tsuna's presence was not significant enough to observe.

"If you don't need help, then why are you in the hospital?" That question earned Tsuna a stinging blow and a bloody lip. He whimpered and cradled his jaw, glaring at Hibari through teary eyes, sniffling, "W-Why are you s-so mean to m-me?"

"I have no reason to give you preferential treatment, Sawada Tsunayoshi," Hibari replied coldly. "The weak will be bitten to death. The strong will survive by feeding on the weak. There is a distinct food chain in which you are a bottom feeder, and I am at the top. That is the natural order of things." Hibari didn't spare him more than a brief glance as he said these things, and that is perhaps what bothered Tsuna the most.

"I don't like that!" Tsuna exclaimed with a stubborn frown. Hibari still refused to look at him. In a fit of rage, he fisted the older boy's caller and jerked him forward until their noses were almost touching. Then, he crashed their lips together furiously, almost violently invading the dark-haired boy's mouth. When he pulled back, Hibari was staring at him in shock. He was finally looking at him.

"That's not how things have to work, Hibari-san. The strong don't have to prey on the weak—instead, they can protect them! That's why some people are given strong powers; it's to protect those who have none! That's what I want to believe!" Tsuna said, his eyes glowing with fiery passion and a depth that hinted at a wellspring of hidden, untapped strength.

"Wao," Hibari murmured, growing excited. "Is this your true potential, Sawada Tsuayoshi?"

The molten gaze that Hibari would later come to associate with such terms as 'Dying Will' and 'the Rebuke Bullet' faded slowly into the confused face of the blubbering Dame Tsuna he knew so well. Although he would never admit it, he liked this side of the boy as well. This weak, shivering little doe-eyed child who had the power to make his heart race in an entirely different way than the intense-looking young carnivore that had briefly revealed itself from within Tsuna seconds before…

"Hibari-san," Tsuna sniffled cutely. "Please…"

Hibari lifted a hand to Tsuna's face, caressing it gently as he guided the smaller boy's mouth to his once more in a tender greeting. This time, Hibari took the lead, slowly coaxing the tiny, trembling creature into his lap, stroking over Tsuna's arms and shoulders and back, long fingers petting and large hands soothing the timid herbivore. His tongue mimicked the long, intimate strokes in Tsuna's mouth, teasing the boy's tongue with his own. He bit down lightly on Tsuna's bottom lip, lapping up the dried blood that had clotted over the wound he'd dealt the boy earlier. He worried the lip lovingly and then lapped at the sensitive flesh with his tongue.

Hibari's mouth left Tsuna's in favor of traveling down his neck to his collar bone, licking and nipping at the area teasingly, leaving a trail of saliva and several little red welts in its wake. Tsuna moaned at the sensation, feeling his entire body grow hot. He startled when he felt Hibari's hands slide under his shirt, making their way up his chest to play with a nipple, causing Tsuna to gasp. Feeling distinctly embarrassed, he opened his mouth to protest, only to find Hibari's tongue once again diving into his mouth to distract him while his hands worked on unbuttoning Tsuna's shirt.

Tsuna slowly but surely stopped cowering and began to respond with curious touches of his own. He kissed the older boy back, meeting Hibari's tongue halfway for a seductive dance that left both boys red in the face and panting heavily. Hibari finally managed to unbutton Tsuna's shirt, pulling it open to reveal milky white skin, far from perfect, boney and speckled with an occasional bruise or scar.

"Sawada Tsunayoshi," Hibari murmured, his breath feathering against Tsuna's lips. Tsuna whimpered and craned his neck to reach the other boy's lips, taking in the delicious taste of apples and cinnamon. It had only been a couple days since they had last kissed, but Tsuna devoured Hibari's mouth like a man on the brink of starvation.

"Mmmmnn, Hibari-san," he moaned into the prefect's mouth. Hibari ran his hands over Tsuna's chest, teasing his nipples and stroking the expanse of skin in search of weak spots. Whenever he found one, Tsuna let out another delectable moan and pressed his body closer to Hibari's, effectively rubbing their lower bodies together and sending ripples of pleasure coursing through them both.

Hibari replaced his hands with his mouth, taking one of Tsuna's nipples between his teeth and teasing the tip with his tongue. Meanwhile, his hands roamed down to grope the round curve of Tsuna's ass and then to fondle Tsuna's erection through the fabric of his pants, eliciting a loud yelp from the boy seated in his lap. He slipped his hand down Tsuna's pants, fingers curling around the hardened flesh.

"N-no, you can't," Tsuna objected weakly. Hibari planted a wet kiss on his already swollen lips, and Tsuna's protests died a pathetic death.

"Do not tell me what I can and cannot do, herbivore," Hibari growled, pushing Tsuna back onto the bed and towering over him. This remark brought fresh tears to Tsuna's eyes.

"I'm not a weakling," the sniffling boy insisted, tears trickling down his cheeks.

"Hnnnn. You look like one to me," Hibari replied, smirking down at his prey. He licked up Tsuna's tears and added, "You look like a weak little herbivore who's about to be bitten to death." He placed a chaste kiss on Tsuna's forehead, an act of gentleness that contradicted his cold remarks and filled Tsuna with unexpected peace of mind, soothing away his anxiety until there was nothing left but a warm, glowing heat deep inside him that begged to be released.

"If it's Hibari-san that's going to bite me, I don't mind," Tsuna confessed, staring up at Hibari with wide, unblinking eyes that were filled with a combination of desire, nervousness, and again that glow of inner strength that sent Hibari reeling with excitement at the possibilities it hinted at. Hibari leaned over the boy so that their faces were inches apart. Tsuna looked up at Hibari with trusting eyes.

"I'm baaaack!" Reiko announced, slamming the door open with a wide grin on her face, which faltered slightly upon realizing what kind of scene she had just walked in on. "Kyoya, I thought I told you not to take advantage of Tsu-kun while I was gone!" Tsuna pushed Hibari off him with an unexpected burst of strength, his face on fire. Hibari allowed it and reluctantly climbed off the humiliated boy. "What if he catches your cold and ends up in the hospital because of you!" Reiko scolded.

"Ah, no, I…" Tsuna offered her a sheepish smile of reassurance. "I already did catch it," he explained. "I don't think I'll catch it again…"

"My brother already molested you?!" she said, surprised. "Wow, Kyoya, I didn't think you'd be so bold!" Technically, Tsuna had been the one to molest Hibari while the prefect was feverish and sleeping, but Tsuna didn't dare correct her. "Tsu-kun, you can't just let my brother have his way with you. He's an animal and a brute, and he definitely won't use a condom unless you make a fuss about it."

"Aneki!" Kyoya hissed dangerously, trying to silence the young woman.

"What?!" Reiko snapped back, ignoring his death glare. Hibari reached for his tonfas, only to end up in a coughing fit that left him winded. Tsuna observed the older boy closely.

"Hibari-san, do you have a fever again?"

Hibari glared at him. "No," the prefect denied immediately, but it was too late. Reiko was already fussing over him even as she continued to scold him for taking advantage of sweet, innocent little Tsuna.

"Honestly, it's so irresponsible of you." Hibari coughed sickly. "And look, you only managed to make yourself sicker, too. Tsu-kun, would you get a wet cloth, please?"

Tsuna, face still beat red, scurried off to fulfill her request. He grabbed a washcloth and took it down the hall to the bathroom to get it wet, all the while trying to ignore the unsatisfied aching in his nether regions. Suddenly, he was really angry at Reiko for interrupting them. When he was within hearing range of Hibari's room, he heard Reiko questioning the dark-haired boy in low, insistent tones.

"Do you really like him that much, Kyoya?" There was no response. "I thought he had a girlfriend."

There was a moment of silence, and Tsuna could just imagine the incredulous, 'do you have a brain?' look on Hibari's face. "…No. He has a crush." Tsuna felt extremely awkward to be listening in on this conversation, and even more awkward to be reminded of such facts. That's right, he did have a crush. On a girl. On Kyoko-chan, the school idol. So what the hell was he doing screwing around with someone like Hibari Kyoya? And was he even 'screwing around'? Could he even call it that? Whenever he was with the prefect, Kyoko-chan didn't even come into the picture. It was as if she didn't exist. So…did that mean Hibari-san was more important to him that Kyoko-chan?

"—makes no difference to me who the herbivore likes."

"Don't play with his feelings, Kyoya," Reiko warned. "If he falls for you, you'll have to take responsibility."

"If it comes to that, I'll just bite him to death and be rid of him."

"Kyoya!" Reiko shouted. "That's horrible! You can't treat people like that!"

Tsuna knew intuitively that Hibari was lying, that he wouldn't just abandon someone like that. Hibari-san was the type that would take responsibility for his actions. Hibari-san wasn't the type to treat those he cares about like trash. Sure, he had violent tendencies, but he would never leave someone close to him for dead. Not really, at least not without a good reason.

Tsuna was about to march into the hospital room and tell Reiko just that, when a hand tapped him on the shoulder. Jumping and turning around with wild, fearful eyes, wondering if he'd been caught spying, he found himself staring up at the curious face of Kusakabe and several other disciplinary committee members. He let out a sigh of relief. Kusakabe was a decent guy. He wouldn't say anything to Hibari about Tsuna spying.

"Sawada-san? What are you doing here?"

"I came to visit Hibari-san," Tsuna said. "But he's busy arguing with his sister."

"It is my business!" Reiko shrieked from inside the room in response to something Hibari must have said. Tsuna and the prefects all winced at the shrill tone. "Tsu-kun is not some toy that you can manhandle and then throw away when he's broken! He deserves to be treated with some respect and dignity!" The prefects all looked over at Tsuna inquiringly, and the boy just flushed and shook his head rapidly in denial.

"Don't tell me to get out! I was already leaving! I hope you die cold and alone in your stupid, goddamn hospital bed!" Reiko stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her, and made to march out of the building, only to find the small crowd of prefects staring at her fearfully. "Whaddaya looking at? Got a problem? Huh?" she growled. Tsuna gulped. This confirmed his suspicions. She was definitely just at scary as Hibari-san, if not worse. After all, she had just bossed Hibari-san around and made it out of the room alive; that had to say something.

Turning to Tsuna, she smiled brightly and cooed, "Don't worry, Tsu-kun, Kyoya's not mad at you. He's mad at me." That was comforting. At least Tsuna didn't have to worry about being hunted down and beaten to death. "He's such a hard-headed boy. You have to be firm with him, or he'll just do whatever he wants regardless of who it hurts."

Tsuna nodded, thoroughly embarrassed. "Are you leaving?" he inquired.

"Of course!" Reiko laughed. "You don't expect me to go back in there now with the way I just stormed out, do you? Oh, that reminds me, will you do me a big favor, Tsu-kun?" Tsuna nodded hesitantly, not sure what he was getting himself into. Reiko gave him a mischievous, Cheshire-cat smile. "Would you please make sure my brother gets some rest tonight?"

Tsuna blanched. "Huh?" It took a few seconds to fully compute. "Wait, no! I can't stay here tonight! I have to go home!"

Reiko laughed. "You don't need to stay all night. Just make my brother promise to sleep. Once he's promised, he'll feel bound to keep his word, especially if it's a promise to Tsu-kun." Without waiting for Tsuna's response, she disappeared down the hall. The prefects all turned their attention back to Tsuna. Kusakabe observed the boy appraisingly.

"It would only bother Kyo-san if we crowded around his hospital bed," the vice president said. "We were going to take the risk of getting beaten, but if you're here…" Several gifts were thrust into Tsuna's hand, and the disciplinary took off down the hall towards the exit before he could voice his protests.

With a defeated sigh, Tsuna slid open the door to Hibari's room and stepped inside. Hibari was reading a book by lamplight. Tsuna realized how late it was; his mother was probably worried sick. But he didn't dare go home without doing as Reiko had commanded. He put the flowers from the committee in another vase and set the other presents on the stand by the bed. He then proceeded to place the still moist cloth on Hibari's forehead. The prefect turned to look at him coldly.

"The Disciplinary Committee came to visit, but they didn't want to bother you so they just left these things and went away," Tsuna explained. The silence that followed was deafening. "Reiko-san went home. She looked kind of mad. Did you two have a fight?" The heavy awkwardness in the room intensified as Hibari just stared at him emotionlessly. Tsuna wanted to ask about what had happened between them earlier, and about how it affected their relationship, but he didn't dare bring it up. "It sure was nice of them to come visit, ne? They must have been really concerned about Hibari-san's health." Still no response. Huffing, Tsuna stopped arranging the flowers in the vase and turned to glare at the prefect.

"I like girls a lot," he said matter-of-factly. "They're cute and giggling and smile a lot and have boobs and—"

"Do you have a death wish, Sawada Tsunayoshi?" Hibari's piercing stare almost made Tsuna back down, but there were two things that Tsuna was sick and tired of: being called a weak herbivore and being ignored by Hibari.

"I like Kyoko-chan," he told the prefect snootily. It didn't really surprise him when a tonfa rammed into his stomach, knocking the wind out of him and making him keel over. What did surprise him was the furious, insulted (dare he say 'hurt'?) glint that flickered in the older boy's eyes even as the rest of Hibari's face remained calm. The dark-haired teen looked like a cat with its hackles raised. Or better yet, he looked like that hedgehog Tsuna had bought back in elementary school—spiky and coarse and dangerous enough that you couldn't get too close, not close enough to understand and certainly not close enough to wound.

"Not cute at all," Tsuna mumbled softly. He took a step forward, and Hibari beat him back, his posture taking on an almost defensive quality. Tsuna winced at the pain but reached out for Hibari again, only to be pushed away once more.

An image flashed in Tsuna's mind as Hibari's tonfa made contact with his body. It was the image of little black-haired boy hiding in the closet, crying miserably, stifling his sobs with his tiny hands as a large, hysterical man raged violently in the room, tearing down drawings (probably drawn by the boy, judging by the childish, uncontrolled style), bookshelves, and everything else he could get his hands on.

Tsuna shook his head dazedly, trying to figure out what that vision had been. He refocused his gaze on the cornered Hibari and was distinctly reminded of the little boy. "Hibari-san, I just—"

"Don't crowd me," Hibari hissed, delivering several blows this time.

Room 218 had a stagnant air about it that was accentuated by the half-dead flowers in the vase on the windowsill and the cloudy scene from outside. It seemed as though the clouds of gloom from the bad weather had permeated into the room and infected its occupants. There were four people in the room: a pale, feeble woman lying in the hospital bed who looked like she might never leave it, a sandy-blonde haired little girl standing a couple of feet from the bed, crying softly and holding the hand of the man from Tsuna's previous vision, only this time he was not angry but rather solemn and forlorn, and the fourth person in the room was the little ebony-haired boy, who was clinging to the woman desperately, wailing loudly as if the sound of his suffering alone might be enough to turn the gods' eyes to his plight.

"Mommy, don't die, please don't die, I'll be good, I promise!" the boy cried, slurring his words together into one gigantic sob. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"

The woman weakly lifted her hand to his cheek to wipe away the tears. "My precious boy…" Her hand fell limp, sapped of strength, and the boy held it between his much smaller ones.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," the boy repeated over and over again like a broken music box.

"It's not your fault, my baby," the woman whispered. It seemed to take all her strength just to speak. "My little Kyo-chan…"

Tsuna refocused on the present, finally understanding what the first vision had been. He smiled sadly at Hibari, who was ready to hit him again. "This is the room where you last saw your mother, isn't it?"

Hibari's eyes darkened. "How did you know that?"

"That's why you check yourself into the hospital so often, isn't it? Because you can't forget that day…the day she died."

"I don't remember anything about that day," Hibari muttered, surprising Tsuna. "Just the room number and that it was cloudy that day."

"It's okay to miss her, Hibari-san," Tsuna said quietly. "And just because it hurt to loser her doesn't mean you can't let anyone get close to again. Yes, it hurts to lose someone, but…isn't getting to meet people who can affect and touch you that deeply worth the chance of a painful parting? I've never had any friends because no one wants to get to know me, so I know what it feels like to be lonely. That's why I think it's sad if you have the opportunity to make friends but choose to push them away."

"What does a pathetic herbivore like you know?" Hibari snapped. "Get out."

"Hibari-sa—"

"I said get the fuck out!" Hibari yelled, throwing a tonfa in Tsuna's direction, which the smaller boy barely managed to evade. It made a loud clanging noise as it hit the wall and then slid down to hit the tile floor, sliding off somewhere out of sight. Tsuna bit his quivering lip and darted wildly from the room like a scarred animal being chased by a dangerous predator. He never looked back.

Tsuna didn't speak to Hibari-san for a long time after that. He wanted to apologize for prying or saying too much, but Hibari didn't acknowledge him. It was like they were perfect strangers. Tsuna often found himself wondering whether things might have been different if he hadn't run away that night, but the past couldn't be undone, so there was no use pondering the realm of 'what-ifs'. The reality of it was that there relationship—whatever that had been—was over.

The morning after the encounter in the hospital, Nana found a very interesting flyer in the newspaper bin advertising a special home tutor service promising to make her son into a great leader of the next generation. It all went downhill from there.

The end.

(Sequel in progress.)