Disclaimer: Kateikyoushi Hitman Reborn! © Amano Akira.
Warnings: Seriously AU :D shounen-ai, shoujo-ai and het are sprinkled all around~ This universe is my creation, so any failure equals mine -__-
Credits: Mnesomeye and shizuke, you guys are the most awesome of all the awesome people in this world :D I wish I can cross over monitors and glomp you or something. Thank you so much for listening to my flailings and correcting my weird characterizations and lolfail grammar XDD THANK YOUUUU :)
Notes: Submitted for khr_undercover challenge Round 1. A Last Minute AU Idea. AU-world created by me. Inspired by Togainu no Chi, LOVELESS, Soul Eater, Saiyuki, others :) And Microsoft Word keeps on changing Hibari to Hilary. Maybe it's a sign. Reviews are nice. Nicer than cookies and ice cream, I swear~
This is a world where everyone is either a plus or a minus.
Tsuna didn't really think much about his soul's characteristics until the moment he stood in front of scientists and researchers, scrutinizing eyes focused on him. They murmured amongst each other, as they ran test after test on him.
In a world where everyone can be divided into two groups based on their innate characteristics, Sawada Tsunayoshi is an anomaly.
—Because his power is neither a plus nor a minus.
He is a zero and he doesn't belong.
Plus: for people whose qualities are based on building or creating.
Minus: for people whose qualities are based on destroying.
Zero: For people whose qualities do not belong.
The whole world is divided, chaos erupting at each major city every day. Japan –or rather, what has become of Japan now- managed to stay alive and on top of the masses of corpses and turmoil by concentrating all of its resources in fortifying its walls and gathering all the capable soldiers for training.
—Since the discovery of rings, of boxes, of spells, of plus-and-minus—things that any sane person would have thought ridiculous outside sci-fi television shows or mangas—everything has changed.
Women, children and the elderly are all transferred to the evacuation dorms, while the youth are sent to the MAFIA, where they are trained to become efficient soldiers.
(Soldiers who will kill to keep Japan alive and breathing
And soldiers who will be killed by the enemy-forces who also wanted to be alive.)
Sawada Tsunayoshi is one of the newest recruits of the MAFIA Organization. He remembers saying an unwilling goodbye to his mother, Nana, just a couple of days ago. His eyes are filled with another onslaught of tears, but he holds them back, because now is not the time to be feeling scared.
After those scientists told him that he's a zero, he could feel those haughty glares at his back, he could feel some pitying stares from the more kindhearted ones.
Plus-attributes are sought-after because of their skills in healing the sick and injured, along with their capabilities of restoring destroyed architecture. Minus-attributes are treated with awe and respect because they are the most important players in attacking the enemy.
Zero-attributes, on the other hand, aren't supposed to exist.
Tsuna bows his head in apology as he almost slams into another trainee. He scurries off to his briefing room, because walking in hallways is dangerous—soldiers of different levels are present and Tsuna knows better than to accidentally piss off some high-ranking soldier.
He sighs in relief as he manages to reach the briefing room without any mishaps. Everyone present is wearing identical white shirts and brown pants –given by the Organization- along with their respective identification cards with their specified code and attribute.
He looks at his ID. The words TSUNA27 and ZERO greet his vision and he shifts uneasily. Would it be too much to ask, to not be a loser after high school?
Apparently it is, indeed, too much to ask. Tsuna sighs again as he hurries to find a seat.
A baby –one of the Arcobaleno, Tsuna corrects himself- stands in the middle of the podium, looking threatening and confident despite his small stature. He is Reborn, one of the elite members of the Organization.
"As the new recruits, study your orientation folders on your own time," Tsuna can hear the grumbles of his fellow trainees, "and you are expected to do your best if you want to stay alive. If you want better facilities and more privileges, you must do well in your training."
Tsuna notices how Reborn leaves out the fact that getting better living space and tastier food also means getting more dangerous jobs.
"Vongola is recruiting new members," Reborn announces, and excited murmurs erupt in response; Tsuna fiddles with his folder, not entirely sure what the fuss is about, "So you better not neglect your training."
Reborn then points a gun at the trainees' general direction, smirks, and walks off.
"Some orientation that is," Tsuna mutters, before he starts flipping through the long list of house rules and instructions. After all, he is already on a dangerous position of being an outcast and he doesn't intend to make his life harder than it already is.
Thanks to the more-informed loudmouths of their batch, Tsuna manages to learn that the Vongola is the elite group of soldiers for Japan's MAFIA Organization. Much like how Italy's syndicate has its favored Giglio Nero and Millefiore, the MAFIA also has a 'family' where all members enjoy rare luxuries and are given the assassin-level jobs.
Tsuna is not interested in getting such high-profile and high-responsibility work—but it's not like he has a chance of getting selected, so it's not really a concern for him. He's content with getting proper meals, a usable sleeping quarters and not getting killed.
Sometimes, he thinks that life here isn't so bad.
He can still see his mother once a month. He doesn't have a girlfriend, so it's not like he has someone he's pining for to see outside this training facility. He can still eat meals, even if they taste a little bland and the serving is rather small. He can still get sleep, even though he sleeps on a bunk bed with a very thin cushion and fifty other noisily-breathing teenagers inside the room.
It's a far cry from being an ideal life, but it's something that's also far from being hateful.
Of course, there are still bullies—as though they haven't left the juvenile high school clichés. Tsuna is not a stranger to being an outcast, but he wishes that the stronger trainees would just stop picking on him.
It's not really unbearable –queuing for lunches, filling in for the cleaning duties, being pushed around for their self-assurance- but it's just…
Tsuna grits his teeth as he tries to focus his shot towards the target. He lets go of the soul-gun (an instrument that's supposed to fire one's energy as an energy bullet) with an exhale of dejection. He misses the dummy by about a meter and he ignores the jeers of his 'classmates'.
It seems that the 'focusing one's anger' doesn't really work for him in that exercise, no matter what Colonello-sensei says.
"The battle simulations here are EXTREME!" Sasagawa Ryohei's voice reaches Tsuna's ears easily. Tsuna inches away from the over-enthusiastic teen, though he returns the smile Ryohei's sister gives him.
Kyoko-chan was his classmate all throughout high school. She goes here with Hana, every month during the only day the Facility is open for visitors, to visit her older brother.
"I'm glad brother is enjoying his stay," Kyoko says and Tsuna hopes that she stays longer, because seeing her smile and hearing her voice has always made him a little bit happier.
His mother has already left a few minutes earlier, but Tsuna was sincerely glad to see her. He knows that she's hoping for him to get out of the lowest level of training for him to get better food, better sleeping quarters, but it's just not Tsuna's forte, if he even has one.
No-Good-Tsuna is his nickname during his student-years and even until now, so Tsuna is not really surprised that he's still stuck at the lowest training level.
Tsuna is startled when Kyoko waves goodbye at him and tells him to take care. It appears that he was preoccupied with his thoughts that the Sasagawa-siblings' conversation has already ended.
"So, Sawada, I'll be going first, okay?" Ryohei says as soon as Kyoko leaves and Tsuna manages a slight smile and a 'yes, big brother' as Ryohei moves away.
Sasagawa Ryohei, plus-attribute, good in boxing, and he has left the Level 0 of training a long time ago.
Erasing any possible thoughts of wistful jealousy, Tsuna closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, before he makes his way back to the training rooms.
When Tsuna finally moves away from Level 0, three months after his arrival at the Organization, he learns that everything just turned even more complicated.
"Fighting Partners?" Tsuna echoes, eyes blinking in puzzlement.
Lal Mirch, the only female Arcobaleno, crosses her arms across her chest and begins explaining.
"A person can partner with anyone in a fight. The attributes doesn't matter. However, there are partnerships that yield the optimal results. Finding the optimum partner will help you rise up in the ranks faster. It is possible that your best-match partner is one of the higher-ranked members, so there will be training sessions where every level is involved…"
Tsuna feels his head spinning not even halfway-thru the explanation but he thinks he already knows that gist of it. It's rather easy to understand in common terms—plus-plus partnerships are better if you want to reconstruct something faster; minus-minus is better for a higher-effect of destruction; plus-minus is better for something that requires balance.
But how about those with zero attributes like him?
Lal Mirch continues her explanation, oblivious to Tsuna's despondent thoughts.
Tsuna buries his head in his hands as he realizes that once again, he doesn't belong.
Being in Level 1 is not really that much different from the previous level. There are less people sharing the room and the food's serving size gets slightly bigger.
Nothing really changed, fundamentally—he still gets those obnoxious glares, he still gets harassed by bullies occasionally, he still gets concerned glances, and nobody talks to him.
It all changes when one day, he accidentally steps on Reborn.
He wants to protest that it's not like he did it on purpose, and Reborn was just so silent and so small that Tsuna didn't see him.
Aside from getting chased across all the hallways by the gun-wielding arcobaleno, getting punishment training and being thoroughly verbally abused, it seems that the accident is only the beginning of the changes in Tsuna's life.
Yamamoto Takeshi, one of Vongola's members, is smiling at him.
Tsuna surreptitiously glances to his left, to his right, before he looks back at Yamamoto again. Yamamoto is still smiling at him.
"M-me?" He squawks in hesitance. It has been four months since he arrived here, but he is still in Level 1, still powerless and still easily-scared.
"Tsuna, right? I heard you're the one who stepped on Reborn! Is that true? I want to know how you did it!" Yamamoto says excitedly, and Tsuna almost face-palms at the touchy topic.
He doesn't really want to relive the memories of Reborn chasing him across the Facility until his legs gave out, the memories of the Punishment of Doom no thanks to Bianchi—no, he really doesn't want to think about it.
But the famous swordsman is looking at him expectantly, and Tsuna cannot feel any sort of malice from this person. Plus, he isn't really sure what's the punishment for not answering a Vongola-member's enquiry.
"Erm, well, I just. Stepped on him, like this," And so Tsuna demonstrates how one would act when accidentally stepping on someone ten-sizes smaller.
Tsuna wonders how is stepping on someone supposed to be more complicated than that. "U-uh, yeah…"
"That's… amazing! I want to try that later!" Yamamoto exclaims and Tsuna is suddenly glad that nobody is here in the hallway because he might get bullied again for daring to be on 'friendly terms' with a Vongola member. "Thank you, Tsuna!"
"Um… welcome…" Tsuna says distractedly, scratching his head. Well… that was weird. He shrugs the incident off with a roll of his shoulders, and he makes his way towards his next training room.
On the day of Tsuna's cleaning duty, he finds a dynamite-bomb on the floor.
Actually, it's not just one bomb. There's a couple of them and Tsuna desperately wishes that his cleaning partner didn't abandon him—he could really use a hand here to stop the dynamites from blowing the classroom into smithereens.
He moves as fast as he can, body moving on autopilot as his hands try to put out the dynamites. He isn't sure who would be dumb enough to throw dynamites to an empty classroom, but he doesn't want to be blamed if there are any casualties later.
He wipes sweat from his forehead once he manages to dispose all of the dynamites, completely oblivious to the gaping person in the doorway.
"Y-you…!" A silver-haired teenager exclaims with a mixture of horror and bafflement.
Tsuna nervously turns away from the garbage bag he brought along for the cleaning duty. And Tsuna feels a wave of déjà vu about something that happened last week. "M-me?"
"How did you do that?! Why did you put out my dynamites, you bastard!"
"So it was you!" Tsuna comments with a long-suffering tone, "Don't just throw those things in a classroom! The classroom will explode if you do that!"
Gokudera Hayato blinks. "But that was the point…!"
Frightened, Tsuna jumps away from the other teen, "Are you a terrorist?!"
"What! No!" Gokudera looks surprised that someone dared to imply that he's a terrorist. "Anyway, how did you stop my dynamites? I threw so many…!"
He pauses, before he glares intensely at the easily-frightened teen, a dynamite stick appearing in his hands, "Show me how you did it!"
Tsuna almost rolls his eyes, thinking that everyone has been saying 'show me how you did it' an awful lot lately.
"I just did it like this," He takes the now-lighted dynamite from the older male's hands, and pinches at the end. The spark ends easily, and Tsuna takes time to wonder about not feeling any heat from touching the spark. He thinks that it's maybe due to the different nature of the weapons from this Facility.
Gokudera looks absolutely floored by the demonstration. "J-just like that?!"
Tsuna nods warily and he almost jumps when Gokudera grips his hands tightly, adoration and respect shining in his eyes. "That's… amazing! You should be in Vongola! I'll… tell Reborn-san that I found a recruit…!"
Vongola? Reborn? Recruit?
Tsuna gapes at the space Gokudera occupied mere seconds ago, before he sprinted away from the classroom. It's only at that moment when Tsuna realizes that the person was Gokudera Hayato, another member of the Vongola.
And just like that, it seems that Tsuna is slowly being integrated into the lives of the two bickering members of the Vongola, Yamamoto and Gokudera.
Tsuna can't exactly pinpoint when it started, but he can't remember when was the first time Yamamoto called out to him from the crowd of people getting lunch, when Gokudera pulled Tsuna away from the long queue for food and towards the 'express queue' for the higher-ranked members.
It's like, suddenly, Tsuna is already a regular at Yamamoto's and Gokudera's lunch table.
Tsuna thinks that it's nice to have such friends, even though they're not really friends-friends, just lunch-mates, but it's better than nothing, right? When he's having lunch with those two, the worries about the world outside Japan's defensive walls, the worries about him still stuck at Level 1, worries about him still not finding a partner—those concerns all disappear.
It's a nice feeling, being surrounded by such a cheerful atmosphere. Six months since he has arrived here, and the sight of Gokudera's dynamites being thrown at Yamamoto don't scare him as much anymore.
Tsuna thinks that he likes this kind of life a little better.
He supposes that it's his fault, really, for letting himself be carried away by luxuries such as having friends. He still remains to be an anomaly, after all. An outcast presently surrounded by bullies, just in time for Gokudera and Yamamoto to be out on a mission.
He is already a puddle on the floor, after three? four? five? punches. He takes in a sharp breath and winces; breathing now brings pain instead of relief and it's most likely due to that punch on his chest earlier—
Tsuna can feel his consciousness slipping away slowly. His arms are growing numb, and he almost cannot feel the boots kicking his legs. Someone is lifting him by his shirt's collar, and his toes cannot feel the ground, and he cannot breathe, but he thinks that fainting sounds like a good idea now.
Much better than staying conscious and actually feeling the metal lockers that are cold and unforgiving against his back, than feeling his body protesting from the agonizing assault. He closes his eyes and waits for the pain to subside, for the bullies to tire of making him a punching bag, as punishment for daring to eat lunch with Yamamoto and Gokudera.
When he finally opens his eyes, he sees a red splash of color painting the tiled floor. He instantly recognizes the brilliant red hue as blood. He gingerly touches his head and brings his hands down. Strange—there's no blood on his hands, which means…
His brown eyes focus on the scenario more clearly. He sees the battered figures of the bullies piled on the floor—and the blood is pooling beneath that unconscious mass of bodies.
"W-what," He asks, voice thick, chest wheezing in pain. "W-what happened…?"
Tsuna's eyes make out the form of a teenager standing victoriously beside his bullies' bodies. The tonfas in that person's hand gleam ominously under the locker room's fluorescent light.
He doesn't know who this person is, but from that stance and the murderous aura he is emitting, Tsuna is not delusional enough to think that this person is his savior.
"So you're the herbivore who initiated this crowding," The person says in a very commanding voice and Tsuna closes his eyes again, thinks that he doesn't really know what he did wrong to deserve this kind of life, "Be prepared to be bitten to death."
Tsuna wakes up with a gasp, sitting up from the bed instantaneously.
He immediately looks down and notices that the bruises he knows he should have gotten from that encounter are missing. He doesn't have any visible wounds or scars and he actually feels fine.
He is wearing a blue shirt that is definitely not the one the Organization gave him. He is sitting on a very comfortable bed and there are no bunk beds in sight. The room is spacious and well-lit.
"Where am I?" Tsuna asks the room, but the room doesn't reply.
Someone enters the vicinity, presumably after hearing Tsuna resorting to conversing with the room.
"Congratulations on being promoted to Level 9, Tsuna-kun," Dino Cavallone says cheerfully, appearing seemingly out-of-nowhere, walking over to the bed after tripping over the carpet twice.
Tsuna thinks of asking, 'why are you here', 'why am I here', 'what happened to the bullies', 'where is tonfa-guy and is he still going to beat me up', 'where the hell am I'—but all the questions collide with each other inside his mind, and he only manages a garbled, "Bzuh?"
Dino laughs and sits beside Tsuna. Tsuna barely feels the cushion accommodating the added weight. Dino's friendly grin is shiny. "You're cute. I want you as my younger brother, Tsuna-kun."
"Oh! Silly me!" Dino slaps his head with a little more force than necessary (his forehead looks mildly pinkish) and shows Tsuna the promotion letter signed by the Ninth, the CEDEF, by Reborn.
A surprised gasp escapes Tsuna and he acutely stammers, "L-L-Level 9…"
"That's right," Dino enthuses, "and you also have a partner!"
The blond barely pauses to breathe before he continues, "You are actually at your partner's room already—I was against you being brought here directly, but then, Kyoya was insistent and he ordered Ryohei and Basil to treat you here, and he hurried Reborn to pass the papers already, and oh, your entrance test to Vongola is next month!"
Again, Tsuna wants to ask, 'Level 9?!', 'Vongola?!', 'who the hell is Kyoya', 'will someone please explain to me more slowly' and 'whaaaaaat' and 'whyyyyyy', but he suddenly feels tired, and he can't even summon his hands to pull at his hair in frustration, and really, sleeping is the best answer to this.
So Tsuna closes his eyes and flops back down to the fluffy bed.
When Tsuna wakes up again, Dino explains things to him, more slowly, but he still doesn't understand a big chunk of things.
Apparently, his partner found him after he was beaten up by the bullies. Moreover, his partner appears to be a rather forceful person – after all, he pushed his way through to apply for Tsuna to be promoted and to become a Vongola member.
Dino tells him that his suspicions are correct and his partner, whoever Kyoya is, is a Vongola member and an important one too, because he managed to get his way rather easily.
"Kyoya is on a mission now, so he can't explain his incredibly childish acts," Dino says apologetically, "but then again, you don't really want him to explain these things."
It means his partner is an overconfident brat who is bad at talking to people.
Tsuna feels headache forming in his temples.
"That's great news, Tsuna!" Yamamoto says with a huge smile, patting Tsuna on his shoulder. Gokudera is giving the seventh 'that's so awesome, Tenth!' speech for the day and Tsuna chuckles awkwardly.
Gokudera is apparently pushing a petition for him to become the next Vongola boss, even though he hasn't even taken the entrance exam yet. Heck, he hasn't even met the person responsible for all the roller-coaster changes in his life.
"Eh, so who's your partner, Tenth? Reborn-san told us to just ask you—"
Tsuna stiffens slightly, "It's—"
"What are you doing here, herbivore?"
Tsuna instinctively shrinks into his seat and attempts to be as inconspicuous as possible. Tonfa-guy is glaring at their table with unmasked distaste, but thankfully, the tonfas are nowhere in sight.
"What's it to you, jackass?"
Hibari ignores the two Vongola members and grabs Tsuna's wrist, causing Tsuna to suddenly look up in horror. "Hi-Hi-Hibari-san!"
"You should not hang around these… pathetic herbivores."
Tsuna wants to protest that he doesn't understand because Hibari-san refers to everyone as herbivores so he doesn't really know who is he talking about, but—
"He's our friend, Hibari, so it's no problem if he sits with us," Yamamoto explains calmly, and Tsuna feels his heart beating in joy at Yamamoto's acknowledgement of him being their friend—but that isn't really helping to loosen up the death grip on his wrist.
Hibari doesn't reply but instead continues to drag Tsuna away, with Gokudera's yells resounding in the background.
It becomes Tsuna's new lunch-routine: start off with Gokudera and Yamamoto, listen to their everlasting bickering, notice how Yamamoto looks fondly at the dynamite-lover, notice how Gokudera flushes slightly each time Yamamoto touches him to help him calm down, try to hide from Hibari-san, get dragged away by Hibari-san, have lunch with Hibari-san at the rooftop, get kicked out by the going-to-have-afternoon-nap Hibari-san.
Two weeks after, and he finally realizes that he still doesn't know who his partner is and he still doesn't know what should he do for the Vongola Test.
Even though he doesn't know who Kyoya-the-partner is, it seems that a lot of people know that person. And it seems that everyone has decided that it's interesting to just leave Tsuna in the dark about his partner's identity.
Sometimes, when he's alone and not doing anything, Tsuna wonders if the person is also a zero like him. Tsuna wonders a lot of things about his partner, and someone who apparently knows his partner quite well has appeared before him.
"Oya, oya, I didn't expect Kyoya's partner to be such a small kid," Rokudo Mukuro comments slyly as he leans against the corridor's walls, blocking Tsuna's way back from his daily lunch at the rooftop.
Tsuna reddens, fingers curling tightly around the handle of his lunch bag. "I-I'm not a kid," He protests feebly, flushing even more and shoulders folding as Mukuro's eyes roamed unabashedly on his body, as if assessing the truth of his protest.
"Kufufu, an interesting choice, if I say so myself," He murmurs to himself, while Tsuna edges away slowly from the mysterious person, a bit baffled and freaked out by the devious smirk and the strange, low laugh. Who the hell laughs like 'kufufu' anyway? Isn't that kind of trademark-laugh limited to world-domination-villains?
Mukuro steps away from his post against the wall and peers more closely at the escaping-Tsuna. "Aren't you that recruit who stayed at Level 0 for such a long time?"
Tsuna gulps and feels sweat forming at his temples, sliding down uncomfortably to his cheeks. Those mismatched eyes give an odd sort of pressure, like they're unhurriedly dissecting each part of his slightly-trembling body, like they're prying open his mind and reading his thoughts like they're displayed for the whole world to see.
Mukuro took that nervous silence as a 'yes' and hums thoughtfully in response. He mutters things that are too soft for Tsuna to hear, but he can sense the undercurrent of annoyance and fondness, and he vaguely hears snatches of words like, 'cutesy things' and 'weird affinities'.
The mild atmosphere instantly dissolves as soon as Mukuro's eyes narrow at him though. Tsuna feels a shiver run down his spine.
"Kyoya is easy to match, attribute-wise," He murmurs, stalking towards Tsuna slowly, while the brown-haired teen backs against the wall, a panicky look on his expressive face. Mukuro continues, disregarding Tsuna's discomfort with his close proximity, "But his personality easily clouds his soul, making his SYNCHRO difficult."
Mukuro smirks, leaning down so that his nose barely touches Tsuna's. The newest Vongola recruit fidgets, but not too much, because if he pushes too much, he'll end up kissing this weird guy…! "Hiiii, w-what are you doing…! Stay away…!"
"With such a frail soul like yours, I wonder if you can keep up with Kyoya…?"
Something inside Tsuna sparks, like he ought to defend himself and his partner, because he knows (rather, he hopes) that his partner isn't some rampaging beast that will trample down on everyone. His deeply-seated intuitive senses tell him that there's something else in Mukuro's voice aside from snide taunting and puzzling motives.
Really, his mouth takes on bravery at the worst possible opportunities. "Y-you're jealous…?" He asks incredulously, because he is thinking about how strong this person's aura is and how close he is, and his lips moved before he can even think of stopping himself from speaking out.
A faint trace of surprise crosses that handsome face mere millimeters away from his own. "Oya? I didn't expect that you'd say that, young Vongola."
Mukuro's glove-covered hand rests on the wall behind Tsuna. Tsuna dearly hopes that nobody would pass by this hallway at this moment, because he is trapped in a compromising situation with a strange person who is, quite frankly, creeping him out. "I can possess your body at this very moment, yet you say such amusing things. I'm interested how well you'd be able to keep with us, then."
Tsuna notices the two Hell Rings –he learned about those from Lal Mirch's orientation from before; and he supposes that this person is also one of the Vongola, judging from his speech and those rings- on those gloved hands before they move away from him.
Mukuro walks away from him, disappearing into thin air, as if he melted and integrated himself into the air molecules. Tsuna has a horrified moment where he thinks he'll be able to breathe in that guy. A few seconds after Mukuro disappears, Tsuna sags against the wall, hands sweaty and belatedly noticing that his lunch box has already escaped from his grasp and is now on the floor.
"Well. That was creepy," Tsuna mumbles, before swearing to hide in his room for the moment. He didn't exactly adore his boring routine life from before, but if his future encounters will be filled with strangeness, he'd rather go back to his boring life, thank you very much.
Despite his earlier resolution to stay in his room for the whole day, Tsuna ends up trudging towards Dino's office. Dino is friendly and accommodating—and is definitely not creepy. Upon more pondering about that guy's confusing words and actions, Tsuna determined that while creepy, that guy made a good point.
If Tsuna's partner is such a strong person, he'd definitely pull him down with his inexperience. He is No-Good-Tsuna after all, and he hasn't aced any of the trainings and he got stuck at Level 0 for an embarrassing amount of time, and he is a failure and an anomaly and he knows it.
He raises his hand to knock, a gloomy air surrounding him and his slumped shoulders. He hears voices from Dino's office and, out of curiosity, he leans in closer to the door and eavesdrops.
"You shouldn't just leave your partner alone, you know? He's going to need your help and support," Dino says with a resigned tone, as though their conversation has dragged on already and he hasn't made his point across yet.
"I don't have the time and patience to assist pathetic herbivores," A deep voice replies and Tsuna sweatdrops. It's H-Hibari-san! The horrifying thought of Hibari-san standing over his soulless corpse if –no, not if, but when- he finds out that Tsuna is eavesdropping on him crosses over Tsuna and he nervously takes a step away from the doorway.
"B-but he's a beginner! He needs you for his synchronization, and you need him too!"
Tsuna couldn't see it, not from this distance and this small an opening in the doorway, but he knows that Hibari-san glared fiercely at Dino in response to that statement. Hibari-san doesn't need anybody. He is strong on his own and the thought of Hibari-san depending on someone is both laughable and terrifying.
"I don't need anyone," Hibari-san quietly says and from Dino's strained chuckle, Tsuna knows that those tonfas have made their appearance. "He should learn things on his own."
Tsuna frowns, because he kind of pities and admires and fears for Hibari-san's partner. Being a beginner who doesn't know anything—he can guess how helpless and lost that poor person is feeling without someone to guide him.
"B-but he's a beginner!" Dino wails insistently, and Tsuna opens the door a bit too forcefully. He finds out that he's right—Dino's expression is already bordering on frustration and those tonfas are shining dangerously as a promise of pain and injury.
"H-Hi-Hibari-san shouldn't just leave his partner alone!" Tsuna blurts out, butting in to the conversation rather courageously, when his all his mind could think of is, 'ohmygod earthtoself pleaseshutupshutup Idon'twanttodieyet!'. "If you don't practice, then he won't know what you expect him to be and you'll be unprepared and—"
Tsuna notices the painful silence that now reigns in the room. His brain's message of 'survival first!' to his mouth finally caught up. "I-I'm shutting up now."
Instead of delivering punishment to Tsuna for insolently interrupting their conversation, Hibari simply smirks at Tsuna, a confident curl of his lips, and Tsuna finds himself staring a little longer than necessary. If possible, Hibari's smirk grows even wider at that.
"You're saying I need training," Tsuna shakes his head violently at that, because if there's one person who doesn't need anymore training, it'd be Hibari-san…! Hibari-san nudges Hibird away from its perch on his shoulder. "Be prepared to get bitten to death then."
Hibari-san then shifts his intense stare to Dino, "I'll be using the training room."
For a few seconds, Dino gapes, then grins widely, "That's great! Good luck, Tsuna!"
"G-good luck? Wait—what?"
Two hours later and Tsuna can feel his bones screaming and his lungs heaving and his muscles stretched to the limit and it feels painful and it fills him with exhilaration.
He wonders if it's because that glint in Hibari-san's silver-grey eyes drives him to do his best, urges him to keep on standing up even as blow after blow is delivered into his skin, prevents him from surrendering without a fight. He wonders if it's because he actually likes feeling that powerful stare focused on him and only him; he wonders if it's because he doesn't want Hibari-san to be disappointed in him the way that strange guy hinted that his partner will feel towards Tsuna and his weakness.
Dino gave him a wooden sword before the start of their training match, but it lay forgotten on the floor, because Tsuna doesn't have a clue on how to wield it. Calling it a training match is a bit generous—it's more like, Hibari-san hunted him down while he tried his best to dodge and run away from those painful tonfas and maybe try to unbalance Hibari-san.
"That was pathetic, Sawada Tsunayoshi," Hibari-san says, standing over his slumped form, blocking the bright lights with his tall figure. Tsuna leans heavily against the training arena's wall, nursing the bruises that will be sure to leave ugly marks on his arms and legs. Tsuna feels his cheeks warming up, the way they always do whenever Hibari-san chooses to call him by his full name –who the hell calls people regularly by their full names anyway?- and not by the impersonal 'herbivore'.
The dark-haired teen then crouches down, legs painfully close to Tsuna's boneless form. Hibari-san pushes the tip of his tonfa against Tsuna's chin, forcing it up, making Tsuna shiver from the cold metal contacting his sweat-flushed skin. Hibari-san leans in close—and Tsuna is surprised that he doesn't feel any of the suffocating pressure that he felt when the pineapple-hairstyle-guy stared him down.
He wonders again if Hibari-san will ever stop making him feel contradictions like this.
Tsuna swallows, resolving to not flinch even though he is defeated already and Hibari-san looks so serious like that, facial color remaining pale despite the 'spar session' they just finished.
"My abilities as a human being are far more superior to yours—I can fight without a partner." Haughty and confident and Tsuna cannot blame him because he knows that it is true and he mentally berates himself for interrupting Hibari-san and Dino's conversation earlier.
Tsuna wants to say that he understands and he's sorry and he's going to try hard so that he won't disappoint Hibari-san next time and he wants to send his condolences for Hibari-san's partner and a lot of other things, but Hibari-san is already standing up and walking away from him and he can just remain on watching Hibari-san's strong and dependable-looking back moving out of his reach.
Hibari-san stops at the doorway, where Kusakabe-san is waiting patiently along with Hibird. The yellow bird is chirping Hibari-san's high school's anthem yet again. "His training is up to you, baby."
"H-huh?" Tsuna's eyes are wide with confusion.
The arcobaleno Reborn enters the room, glancing at Tsuna's injured form disapprovingly.
"See you later then, Hibari," Reborn says and Hibari-san leaves the training room, leaving Tsuna with the now-sadistically-smiling infant. Tsuna feels a little sorry for himself for being frightened by a baby, but it's Reborn and he might still be mad at the stepping-on-Reborn-incident.
"Are you ready for your training in hell?" Reborn asks a tad too cheerfully, pointing a gun menacingly at the still-tired-Tsuna.
Tsuna resists the tempting urge to scratch at his collar or cower from the inquisitive looks shot at him by the other occupants of the room. He nods at the right moments as Gokudera tells him stories about the great feats of the previous Vongola bosses, while Yamamoto simply interjects with his very simple-minded comments that make Gokudera swear very loudly and even Tsuna grin awkwardly.
He didn't want to accept the seat at the head of the table, but Reborn had him at gunpoint, saying "Stay put or I'll shoot you." Tsuna wishes that Reborn only kidding, but he is very realistic and he just knows that Reborn wouldn't hesitate to shoot him if he tried moving.
Tsuna lets his eyes wander, because he'd heard this 'baseball freak argument' a hundred times already. He sees some familiar faces: Basil (who bows at him, all perfect manners and soft smiles, addressing him with a reverent 'Sawada-dono'), Kusakabe-san (who nods at him, and whose presence makes Tsuna's heart beat a little quicker, because him being here means…), Dino (who waves enthusiastically at him, but doesn't trip like he's prone to do since Romario is there at the corner of the room) and some others.
There are a lot of people he doesn't know, though. There's a sweet-looking girl with an eye patch covering her right eye –and Tsuna shivers as he remembers that strange guy who cornered him the other day. There's a broody-looking guy who's currently twirling his black locks of hair in his fingers, a steaming cup of milk on the table.
There are seven seats reserved for the Vongola, and Tsuna blushes as he remembers Gokudera's ramblings about him being the perfect Tenth boss. Three seats are currently vacant, including one beside the only girl in the room.
Most of the room's occupants are standing, stiff postures and straight backs, looking somber. Tsuna is tempted once again to leave his seat, because he feels so out-of-place here. A threatening smirk from Reborn effortlessly stops him from moving even an inch.
"I'm so pumped up and READY TO THE EXTREME!" Sasagawa Ryohei exclaims as soon as he enters the conference room for the MAFIA-Vongola meeting, and he flashes a thumbs-up sign at Tsuna after greeting with an energetic "Sawada! I heard you're going to be the next boss! That's EXTREMELY AWESOME!"
Tsuna shrinks into his seat, feeling a number of eyes focus on him. He's not really going to be the boss, is he? He's far from being a boss-material: he's always been bullied, he's always a loser, he's always failed tests and trainings and such, and he doesn't have many friends, let alone subordinates.
("Look, go to your seat, hey," Colonello says; "Yes, master!" Ryohei complies easily.)
The eye-patch-girl stands up from her seat and politely introduces herself as Chrome Dokuro. Tsuna hesitantly shakes her hand, greatly embarrassed when she proclaims that she'll do her best as a Vongola Guardian to protect her Boss. "T-thanks, uh, Chrome."
"You can let go of Tenth's hand now, woman!"
"Maa, maa, Gokudera, they're still becoming friends…"
Chrome's hand feels soft and Tsuna is confused as to how such a gentle girl became a Vongola member. She doesn't look like she's into fighting and violence. "Um," Tsuna mumbles clumsily as he tries to extract his hand from hers.
Chrome doesn't let go. With a force unexpected from her petite form, she holds on as she leans in -invading Tsuna's personal space- and plants a feather-light kiss on his cheek.
"HII!" Tsuna drops her hand and touches his cheek immediately, as if he's been scalded.
A number of things erupt at that moment; Gokudera lunges towards Chrome with an animalistic snarl, his emerald eyes burning as though he wants to strangle her, gentlemanly expectations be damned; Yamamoto instantaneously springs into action and holds back Gokudera's flailing arms with ease, as though he'd done it a million times before—and he probably had, knowing Gokudera's tendency to rush head-on into any situation; Dino gasps loudly in surprise, with said gasp being overpowered by Ryohei's loud welcome of 'Hello there, Hibari! Let's have that training again, and I promise I won't be defeated that easily this time!'.
Tsuna turns towards the door so quickly he almost gets hit by Gokudera's rage-controlled limbs—and exclaims like he always does, "Hi-Hi-Hibari-san!"
Hibari regards them all with a cool stare before taking a seat and saying commandingly, "If you don't stop herding together, I'm going to bite you all to death."
Tsuna wonders in despair why Hibari-san isn't the Vongola Boss instead. He can command his subordinates with a simple twitch of his lips, or a simple narrowing of his eyes.
Gokudera is about to shift his irritation to the newly-arrived teen, but Tsuna places a placating hand on Gokudera's arm, causing the other to wilt and shuffle apologetically. Chrome is now back on her seat, however, which means the Vongola Table is complete... meaning that Kyoya-the-partner is…
"Kyoya-san, it's nice to meet you." Tsuna offers a brilliant smile to the curly-haired guy who's now drinking milk… who now promptly spits it out with a loud cough.
Yamamoto is grinning at him, while Dino's face is a cross between amusement and pity. Ryohei is gaping at him, and even Basil and Chrome look like they're about to burst into laughter. Tsuna looks at them, silently pleading for help. Was he wrong? But he knows everyone on the table, and if his partner is a Vongola member, it's only that guy wearing the cow-printed shirt that's left…
Gokudera looks like he's going to faint. "K-Kyoya…? Tenth…! I never knew you were that close to that guy! W-why?! Not that I'm questioning your choices in friends, because your judgment and taste in friends are surely first-class, Tenth, but, it's that guy!"
Ohmygod, are those tears welling up in Gokudera's eyes? Did he really make such a big mistake that it moved Gokudera to tears?!
"I-I'm Lambo. N-not Kyoya," Lambo corrects him as soon as he manages to control his coughing. I-pin hands him a box of tissues, but she looks slightly flushed and distracted.
Tsuna blinks again.
Then, comprehension dawns at him; the realization that he's going die by Hibari-san's hands. It feels awfully similar to the feeling of dread he gets whenever Reborn's gun is being readied to shoot him.
In any case, Tsuna wants to die. "H-Hibari-san is Kyoya-san?"
"Yep." Yamamoto looks all-too-happy to confirm Tsuna's fear.
"Hiiii...!" Tsuna simultaneously pulls at his hair and flattens himself against the chair in mortification. He doesn't dare to look at Hibari-san's expression.
"How pathetic." A gruff voice pulls Tsuna away from his shame-filled mental berating. The room is suddenly tense and Tsuna can feel the tension raw and solid and stifling. "This brat is your Boss? Vongola's standards have reached a new low, infant. Are you really that hard-pressed for time? Admitting even weaklings and newbies. Che."
It feels surreal, this quick change in atmosphere—even Yamamoto looks mad. Tsuna didn't think Yamamoto was capable of such a hard expression on his usually-friendly visage.
"Boss is my boss, and he isn't a weakling," Chrome speaks up determinedly, even though her body looks fragile and her voice is gentle.
("A girl? That's nice… hmm…" A scary-looking guy mumbles. "Shishishi, this is interesting, is she an illusionist too, Mammon?"; "She must be Rokudo Mukuro's apprentice," the illusionist arcobaleno replies sagely.)
"VOIII! Stop mumbling so loudly when Boss is talking, you piece of shits!"
("You're the loud one," Tsuna wants to say to the long-haired swordsman, but Dino has already echoed his sentiments, resulting in bickering between Dino and the swordsman.)
Xanxus laughs—cruel, crisp and bitter. Tsuna recalls that this guy is Varia's leader, the head of MAFIA's special assassination squad, a group of elite people just like Vongola. Bitterness cascades from the scarred guy in such strong waves, choking Tsuna with the sensation. "A boss who comes out of nowhere, with no will to fight, with no fucking idea how it's like in the world outside the walls - that's what defines weakness!"
Fierce and elegant—like a lion growling from atop its throne, like a tiger stalking its prey with assurance in its power—that's what Tsuna gathers from Xanxus. He feels even more insecure than ever—it's so obvious to him that Xanxus is a better leader, and Xanxus knows it and wants it to be; but Tsuna is in the way.
"Vongola's downfall -and consequently, Japan's fall- will all be your fault, brat."
Reborn starts, "You will show respect to your leader, Xanxus."
Gokudera is livid, and this time Yamamoto doesn't bother pacifying him, "YOU WILL STOP DISSING TENTH, YOU FUCKER, OR ELSE I'LL MAKE YOU EAT DYNAMITES—"
Tsuna wants to agree with Xanxus and stop Gokudera... but he doesn't really want to disappoint his friends, and—
—And Hibari-san, who's now wielding his tonfas like a flag of death-warning.
"A reject like you has no right to criticize other people," He says coldly, aloof and superior amidst the current of chaos and uncertainty around the room.
"H-Hibari-san," Tsuna murmurs with a mixture of gratefulness and fright, because it's Hibari-san and contradictory emotions are all Tsuna feels around him.
A staring contest ensues between Xanxus and Hibari, both stubborn and self-assured; but Xanxus backs away with a bark of laughter, mocking Tsuna and the Vongola by walking out of the meeting along with his subordinates.
"Tenth! Don't listen to what that bastard says! You're the best boss the Vongola is will ever have and as your right-hand man I'm going to make sure that that asshole pays for insulting you and your skills and—"
But Tsuna isn't really listening, because despite Gokudera's assurances, Tsuna feels a part of his heart crumble as Hibari-san leaves the room as well, without so much a glance at him.
After the traumatizing meeting yesterday, in which Tsuna just let the information pass by one ear and leave on the other (he's going to count on the notes that Gokudera diligently wrote down), he learns that his last-minute cramming-slash-training session is going to be with the scary duo of Lal Mirch and Reborn.
"Why am I not training with Hibari-san?" Tsuna asks forlornly as he finishes his warm-up stretching.
"Do you want to die, idiot Tsuna?" Tsuna sputters at Reborn's insult, "At your level, a full-time training with Hibari will just kill you."
Lal Mirch makes a sound of agreement, adding, "It will do nothing good. You must finish the basics first. I saw the video of your training with Hibari and you were pathetic beyond means."
Tsuna knows it, but he cringes anyway. "B-but the synchronization…"
Lal's voice turns softer, "No one comes out of a SYNCHRO with Hibari uninjured."
A split second, and Tsuna feels that Lal and Reborn are concerned for him, despite their frightening countenance and mean words.
"Then please make me worthy of being Hibari-san's partner!"
He has realized, throughout the past few days, that being Vongola's Tenth is a harsh responsibility, but he's going to take that responsibility. He doesn't want to let down his friends who have pinned their trust on him. He's going to do his training well and he's going to do his best.
He tries to ignore the nagging feeling in his mind of Hibari-san not even stopping by to assess his training. Of course, seeing that he's busy dodging Reborn's negative-destruction-bullets and Lal's positive-centipede box weapon, he doesn't notice Kusakabe-san watching him train from the end of the training room.
ROKUDO MUKURO HAS BEEN CAPTURED BY MILLEFIORE'S BYAKURAN.
The news enters Vongola's information network thirty minutes ago and panic has already seized every single MAFIA member. Rokudo Mukuro, the person who is Hibari-san's previous partner before Tsuna came to the picture. Rokudo Mukuro, the person who talked to Tsuna about Hibari just before he left for his mission to spy on Millefiore's leader, and their major enemy, Byakuran.
Everyone's on edge because they might dislike Mukuro (or distrust him, Gokudera's case), but they all acknowledge his strength as one of the best amongst the MAFIA organization. If the person who lives at the borderline between reality and illusion, who treads the territories of truth and lies expertly—if that person has been captured by the enemy just like that, then, do they still stand a chance?
"It's better if we just focus our forces on raiding Millefiore," Gokudera answers to Reborn's proposal of splitting the MAFIA's forces into different coinciding missions.
Everyone shifts restlessly in their seats, torn between supporting the rescue-Mukuro-mission and ensuring a greater success rate for their raid-Millefiore-mission.
Tsuna finds himself speaking up, voice shaking, but still very determined. He's not really friends-friends with Mukuro, but there's a thin thread of connection between them—something that's more than Mukuro's taunts about Hibari-san and more than Mukuro's promise of possessing Tsuna's body. It's something that he can't really explain, but. "I want to save Mukuro. He's…" He searches for the word and tries not to feel too self-conscious when Gokudera and the rest of the Family turn to him. "He's family."
"Thank you, Boss," Chrome says gratefully, worry about her master evident in the creases on her forehead, on the dull twinkle in her eye.
"If… if that's what Tenth wants, then…! As your right-hand man, I'll…!"
"Well said, young Vongola," Lambo comments from the side, ignoring Reborn's scoff at him.
Tsuna turns to search for Hibari-san's reaction to his proposal, and tries hard not to feel depressed by Hibari-san walking out of the meeting without any preamble.
It is sick, Tsuna knows, to feel jealous over Mukuro.
He almost asked Gokudera to keep an eye on Hibari, because he fears that his partner will embark on the rescue-Mukuro-mission alone and without Tsuna's knowledge.
He stopped himself though, because one, that will be cruel to Gokudera even though Tsuna knows (and is a bit embarrassed by that) that Gokudera will do anything Tsuna asks of him; two, Hibari-san values his privacy and Tsuna doesn't want to completely destroy the fragile rapport that connects the two of them.
But he wants to know…! Why did Hibari-san react that way towards Mukuro's disappearance? Is he simply that uncooperative to the Family's procedures? Or is it because he wants no part in rescuing his previous partner? Or is it because he's actually angry at Mukuro's capture?
Those thoughts are clawing ferociously at his mind, contributing to his even-poorer-than-normal fighting standards. Lal Mirch is obviously displeased with him and is questioning him about his lack of will to improve.
He wants to…! It's just that—he's worrying too much about Hibari-san, and it's driving him crazy and he's already pulling at his hair hard enough to loosen a few hair strands and he's still not snapping out of this cycle.
"Take a walk outside for a while. Come back before the day is over," Reborn commands him, despite Lal's protests about wasting valuable time.
Tsuna is about to protest about wanting to train, but he knows that Reborn knows that he's distracted, and for once, he is grateful for Reborn pointing gun-transformed-Leon at him and threatening him to either go out or die.
A couple of months ago and he would have been ecstatic at having clearance to leave the Facility. Now, however, it's like the consequences of the ongoing war has finally settled in him.
He sees the expanse of streets covered with dirty water and grime and it looks so far-off from his last memory of Japan. He had to pinch his cheeks for a few times before he finally realizes that this is real and the world is really thrown into a vicious cycle of destruction-revenge-and-wars. Shadows cover every nook-and-cranny of the area outside the tall buildings of the MAFIA facility.
Helplessness is the only atmosphere that Tsuna can feel in this area.
He shivers and decides to visit his mother in the evacuation center, the only other well-maintained building aside from the Government Towers and the MAFIA's Facility. He feels sheepish at the respectful bows given to him by the guards and he hopes that his mother hasn't learned about him being a Vongola yet. He doesn't want her to know, doesn't want her to worry.
"Tsuna-kun," Kyoko greets him with a sunny stretch of her lips, coaxing an answering smile from Tsuna.
"Kyoko-chan," Nana pats the seat beside her, which Kyoko accepts. They talk to Tsuna, asking him about his health, about Kyoko's big brother, about Tsuna's progress in the MAFIA. Tsuna answers everything as truthfully as he can, but he leaves out his new status as the Vongola's Tenth and about Ryohei's involvement as a Guardian. He asks his mother about his father, but Nana simply smiles dreamily and tells him her usual answer: that his father is a good man is probably staying cool under these dire circumstances.
He appreciates Kyoko and her infectious cheeriness—but he knows he can't stay here long, not if he wants to protect them and make sure they can keep on smiling. He thanks Kyoko for taking care of his mother, to which his ex-classmate chuckles at, and adds that it's a pleasure for her to spend her days here with his mother, with her friends Haru and Hana.
He's glad he took Reborn's advice (or rather, Reborn's command) on taking a walk to sort his thoughts. He's now more confident with his decision to fight as a Vongola.
His gratefulness for this break from training disappears soon after, for a group of crazed-looking gangsters are now blocking his way back to the Facility and are jeering at him. He raises his hands reflexively, a defensive posture that earns mocking laughter from the surrounding mob.
These people are not trained, and his resolve is to fight for the sake of his friends and they're not harming his friends, and Tsuna sees no reason to fight them back with the techniques Lal Mirch and Reborn ingrained to him during the past few days. He has been so used to simply accepting bullies' beatings—the idea of fighting back in a situation like this is foreign to him. Furthermore, his body is still tired from the training, and.
Tsuna stops his stream of thought and wishes for the police to arrive. It appears that his training sessions weren't for naught, because he has improved in lessening the damage and the pain he feels from said damages. It's like, he has harmonized completely with his senses, and while it's stressful to feel and understand the waves of bitter hatred and hopelessness clutching these gangsters, he also acquired a greater control over the things affecting his senses.
He feels Hibari-san's arrival even before his assaulters stop their array of punches on him and divert their attention to the stronger opponent. Hibari-san carries a formidable aura that can pierce through his haze of pain and overwhelming misery of this land.
"Are you okay, Sawada-san?" Kusakabe-san asks him, coupling his positive-wavelength with the first-aid he applies to Tsuna's bruises and scrapes. Hibari-san is busy dealing punishment to the people disrupting the discipline and order inside Japan's walls. "It's a good thing that Kyoya-san is on patrol duty today."
It's not a good thing, Tsuna wants to reply, but he can't really fully explain why the thought of Hibari-san seeing like this, back to his pathetic self (or maybe, he hasn't really moved away from his helpless form?), brings an ache to his very being.
Hibari-san finishes the wandering gangsters with a disdainful scoff, before he walks over to where Kusakabe is holding the partially-healed Tsuna. Tsuna winces, expecting his partner to bite him to death as well.
"You're that pathetic, herbivore? Not even willing to save yourself," Hibari tells him coolly, prompting Tsuna to grimace in a way that's unrelated to the pain from being beaten up, "Those who are all-too-willing to be defeated don't interest me."
He turns his back to Tsuna yet again. Maybe, someday, Tsuna will have the courage to tell Hibari-san about his convictions and his resolution to only fight for the sake of his beloved ones and not about any other reason. Maybe someday, but for today, he can only accept Kusakabe-san's hurried apology for Hibari-san's harsh words, he can only watch the two leave him in that lonely road as they continued their patrol around this desolate city.
"I'm sorry I disappointed you, Hibari-san," Tsuna tells the dirt-covered road, but Hibari is long gone.
After a good night's sleep thanks to Yamamoto and Basil's sleeping pills charged with their positive, calming wavelength, Tsuna wakes up to the day when Reborn is going to hand them their respective Vongola Rings.
It's another Vongola Meeting, though everyone has enough sense to not start fighting amongst themselves. It doesn't stop the Varia members from shooting nasty glares to the Guardians, and it certainly doesn't stop the Guardians (especially the hot-blooded Gokudera and Ryohei) from glaring right back.
"Look, you're already strong in your way," Colonello remarks, "but these rings will be your ace, hey."
"It works out quite well that Mukuro despised using the Vongola Ring, so the Mist Ring is still in our hands," Lal Mirch says as Reborn hands over the Mist Ring to Chrome Dokuro.
"Such an annoying jerk, refusing a Vongola Ring like that," Gokudera mutters angrily below his breath, earning a mildly-disapproving glance from Tsuna.
"Mukuro is still one of the strongest Guardians even without the Mist Ring," Reborn tells Gokudera with a tinge of amusement.
("But that's only because of his two Hell Rings," Mammon resentfully comments, to which the new Varia recruit, Fran, answers, "Hell Rings are really more special, huh, senpai?" while showing off the single Hell Ring adorning his hand.)
"We're counting on you as the Mist Guardian, Chrome," Bianchi says, looking slightly ridiculous wearing a pair of goggles, but it's for Gokudera's sake, so nobody comments on her get-up. Everyone has high hopes for Chrome as Mukuro's temporary replacement, since she's Mukuro's apprentice and is genetically-modified to fit Mukuro better.
The rings are handed to the other Guardians without much fuss, with even Hibari obediently sliding the ring to his finger (and promptly igniting his ring with his overflowing soul wavelength).
The Vongola Sky Ring is the last one to be handed. Tsuna swallows past the lump on his throat, nervous and excited and giddy and anxious and he thinks he's going to drop the ring and it'll break and he'll be the worst boss ever.
"You're really desperate to hand over the Sky Ring," Xanxus offhandedly notes, but Tsuna allows the ring to be placed on his finger. It doesn't reject Tsuna like it did to Xanxus, as related in the hushed rumors running around the MAFIA.
"The Varia is not going to participate in a mission with such a dismal success rate," Xanxus informs them like Reborn has predicted, "And because the Varia won't take orders from such a wimpy leader."
Tsuna knows that Xanxus isn't lying, not per se, but he also knows that there's another reason for Xanxus not wanting to go with the Vongola's force in attacking Millefiore and saving their original Mist Guardian.
"With the acceptance of the Sky Ring, you have fully committed yourself to Vongola, idiot Tsuna."
He closes his eyes and opens them, sees his Family's answering loyalty and he smiles in return. "I'll do my best to not be a disappointment."
Reborn regards him with a hint of pride, glad for the changes brought by the past days filled to the brim with stress. The fedora-wearing arcobaleno clears his throat to get the others' attention. "The day of the mega-mission is tomorrow and I want you all to focus on practicing with your partners the SYNCHRO."
Answering nods meet Reborn's command and Tsuna feels nervous all over again. Gokudera and Yamamoto go together in one direction, followed by Ryohei and Chrome. Reborn tells Lambo to wait for him in Reborn's training grounds, while Hibari-san is already making his way out of the conference room.
"Let's go, No-Good-Tsuna. It's time for your training with Hibari."
Reborn and Tsuna arrives at the arena where Tsuna has last faced off against his partner –which turns out to be Hibari-san's special training room.
Without further ado, Reborn passes a pair of heavy-looking gloves to Tsuna. As soon as his hand touches them, he senses the onslaught of powerful positive-attribute waves radiating from the gloves. 'VONGOLA X' is engraved on the gloves. "It's my weapon," Tsuna realizes in awe.
"Those gloves are the weapons used by the Primo Vongola. If you're really fit for your role, you'll be able to use those as well."
"T-the P-Primo?! The strongest Vongola boss?!"
"Stop your slacking and start working, useless Tsuna."
As Reborn utters those words, Hibari-san moves away from his spot in the wall, tonfas out and encased with a huge, overwhelming purple-colored wavelength. Tsuna is at a loss on how to place his partner's wave attribute –it looks deadly enough as a negative-attribute, yet it looks like a positive wave waiting to envelope its enemies.
"I'm going to pry all of your abilities open, Sawada Tsunayoshi," Hibari-san declares, before he disappears from Tsuna's view and reappears a split-second after, bringing down his tonfas against Tsuna's arms, the soul wavelength burning Tsuna's skin where it contacts.
Tsuna hastily kicks at the taller male to propel himself away, clutching in reflex against his arm. He wills himself to make the sizzling sensation disappear, but he doesn't receive a chance to make sure that he's healed, because Hibari continues attacking him relentlessly, meeting Tsuna at all directions and not giving him a moment to catch himself and recover.
Not even five minutes since the start of their training session and he's already battered and panting, but he's still standing on his feet and he's still determined to not let Hibari-san defeat him yet again. It's a different resolve and he doesn't dwell on it much, as he starts to attack Hibari-san as well. He ignores the dizzying beat of his heart as he spies the pleased smirk present on Hibari-san's face.
"You've become interesting again, Sawada Tsunayoshi." Hibari-san declares, his Vongola Ring on a silver necklace, but his fingers have three rings on it.
He opens his box weapon –a harmless and adorable-looking hedgehog that is now expanding at an alarming rate. The clouds covered in spines block Tsuna's sight of his smirking partner, and all he can hear is Hibari's line of: "That is why I will kill you."
I don't want to disappoint anyone.
I want to protect everyone.
Those thoughts fill him, even as his mind is tortured by images and sounds of the world beyond Japan's walls, assaulted by illusions of his friends dying and bathing in their own blood because Tsuna wasn't strong enough.
I am not the Vongola's boss because I am strong, nor because I want to fight.
I am just Sawada Tsunayoshi who's fighting for his own beliefs.
Tsuna might be an anomaly, but his resolve to protect everything dear to him is strong enough to surpass any divisions of plus or minus or zero. Unexpected of him, but his resolution is strong enough to awaken the X Gloves into the X Gloves Version Vongola Ring.
The needle-covered sphere crumbles around him and he crawls out with great difficulty, his throat burning from the shortage of air inside the sphere. He's on all-fours, breathing heavily to help relieve his oxygen-starved lungs.
The first thing he sees after his eyes adjust to the bright lights of the training room is Hibari-san. Or more specifically, Hibari-san's shoes.
"I was going to kill you, Sawada Tsunayoshi," His partner tells him smoothly.
I don't want to disappoint Hibari-san again.
His nervous laugh sounds somewhere in-between a hacking cough and a groan of a dying man. "I knew you would."
The taller teen crouches down to be on eye-level with him and Tsuna feels another wave of déjà vu.
Hibari-san's eyes look fierce. With a raised eyebrow and a dangerously-low voice, he asks, "Oh? And you think you know what I'm going to do…?"
Tsuna flinches, but he gathers bits of courage residing deep within himself and continues, "But I also knew you wouldn't."
No reply comes out of Hibari-san, though Tsuna takes the lack of anger as a good sign.
"Congratulations on staying alive, as well as passing the Vongola Test," Reborn tells Tsuna but the infant hitman's voice sounds small and far-away. Tsuna cranes his neck to pinpoint Reborn's location, and he dimly notices that the infant is moving away to leave the two of them to their own devices.
"Let's go practice the SYNCHRO, Hibari-san," Tsuna softly says.
Hibari-san doesn't move from his crouching position. "You're going to pass out."
Tsuna pouts slightly, "I'm not going to—"
"Were you not aware of the consequences of passing out while we're still holding a conversation, Sawada Tsunayoshi?"
Tsuna stops a groan from escaping his lips. So yeah, he passed out. Hibari-san didn't have to wait for him to wake up just so he can chew him out for violating discipline, did he?
But then again…
"Thank you for carrying me here, Hibari-san." Tsuna remembers this room. This is where he was brought to after he first met Hibari-san. The thought makes him smile slightly.
His partner doesn't look so happy with that though. "I had to endure the crowding your followers started outside my room."
"Are Gokudera and Yamamoto still there?" He hasn't seen his friends since he became busy with the trainings, but he thinks that those two are busy with their own trainings too and he doesn't want to bother them.
Hibari-san looks at him as though his question is insane. "I beat them up for their noisiness and herding."
"W-what?!" Tsuna asks in all his horrified and high-pitched-squeak glory.
"Blocking my doorway and being noisy is defying discipline," Hibari-san asserts steely.
"You didn't have to bring me here if you don't want extra trouble," He continues to protest, even though his smile widens and he really is glad for Hibari-san, though a bit worried for Yamamoto and Gokudera.
Hibari-san raises his teacup to his lips, sipping his tea in silence, not bothering to dignify Tsuna's last statement with a reply.
Tsuna stares at his partner's face—at the sharp angles and the deadly aura that sits so well it's almost unbelievable. Tsuna decides that Hibari-san is really a collection of contradictions that make perfect sense.
Hibari-san continues to drink his tea, sitting on the bedside chair as though he's waiting for Tsuna to become able to fight again.
Tsuna wants to ask if it's okay that he and Hibari are not really practicing synchronization at the moment, but he stops himself, because Hibari-san is Hibari-san, and practicing with weaklings like him—or even fighting in groups, is something that will never be associated with him. But that's okay with Tsuna, because he knows Hibari-san –even though he scares him!- and he knows that Hibari-san will never lose and if Tsuna needs help, Hibari-san will be there to bite the opponent –and Tsuna, for being unable to win by himself- to death.
"Let's do our best tomorrow, Hibari-san," Tsuna says instead, smiling cheerfully, placing all his trust to his partner in those words. Tsuna may not really understand the way Hibari-san's mind and motivation work, but he knows that he trusts Hibari-san and his iron will and solid strength.
On the day after the Vongola Test, the war between Japan's MAFIA and Italy's Millefiore starts.
Everyone is assigned to their own missions, everyone is designated to their optimal partner, and everyone is entrusted to guard their posts.
The Varia chose to stay at the borders of Japan's territory, to protect the defensive architectures and kill anyone who dares to even scratch the surfaces of Japan's walls.
Gokudera and Yamamoto are assigned to infiltrate the enemy via East Route 864, while Reborn and Lambo are going for the underground tunnels at the West Route 452. These are routes predicted by the top intelligence of MAFIA, using the Ranking Prince Fuuta's knowledge as basis.
The Chrome-Ryohei and Lal Mirch-Colonello teams are taking advantage of Chrome's top-notch illusion skills in order to enter the main Millefiore base and destroy it from its control tower.
Protect the base, attack the enemy and rescue Rokudo Mukuro: these are the objectives of this A-class mission for the members of Japan's MAFIA.
The last task is handed to Hibari and Tsuna.
Tsuna takes a deep breath as he adjusts the gauntlet gloves on his hands. They don't feel like they weigh much, though he knows that there's a huge power burning from within those elegant-looking gloves.
Hibari-san is looking steadily at the mass of enemies awaiting them, an impassive façade in place, betrayed only by the brilliant glint in his grey eyes. He is excited for this battle, for his tonfas to strike fear and cause injury, and he wants to see people crumbling under his power, wants to hear people moaning in agony and defeat, wants to smell the rich, metallic scent of blood flowing freely with each torn skin.
Tsuna remembers how terrified he feels under various bullies' beatings, but Hibari-san is different. He doesn't know if it's better that way—Hibari-san is obviously stronger than the normal arrogant gangsters, but with that fearsome power comes a threatening aura and an insane bloodlust.
But Hibari-san is not going to fight Tsuna today, for which Tsuna can relax slightly (because Hibari-san will only bite him to death if he slacks off, right? So No-Good-Tsuna must become Useful-and-NOT-Herbivore-Tsuna for today, because the way Hibari-san is grinning in anticipation is definitely intimidating).
Hibari's ring shines dully when it catches the ends of the sunlight hiding partially in the clouds. The sky is starting to darken, so Tsuna touches Hibari's sleeve for support.
The Cloud Guardian stiffens slightly but doesn't pull away, which makes Tsuna release the breath he has been holding. He gives a gentle tug, commanding as a leader yet not pushing Hibari to do something he doesn't want.
Tsuna feels like he's futilely taming a wild dragon—getting the dragon to do one chore for him in exchange for one of his limbs. Tsuna shakes that feeling away, because Hibari-san will kill him if he knows he has been compared to a dragon—and more importantly, Hibari-san cares for Tsuna, in his very Hibari-like way. Tsuna knows it, can feel it with the intuition rooted into his very being.
"Let's go, Hibari-san," Tsuna says, knowing that this day, he found his purpose. He may not fit that well into the bloodstained and violence-filled world of today, but he knows that standing beside Hibari, in order to rescue a comrade, in order to protect the peaceful world of his friends and his family—
—He is not a burden. He is not an anomaly.
Tsuna feels his hand being grabbed roughly by callused hands. His right hand ends up touching the Vongola Cloud ring and it feels strangely intimate, to be this close, to be in a physical contact willingly initiated by Vongola's most feared man.
Instead of being confused by the action, Tsuna instinctively understands, and he smiles and holds in to Hibari-san's much-bigger hand tightly.
"Needle Sky Form!"
And as they called out the attack's form, Tsuna can feel his soul reaching out and curling into Hibari's, in order to make their attacks melt into each other, in order to fill the sky with clouds with protruding needles.
At this moment, Tsuna knows, as the needles rain down on their enemies with pinpoint precision and deadly force, that his attribute might not be classified accordingly, but he exists, and he exists to accept and trust Hibari's eruptive soul.
At this moment, Tsuna knows, that as long as he fights alongside Hibari-san and Vongola and for the sake of his loved ones, he will never be an anomaly.