Disclaimer: Not mine.
AN: For Renleek. Had a lot of fun, writing this.
"But he's a complete kid! Look at him—I mean, er, look at his profile on the web! He's a high school kid—we can't just drag them in that young—"
The voice garbled a bit on his headphones. Tsuna winced and turned the round click wheel on the left, adjusting the frequency from Channel X. He was sitting next to the steel window in one of the abandoned school rooms. The rest of the chairs were stacked haphazardly at the back, a colossus of dust and rotting wood. The walls had gaps of peeling paint and water marks streaking from the ceiling to the floor tiles, some of which were chipped and cracked and missing. Graffiti about how life and authorities sucked looped in dizzying colors on the chalkboard, trailing over the edge onto the wall. Dust motes floated in the space before Tsuna's brown eyes.
The voice came back clearly on his headphones, "—have you actually seen him move? 27, take a good look at him. My precog doesn't lie. He's a complete natural. He's going to decimate any and all threats and all the other agencies are already keeping an eye on him. We might as well gobble him up this early."
Tsuna blew up his cheeks like a puffer fish, annoyed. Fuuta was right, of course. There was something eerily predatory with the way Yamamoto Takeshi moved. And even though he was just a third-year high school kid, his body certainly didn't look it. In fact, he was bigger than Tsuna who was already twenty-two years old but still got carded at bars. Completely unfair. Bigger, taller, rock-hard muscles, and dashing good lucks and personality, the brat had it all. And now this.
They wanted to recruit him. Worse, they wanted him to recruit the brat. As in, he, Tsunayoshi Sawada the Useless, would be training and guiding the baseball kid as his apprentice.
Tsuna's head was propped up on a hand, his eyes fixed on the said Yamamoto on the baseball field below him.
It was the last inning and both teams were tied, point for point. And it was Yamamoto taking the bat.
He watched, resting his forehead against the filmy glass, trying to find the exact reason for the high school kid's freakishly large frame. Could be steroids. He focused his eyes on Yama-pi's face (his new nickname for the incoming cadet). Nah, not round enough for a moon-face effect from male-enhancement candies. Yamamoto's form bent in a low crouch, arms twisting to hold the bat steady. Then the pitcher struck.
The ball flew, curving.
Tsuna stood up, feeling the hair on his neck standing up.
Like water flowing through, Yamamoto automatically adjusted his form an inch and swung, muscles bunching in tension. Tsuna watched the ball hit Yamamoto's baseball bat, revolving for a fraction of a second in the air in front of the black-haired kid, then it zipped in an overarching arc above the astonished rival catchers and into the true blue sea at the edge of the road bordering the school field.
There was an explosion of screaming and cheering as Yamamoto ran around the diamond field towards home base.
Tsuna watched Yama-pi's face closely.
It was smiling, naturally.
He felt his body tighten in lust. Oh, he was so dead.
"I feel dirty." Tsuna mourned even as he jammed calamari into his mouth from the carton he was holding. He was sitting on one of the benches on the stands in the big top main circus tent. In front of him, as wide as a football field was the practice zone tiled with a checker-marked design where several trapeze artists practiced like dancers on thin cables with the net stretched wide underneath them.
Spanner paused in his fiddling with a gaming console called the Cube that fit in the palm of his hand. "What do you mean by that?" He reached over and grabbed a free calamari and calmly put it into his mouth.
Tsuna ignored the food stealing crime and said, "I mean, you know my new recruit? Seventeen years old and I'm already kind of heated up by him. I feel like a cradle-robber."
His blond companion opened his big fat mouth again, "You mean, pedophile. There are laws against people like you, you know?"
"Shut up." Tsuna consoled himself with more calamari until he realized Spanner had stolen the rest of it. He glared at the engineer who just shrugged at him and continued with fingering his latest toy. "What are you doing anyway?"
"Well, the big man asked me to hack into this new game that newly-established company made. They're called the King Industries and they're stirring a lot of media attention for their game called Urban Legend. It's the must-have game that everybody in Spiral City is buying and playing and obsessing over. It's the first pioneer in the hundred percent simulation gaming field via a plug-in code to the human central nervous system. See?" Spanner showed the brunet the small wire with hypodermic needles in it. "You connect it to the base of your skull. Doesn't hurt apparently since they've also inserted a cartridge of natural anesthetics with it."
"Isn't that kind of dangerous?"
Spanner blew his bangs upward. "You're telling me. That's why Reborn is asking me to inspect it."
The Darth Vader theme song began beeping and Tsuna groaned. He lifted a hand and moved the dial on the right side of his headphones to answer Fuuta's call on Channel X. "Yes, I know."
Fuuta paused. "Sometimes, I think you might have a bit of clairvoyance in you. But, just listen okay? The recruitment has to be by tonight. Tonight, you hear me? Preferably before the Eyeteeth Festival is over. Don't forget." Tsuna was sure Fuuta was glaring at him through the circus-wide camera security system. He waved at one of the cameras watching them at the corner of the stands.
Tsuna could feel the sarcastic eye-roll from Fuuta. Then Fuuta said a goodbye and ordered him to eat better food unlike the fat and greasy junk food he kept buying from the stalls in the street.
Tsuna frowned at Spanner who was sniggering, obviously eavesdropping on the last comment, even while his fingers moved in a blur over the Cube, clicking and moving and sliding parts around. Spanner was one of the few normal people in their agency disguised as the Number Circus. He was just inhumanely good with machines and codes and hacking systems.
The Number Circus was a sanctuary and training ground for the cast-offs of the ever disapproving society. Most of whom were psychics who used to be in mental asylums or on the streets. It was a common trend in their culture. Psychics ended up in the loony bin more often than not because their minds couldn't often survive with their abilities. It was the price of being a psychic—a mind that was constantly teetering on the edge. But Reborn had often lectured him on why being pushed to the edge actually gave them more power. Something about a dying will and having no regrets staring in the face of death itself.
Tsuna shook his head.
His old teacher was crazy.
The Number Circus was mainly used as a non-existent clean-up crew for Spiral City's Governor in exchange for a little money and not being shut down. They took away the psychic psychos draining the city coffers in the hospitals and helped with cleaning up (or at least maintaining the peace in) the underground criminal network of the city. And being a circus often helped with the funding, Reborn had often added. And Reborn would know as he had founded the Number Circus and was the big boss himself, the ringmaster in a jazzy suit and top-hat with little lizards on the band around it.
And Tsuna had been adopted by Reborn as his supposed star student, Number 27. Which was a big fat load of crock. Tsuna's own pyrokinesis abilities often came and went of their own accord. He would never be someone called a star pupil in either the psychic department or even the performing department or hell, even the fighting department. More like the dropout kid.
Tsuna often suspected it was because Reborn used to be friends with his missing dad. But he never said anything because it made Tsuna feel hollow to have the ghost of his famous dad on his shoulder.
But now was no time for feeling down.
They were holding the Eyeteeth Festival and the majority of schools were invited on discount. Which included Yama-pi's school. This was the time to bring him into the fold. Tsuna pulled on his harlequin costume with green and white diamonds and his jester's hat with bells on the long pointed ends that reached his back. He put on his goldfish embossed mask with scribbled brown eyes, forced onto him by Colonnello the sadist. Even through the thin walls of his room, he could hear the carnival music booming the song called the Concept of Love. The insanely cheerful technopop belting out several theories about love was probably one of Spanner's jokes on him. Which was not helping with his self-esteem at all.
He would be performing a small job as a fire-eater at the beginning of the parade to give him enough time to talk to Yama-pi later on.
Tsuna was already feeling pretty sick about this. Those rippling pectorals would be right up in front of his face (Tsuna wasn't very tall, after all). He hoped Yama-pi would just brand him an insane freak and say no and avoid him forever. It would make life so much easier.
Then all hell broke loose smack dab in the middle of the festivities.
It had started with the strings of colored lights and fluorescent bulbs flickering on and off. Tsuna had ignored it while he was hiding out behind the chocolate fountain stall, stuffing his face with said chocolate fruits (eating fire was exhausting, after all). Then all light had shut off as guests began screaming in a panic in the dark.
Tsuna felt his headphone wheels click in an automatic turn, meaning it was protecting him from the immobilizing psychic pulse Verde, a Number telepath, was broadcasting throughout the carnival grounds. It was meant to freeze all unprotected non-psychic citizens in a psi protection bubble any time any place. It was a red code paranormal emergency. Because it was a cardinal rule from the Governor himself: no one was allowed to know about their activities as psychics.
He stood up, choking a bit on a banana as a large hundred-legged machine monster crashed in the middle of the food courtyard. Shit. It had gone into his designated area, meaning it would be several minutes before any other Numbers got here. Precious minutes where the machine monster could destroy expensive carnival property. Reborn would kill him if he didn't do anything. Not to mention those psi bubbles weren't exactly impervious. If hit hard enough, it could break through.
Then Tsuna looked up closer at the stumbling machine and felt a horrified gasp climb up his throat. It was Spanner in the middle of the machine. His eyes were wide white blank screens with static running through as cables hooked themselves on his neck to the body of the black machine that looked suspiciously like an overbloated Cube with clawed feet standing like spiderlegs.
Fuuta's voice broke through in Channel X in his headphones, "—27! 27! You must extricate Spanner from the monster. There is no time for explanations as every second counts. You must free Spanner from the wires of the Cube by any and all means."
Spanner, who'd always steal his food, who'd always listen to his constant whining and given logical mature advice, who'd always play annoying music to mock him…He could die from this. Tsuna…couldn't lose anyone anymore.
Tsuna began running, face unbelievably pale.
He could feel his breath coming out in pants, could feel his world narrow down on the massive machine corroded with wires and knobs and clawed legs and the wan figure of Spanner stuck in the middle like a caught victim in a spiderweb. He could feel his heartbeat getting louder, could feel his muscles flex and tighten for the fight that could kill him and Spanner and god, everybody in the vicinity. Tsuna was praying to his pyrokinesis to work, to work just this once. He could feel the pressure of losing a friend pushing at his mind, pulling him into that same situation of balancing on a tightrope. He could hear the blood rush in his head, the dread being pushed down for any scrap of desperate courage he could find.
Tsuna dodged a mechanical claw that tried to skewer him. He grabbed at an air-born claw, hauled himself on it, and ran along its precarious edge. Other claws swung trying to amputate the leg he was on but he skipped over them and grabbed at another higher claw as the one he was one got torn off.
He was so close.
Tsuna felt his hair stand up and he slapped a hand to the side which resulted in exploding an attacking claw. Flames from that explosion began creeping along that claw, heat that was so hot it could melt metal.
He got to the head of the machine and slapped both hands on its mainframe. Just enough and it exploded on contact. He jumped down with the debris from the machine flying around him and Tsuna could see Spanner's body start to fall, the wires burnt at their tips. He was whispering to his mind, faster, faster, just a little bit faster. Tsuna could feel the world slow down, the bits and pieces of broken machinery almost floating by stretched second after second. Finally, he reached Spanner's side and he curled around the unconscious blond, hoping he could take the impact of both ground and falling machine from his friend.
Tsuna's back hit the courtyard and he glimpsed astonished yellow eyes from one of the tents before he blacked out.
And the only thing that crossed his mind was that Yama-pi's eyes had flashed yellow just like that time he'd swung a baseball bat.
"I know you're awake, you lying student of mine."
Tsuna groaned and tried to push his face into the hospital pillow. He didn't wanna wake up to work. He hated the other Numbers who constantly made fun of him and his uselessness. Then he got slapped on the head by an irritated Reborn. "Oow, that hurts." He glared at the ringmaster, "You're not supposed to add more injuries to a patient you know." Then he remembered and pushed his eyelids up at Reborn and asked, "Where's Spanner?"
His boss looked even more irritated that he'd only just remembered. In fact, the man had deep eyebags and seemed to have gained more forehead wrinkles the last time Tsuna had seen him. The brunet kept his mouth shut of any jokes about old age because it seemed Reborn had worried himself to death over him again. He tried not to sulk that he wasn't a kid anymore because the sad truth was that twenty-two was still pretty young to Reborn's thirty-eight. The man answered him in a hoarse voice, "…He's fine. One of the telepaths helped him get over the accident. It's you and your stupid recklessness that I'm pissed about!"
Tsuna got hit again. "What did you want me to do? I was running out of time!"
Reborn snorted, "So you pyro-bomb the damn thing with you right in the face of the explosion (your burns were a hell to cure by the fucking way) and you even had the gall to wrap yourself around Spanner, who may I remind you is twice as large as your skinny self and can probably take that kind of damage, and you hit the ground from a good two floors high—" Tsuna tried not to snicker as Reborn didn't actually know anything about distance or heights or measuring systems since he claimed he didn't need that kind of information cluttering his mind and then the man hit him again, which hurt. "—stop giggling, you idiot. You could have died. If not from your burns or the fall, but from the whole damn machine falling on top of you." Then Reborn pinched him.
"OW—okay, okay. I get it, I get it. I'm a feckless idiot. You can't do that to an injured victim, you know." Tsuna mentally gave up. It was useless trying to defend himself from Reborn since the man could be as obstinate as a bulldog. "So, what happened then? How come I didn't die?"
Reborn hit him again, disgusted. "Your young new recruit, that's what happened. Yamamato saved your ass with his telekinesis. He stopped the machine mess from falling on both of you then he dragged you out there."
Tsuna stopped short. "Oh…How come Verde's pulse didn't stop him in his tracks?"
"Because his mental defenses are built like a tank," was Reborn's ominous answer.
Fuuta the Cassandra had been right. Yamamoto was a natural telekinetic-er.
Telekinetic-users were rare and bordered on the insanely powerful. And they had this thing about control, perfect control over everything. Reborn was one. And so had been Tsuna's father. Right until he went crazy and missing after Nana, Tsuna's mother, died.
Tsuna checked he wasn't drooling. Damn it. It was so unfair. He couldn't take this kind of abuse. He really couldn't.
He'd been kicked out of the clinic, being called names like lazy-bones and ugly chicken by Dr. Shamal. Tsuna was going to make sure Bianchi was cooking his lunch tomorrow. Hah. And then in the dorms, Spanner had punched his arm and severely scolded him for being stupid even though Tsuna had saved him. He would be getting a special lovemeal from Bianchi too. And Tsuna had politely ignored Spanner's look of worry and warmth…They were both glad to be alive and struggling over chicken barbecue in the cafeteria, after all.
But what really set off Tsuna's sulkiness was his so-called apprentice. Yama-pi who was sheepishly standing before him in a skin-tight goth pants and flowered Hawaiian shirt. It was an indecent kind of shirt. Because Tsuna could see the small bumps of nipples right through it in the air-conditioned meeting room of Reborn's office. He tried to keep his gaze up at Yama-pi's face and not at the eye-level nipples. Focus, Tsuna. Focus.
He wasn't allowed to latch his mouth on the nipples.
Not in Reborn's office. And they were underaged nipples, too. Underaged pretty nipples. Still, underaged though. But was seventeen even underaged? Focus, Tsuna. They weren't lollipop nipples. No sucking or licking. He must resist.
Not to mention the brawn behind the nipples.
Damn it. He was so fucked. And not literally too, what a pity.
The nipples talked. "Hi. I'm your new cadet, Takeshi Yamamoto. I'm glad you're looking better since the accident." Oh, wait. That was Yamamoto's mouth speaking. Tsuna kept his dazed eyes on the mouth. Which was worse because now Tsuna wanted to latch his mouth on those smiling lips. He was pretty sure they wouldn't taste like chocolate. Human lips generally didn't.
Tsuna felt his own lips move, "Nip—I mean, yeah, I'm feeling better. I'm Tsunayoshi Sawada." Keep the eyes above the nipples, Tsuna. Politely ignore how it sticks up because it is very cold in here. And not because he wants you to suck it. He probably doesn't, being underaged and everything. Underaged people were like asexual, Tsuna told himself. Off-limits, basically. And for the sake of all delicious m&m's in the world, don't call him by your pet name, Yama-pi.
There was a grunt disguised as a laugh behind Tsuna the owner of which had most likely understood the Freudian slip. Reborn slipped into view, like the sleazy lizard guy he was, and said, "Well, now that you guys are here, let's start the meeting."
He sat down behind the desk with the Venetian blinds behind him closed like the Godfather Tsuna had seen last week with Fuuta. He nodded regally at them both to sit in the two swivel chairs in front of his office desk, which they did. "I've postponed this meeting because for the past five days Tsuna had been catatonic in the clinic from his wounds and Yamamoto's been getting a crash course training from me…but now that our sleeping beauty's awake, I can brief you on what happened." Then it hit Tsuna that Yama-pi must have agreed to join them, thus setting him on the dangerous path of accidentally molesting his trainee.
He squirmed a bit on the chair, denying how happy that idea made him.
Reborn ignored him. "I've already informed the other Numbers of the situation and have sent them investigating. You, Tsuna, will take up your role as a mentor to Yamamoto in our world but you will also help in the investigation as the Governor Timoteo has issued all Numbers to work on solving this, silently. No one is to know, you understand? Spanner was hacking into the newest game called Urban Legend on the console Cube until he tripped a trap code, which was acting as a fire alarm, you could say. By that time, the game chip had mutated the Cube and attacked Spanner through his nervous system. A mutation of which, looks suspiciously like a level boss monster in the game, name of Anansi the Spider God. So far, none of the other players have tripped up the virus trap but I'm suspecting the hacker community might soon meet the same fate as our Spanner did. It's only a matter of time until they find the same codes he did. You will keep an eye out on their network for any mishaps. If you do find one, control the situation and call up other Numbers for help."
Tsuna cocked his head to the side, "But shouldn't we search the King Industries too?"
"No. I have the Varia Numbers working on them. You are not to approach them, do you understand Tsuna? They are dangerous." Reborn gave him an evil eye at this. Tsuna was being treated like a kid again. He blew up his cheeks like a puffer-fish.
Then Yamamoto began laughing, a deep-throated kind of chuckle that had Tsuna melting to his toes and mentally slapping his forehead and crying in humiliation. He'd forgotten Yama-pi was in the room since the guy was being silent throughout Reborn's speech. Tsuna must have looked like an idiot with squirrel cheeks even as a red flush crept up his neck and ears. Reborn did that weird grunt-not-a-laugh thing again.
Actually, Yama-pi was a pretty nice guy. Tsuna happily stuffed the chili cheese fries into his mouth, more junk food that Yama-pi had offered to buy him. What a really nice guy. Tsuna felt kind of bad thinking all sorts of obscene things about Yama-pi when he was such a friendly Hi-I'm-your-neighbor kind of guy. He was kind of like a chivalrous prince, that's how nice he was.
Although he still raised the hair on Tsuna's neck.
They were on a subway train to the gaming district of Spiral City to reach some of Tsuna's (or more likely Spanner's contacts). Yama-pi in a school uniform had brought along a golf-bag on one shoulder which Tsuna had ignored in favor of the flexing biceps carrying it. He'd smiled pleasantly at Tsuna, handed over a to-go packet of chili cheese fries and said, "I'm afraid I couldn't really find an apple."
Tsuna tried not to jump the charming guy.
After finishing off the fries, he'd turned to Yama-pi who'd been watching the block-like apartment buildings whiz by the window. Tsuna asked, "So, what's with the golf bag?"
"Hmm? Oh, they're swords." With that Yamamoto zipped open the golf bag which was crammed with short swords. There had to be more than twenty in there, all deadly and brutal looking in different cultural styles from different historical periods.
Tsuna felt ice trickle down his spine. He paused for a minute to collect himself. He squeaked out, "Er…I mean, you're going to use all of them?"
Yamamoto smiled ear-to-ear, "Yep."
Tsuna coughed and tried not to scream out loud that he'd gotten saddled with another dangerous freak. A hot dangerous freak. He'd forgotten how telekinetic-users could be like, with their overly anal and controlling personalities. Speaking of which, "So…um, how much did Reborn teach you anyway?"
Yama-pi waved a hand, "Oh, just the basics."
Tsuna stared at him, absolutely gob-smacked. The basics all in five days? That…that…was fast. Godzilla fast, in fact ('coz Godzilla was kind of awesome). What the hell else was he supposed to teach this kid? Anyway, he wasn't even really a telekinetic-user so he wasn't even suited to mentoring Yama-pi. What exactly was Reborn thinking? "I guess you know all about the Numbers Circus, then."
Then Tsuna gave and decided he could just make Yama-pi tag along after him and call it career shadowing. Maybe he could even foist Yama-pi to other sword-practitioners like Squalo who liked ruffling Tsuna's hair. That was the plan, Tsuna decided. Never mind how nice Yama-pi was, buying him snacks.
After all, the guy gave Tsuna the creeps, plain and simple fact.
They split up in the district full of cybercafés and game stores and gaming centers to sniff out rumors and keep an eye out on the gamers. The tribe of hackers lurked underneath the veneer of gamers, most of whom were often very friendly if talk of a game was brought up. They ran from the gamut of hardcore glasses-wearers, to cell-phone speed gamers, to shy lethal code-mixers. These were some of the rumors collected by Tsunayoshi:
"They say the King Industries is headed by a dead man."
"No, no, it's headed by a crazed mental escapee who used to be a genius engineer."
"And they say he's got a ghost as a co-owner, you know?"
"The game's fantastic! They cut down the pain sensors but you can feel the tickle of grass and cattails. It's that detailed."
"It's absolutely designed like a fortress. Can't find a crack in its code anywhere. We will, soon though. Every game's got a crack."
"It's this fantasy game where you go through levels of different mythological monsters. It's amazing!"
"All anyone knows about the company is that the guy owning it is called the Prideful Lion."
"Yeah, it is kind of suspicious. A hundred percent simulation game? Gotta find someone to cybersex up and see if it feels the same, you know? How about you, eh?" This last guy leered at a blushing Tsuna. Then a long arm came around his shoulders and Yama-pi appeared out of nowhere, towering over the pervert. He smiled, eyes closed. "Ah, you found my boyfriend. Got kind of separated you know? He's so small after all, so easy to lose him."
The guy took one look at him and quickly scrambled away.
Tsuna shrugged off the arm since it gave him terribly delicious goosebumps. "That's not a good cover at all. No one's going to believe we're a couple."
Yama-pi's eyes sharpened at him. "Oh, well, why is that?"
"I-I don't mean it like that! It's just…you look amazing and I'm…well, me," he waved at himself to show how pathetic-looking he was, "I don't really look like I belong in the picture, right?"
Then the swordsman smiled warmly at him and mock-nuzzled his hair, "Don't worry, Tsuna-san. You fit just right." Then he carefully waved a small white cardboard box around Tsuna's head, "And look! Your reliable boyfriend has bought cannolis with chocolate mini-kisses on the crème."
Tsuna tried not to squeal at that, "—gimme, gimme!" Chocolate often melted his brain and devolved his mental age into five. A girly kind of five years old at that.