Disclaimer: I don't own KHR plzkthx

"underline" = italian speaking

'italics' = thoughts

"normal" = japanese speaking

Tsuna traced the new voice to a shadowy figure to his left. His eyes were immediately drawn to the gleaming red eye that seemed to glow in the darkness. As eerie as that was, Tsuna was more drawn to the emotions within that eye - emotions that were so strong and tangible that he could almost feel the pain and hurt and so many years of agony - struggling to escape just to be pulled back into that damning cycle of suffering - sucking him in until he had to gasp and back away.

"W-who are you?"

The other boy let out that odd laugh once more and leaned in to cup Tsuna's chin with his cold, slim fingers. "Mukuro. Rokudo Mukuro. And you, little Japanese boy? What are you doing so far from home?"

His first instinct was to recoil from the contact, but those fingers held firm and that single red eye captivated his attention as the other boy's raspy voice whispered in his ear. It then slowly registered in Tsuna's mind that this boy was speaking in Japanese.

"You know Japanese?" He really should have figured - lately, he seemed to have the strangest luck running into japanese-speaking foreigners. However, before the other boy could respond, the swishing sound of a door opening caught the attention of both boys. Mukuro released his hold, and shifted away, disappearing back into the darkness.

"We'll find out soon anyways," He whispered, an aloft tone of amusement evident in his voice.

A rough hand grabbed him and despite his token attempt at struggling, Tsuna was roughly thrown against a cold surgical table. Metal straps quickly imprisoned his wrist and ankles, holding him immobile. A bright light flashed in front of his face, blinding him. He realized that the rapid pounding he was hearing was the sound of his own heart, racing a mile a minute.

"Is he the one?" Tsuna heard a voice, rough and deep - male, he presumes - and close. They're hovering over him, hidden by the blinding light that shined on his prone body. He wanted to cry out for his Basil, for Gokudera, for Lal, for his father, but he kept silent instead and just listened to the sound of his heartbeat, willing it to calm down. Panic never helps, Reborn has drilled this lesson into him as much as possible and Tsuna figured hey, maybe the baby is right.

He strains to hear bits and pieces of their conversation, but they're whispering now and it's all garbled to him - his Italian is woefully limited. While the other men behind the light look seemingly distracted, he tried to shift his head to scan around the room, hoping to spot that familiar red glow. He wanted to call out that other boy's name too - Mukuro, he remembered, Rokudo Mukuro - but at the same time, he felt that it would be a hopeless cause to do so.

'Help...anyone please...I just want to go home' He wants to see his mother again, he wants to have sleepovers with Gokudera where they can actually sleep in without consequence, and he even would settle with just being safe in his father's arms again.

But then a syringe entered his arm and he felt a searing liquid being injected into his veins. He kept his body from automatically lashing out because if he did, the needle will only jerk around more. So instead, he screamed, paralyzed by fear, right before his world exploded into flames.

The next time his eyes open, the first thing Tsuna noticed was that he was still strapped to the table with his body aching like it does after a rough training session from Reborn. The second thing he noticed was that red eye, staring at him with amusement once again. The light overhead has dimmed to a manageable level, enough so that he can catch a better glimpse of the blue haired boy who stepped closer to the table with a clipboard.

"Sawada Tsunayoshi," the boy read out, enunciating every syllable as if he were sampling the name on his tongue. "Son of Sawada Iemitsu," He looked up from the clipboard and once again reached out to touch. Tsuna couldn't stop the shiver that ran up his spine when Mukuro's finger trailed his neck. "In other words, you're mafia. But what's a little Vongola doing here?"

Vongola - the word was familiar to Tsuna's ears. He had heard of it spoken in passing, always in Italian, but he had always assumed that it meant something else. Tsuna knew that his father was involved in the mafia, the signs of it were horribly blatant no matter how much anyone tried to hide it, but it still felt odd hearing from this blue haired boy.

It struck him that he was truly deep in his father's world now.

"I...I don't know," Tsuna answered honestly.

"Did they abandon you as well?" The touch of a single finger trailing his jawline changes to the firm grip of a bony hand around his throat. "Should I just put you out of your misery now?"

Mukuro was surprised to find that Tsuna's pulse was as calm as ever. Innocent brown eyes stared back at him. "You won't," Tsuna's voice spoke with a confidence he never knew he had, "because I don't want to die."

The hand on his throat moved to brush back Mukuro's own hair as the other boy let out a deep laugh. It only took a moment for Mukuro to recompose himself, and he looked back at Tsuna like he was a very interesting specimen. "Oh, but you will soon enough."

Tsuna felt his gut tighten, but he ignored it. Fear wouldn't help him now. Instead, he focused on that captivating red eye that now seemed to gain a malicious aura.

"Subject showed an affinity for emitting dying will flames, which were especially visible when the subject was distressed," Mukuro began to read from the clipboard once more, "Initial trials indicated potential for this effect to be harnessed and perhaps reproduced in other subjects. No kill orders are in effect."

Somehow, the "no kill orders" did not put the younger boy at ease - Mukuro had practically scoffed at the last sentence.

"Pity, not even they will kill you." It was another voice - quiet and subdued. Tsuna tried to squint into the darkness to catch sight of who was speaking, but he could only see the rows of iron bars shrouded by shadows.

"Heh, at least they know what they want to do with you." And yet another voice, from the same direction, but much more loud and brash.

Mukuro turned knowingly towards the direction of the voices. "Ken, Chikusa, you're both awake. Perfect. This is our new cell block companion, Sawada Tsunayoshi."

"Call me Tsuna," he intruded almost reflexively. Then, he paused. "Wait, you all know Japanese?"

The first voice spoke again. "Mukuro-sama taught us. It's our secret language...well, not so secret anymore."

"It's okay, it's obvious the boy doesn't know Italian. Our secrets are safe." Mukuro cut in smoothly, and the confused look on Tsuna's face only confirmed his suspicions.

"Are you...are you guys stuck here too?"

The voice to his right broke out into a fit of delirious laughter. "Like we'd stay here willingly and let them treat us like animals, what do you think this is? A daycare?" Tsuna winced at the response, and he was sure the boy that the voice belonged to could see it, because the voice continued with its speech as furious as ever. "But you'll find out soon enough, you'll find out when they start stick needle after needle into your skin and ask 'can you move your fingers?' and you won't even be able to reply because everything hurts too goddamn MUCH!"

Tsuna couldn't hide his trembling now, because he knew the voice was speaking with bitter honesty. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," he whispers. But somehow, the other boy manages to hear him and this only serves to fuel his rage.

"Why are you sorry? You have no clue what we've been through!"

"He will soon enough." It's the other voice, quiet but audible.

"Shut up! No one asked you Kakipi!"

"Now, now, boys-"

"Because it's sad! Because no one should be stuck here! Because you've been here alone in this cold cell while I've been outside with my family and warm hugs and homemade cooking and-" crazy tutors and insane training regimens that he's now somehow looking back at fondly, "and...it's just not fair!"

His outburst seemed to have stun the other boys into silence. "It's just not fair" was just such an innocent, childish statement, foreign now after years of imprisonment. Tsuna noticed the slight widening of Mukuro's eyes before they shift once again to an impassive half-lidded look of amusement. "Then, Sawada Tsunayoshi, what will you do about it?"

Tsuna frowned, because as hard as he tried to tug at the straps on his wrist, they refused to budge. Still, he had hope. "I'll escape. We'll escape. Somehow." He looked straight at Mukuro with as much confidence as he could muster. "After all, you're free."

And Mukuro laughed once more. Tsuna noticed that the other boy began to blur, and he blinked, wondering if it was just a trick of his eyes. But Mukuro only continued to blur further, fading away more and more every second. "Don't you know Tsunayoshi-kun? This is just an illusion."

Then, the other boy was gone, and Tsuna was alone once more.

'But don't worry, we'll meet again.'

The next day was agonizingly long. They stripped him bare besides his boxers and - oddly enough - the gloves on his hands. His cheeks are red with embaressment, but that is soon replaced by fear as a needle approaches him. The tip dug into his arm, and to his surprise, it didn't penetrate. But it scrapped, causing him to yell out as the needle meticulously carves perfectly straight lines through his skin.

A bar code.

Tsuna bit his lip, and he reminded himself, 'I'll escape, we'll escape, Dad will come for me. Dad and Basil and Gokudera and maybe even Lal and Reborn...'

His lips were dry and his throat was beyond sore from the screaming. He was tired, and he couldn't even remember the last time he had water. So when one of his captors comes in, he's painfully attentive. They don't have water, but they do have a blond boy bundled in what looked like a straight jacket. The boy growled and fidgeted in his restraints, but they easily forced him back into a cell. Behind those angry animalistic noises, Tsuna can sense fear and desperation and, finally, resignation.

When the captors leave, a familiar voice comes from the cell. "Oy, Kakipi! You there?"



Tsuna can almost imagine the frown on the boy's face, and he's surprised a single syllable can convey so many emotions - disappointment, betrayal, loneliness. It makes Tsuna want to reach out, so he does.

"Ken? Or is it Chikusa?"

The other boy doesn't reply for a while, and Tsuna almost gives up hope. But he hears an exhale, and then, "It's Ken. Joshima Ken, remember it newbie!"

Tsuna's throat is still sore, but he ignored it - he's ignoring so many things lately, but it can't be helped because if he dwells on it, he won't be able to focus on Ken whose voice still sounds so lonely and insecure despite its outward arrogance. "Joshima Ken...a Japanese name. But you don't look Japanese?"

"Mukuro-sama gave it to me."

"Oh." And Tsuna's mind goes back to the memories of the searing pain of the needle, engraving a different type of name - one made of jumbled, insignificant letters and numbers. He wondered what it would be like to not have a name, to only have a label, a constant reminder of their imprisonment. It's not something he wanted to linger upon. So instead, he comments, "You have pretty hair, it's rare...in Japan." And in a way, it reminded Tsuna of Gokudera, whose cheerful companionship he desperately misses, but he doesn't mention that.

"It's a mess."

"Not as messy as mine," Tsuna insisted, "people say that mine would be a perfect bird's nest."

"Heh, how does it even stick up like that naturally? Are you sneaking hair gel in here?"

Ken sounds much more cheerful now, and Tsuna smiled despite the accusations at his hair. This sort of playful banter was a welcomed relief to the hours of methodical testing with only foreign noises as his only entertainment. "It just...does. How does Mukuro's hair look like such a pineapple?" Tsuna challenged with a hint of playfulness.

And Ken broke out into a laugh, a real one. It's contagious, because Tsuna found himself laughing as well, until it devolves into a throat-wrenching cough and then, a companionable silence.

They have some kind of machine covering his arms so that he can't even see them under the metal. The captors mutter between themselves and Tsuna knew that something horrible was coming.

His body was covered in electrodes and needles that drew blood and pumped who knows what right into his veins. Even moving an inch was painful, because it jostled the needles and reminded him that being a human pincushion was as painful as the job description sounded. But even if he wanted to move, he couldn't. There was a fog clouding his mind, seemingly disconnecting it from his body. But it was an unfair trade, it didn't block the pain, it simply trapped him in his own mind, helpless to do anything.

Tsuna had never felt so helpless, not even when he was trapped in that suitcase or brutally knocked down repeatedly by Reborn. He hated it, this inability to do anything. To resist, to save himself, to save Ken, Mukuro, and that other boy - Chikusa was it? For now, he could only wait for someone else to save him-

"Did they abandon you as well?"

-and do his best to crush that malicious voice in his head that wondered if Mukuro's words were becoming true.

He was almost thankful when they literally shocked him out of his thoughts. Screams ripped through his throat as his whole body heated up in a familiar warmth. It was almost comforting - the way the flames licked his hands like a curious puppy. But then the pain only intensified, as did the flames, until they too began to hurt and lash about wildly.

The machines sucked them in greedily, whirling to life. Tsuna spotted a screen with a red bar fill up completely and then, surprisingly, it exploded. His mind drifted off into unconsciousness with a smug sense of satisfaction as the lab technicians scurried about frantically.

A/N: And with this, we're over 20,000 words now. Longest fic I've written ever, I'm half amazed I've managed to go on this long.

This chapter was the hardest for me to write so far because I was nervous to death about writing Mukuro and his gang without making it seem too sappy or corny. These boys are just so fascinating to me. They've been experimented their entire lives, so I'm sure they have their fair share of issues that I want to fairly represent. Tsuna's going to have to tread carefully, but hey, at least he has Hyper Intuition to help him.

I'm sure everyone else is curious about what the hell is happening with the rest of the Vongola while Tsuna's getting experimented on. Just for my personal reference, who's current status are you guys most curious about? Lal? Iemitsu? Nana? Gokudera? Leon? (lol, j/k obviously) Unintroduced characters don't count of course (Hibari, Yamamoto, etc. will all come later in the story, some sooner than you would expect actually). I'll take your opinions into consideration when writing the next chapters.

Any feedback is appreciated, reviews are delicious omnomnom *V*