Where Expectations Fail

A Katekyo Hitman Reborn! fan fiction by Hitokiri-san

A/N: Written for the LJ KHR Fest Round IV, and set in a TYL timeframe where Tsuna becomes the Decimo at eighteen.

Tsuna's a character who has always been saddled with great expectations, and sometimes, it gets to the point that it is pretty unfair. Forget Reborn for a moment. I've always been surprised (and at times irritated) that in the Succession arc every one of his Guardians tends to go "oooh, cool, now he'll be the Vongola Decimo!" without ever giving a thought to the fact that no, he doesn't want to be a mafia boss, has never wanted to be. Tsuna's been very verbal about that part, too. Giotto, also, has great faith in him to change Vongola, the entire mafia world – which, honestly, is no mean feat.

And of course, Tsuna's the type of person who doesn't really want to fail anybody. And here lies the problem.

This piece has been a pain to write, since I have much difficulty trying to get the point across. I hope it works, though!

There was a reason, he remembered with a sudden clarity at the aftermaths of the "peace talk", that he'd never liked to use the Hall for inter-Family meetings.

"Take care of this for me, Gokudera-kun," Tsuna ordered, tucking his glock into his mantle with a small shrug. A cursory glance around the hall, and he had all he needed to know; the enemies were shot and dead, every one of them. His subordinates had made sure of that. No one attacked the Vongola Decimo on Vongola grounds and lived to see another day.

This would teach all the Mafia Families a lesson: it wasn't nice trying to kill him in a meeting. God knew that the Vongola wouldn't fall for that one again – the Byakuran fiasco had taught them more about security than Reborn ever could.

The Hall, according to Reborn, was a relic of the Primo generation. It had allegedly been where Giotto and his guardians had decided to establish Vongola. Since then, it had since become a matter of tradition that all Family meetings be held in it.

Portraits of former Vongola bosses lined the walls; the former bosses impressive in their crisp suits and rigid postures. Recently, they had added the Ninth's picture to the collection. It humbled Tsuna to know that someday, he would be joining his predecessors in their silent vigil as well.

Hanging on the wall behind the boss' seat was the portrait of the Vongola Primo, the man who had started it all.

And this was the worst part, Tsuna thought, about this room – lying, threatening, harming, killing; all under Giotto's watchful eyes. It always made him felt like dirt for some reason, and the Vongola Boss had to wonder why. It wasn't as though he was doing anything outside the job description.

They'd need to re-carpet the Hall and replace half the chairs within the day, he mused idly as he picked his way across the corpse-laden room. Dino and the Cavallone would be coming in tomorrow, and propriety dictated that they should at least make the place presentable.

A prick at the back of his neck, and Tsuna could feel Giotto's eyes again, pointed and questioning, a silent why. He pulled his mantle tighter across his shoulders, like a shield, and straightened.

"It was self defense," he muttered - to himself, to the portrait, to no one in particular. "The Anguilla tried to kill me first; please don't even start."

He left the room and shut the heavy oak doors behind him. The portrait's gaze did not relent.

There must be some way, Tsuna mused, that he could get rid of Giotto's portrait. An accidental fire in the Hall, perhaps, devouring the room and its ancient inhabitants.

But then Reborn would find out; and when he did, Tsuna was a dead man. The hitman's omniscience unnerved him at times, and terrified him always.

Or maybe he could build a new conference hall, one without portraits and accusations. It might be worth putting up with the shit he was bound to receive from the conservative Vongola members. Those people were jealous guard dogs of what they deemed mafia tradition, after all. It had been bad enough that they had a Japanese man as boss. The ancient geezers would take some convincing, but Tsuna was confident he could do it. After all, even conservative old geezers could be convinced with flaming gloves and a sharp smile.

He halted, halfway down the corridor, and realized that he was about to resort to arson and intimidation, all for a painting.

The Primo's disapproval, it turned out, was a powerful thing.

Amused laughter bubbled in his throat as he thought about how ludicrous the situation was, and he spent the trip back to his quarters sniggering under his breath. Later, in a calmer disposition, he was very glad that none of his Guardians were around to see that. It would be one hell of a scene to explain away.

Hibari gave him a contemplative once-over as he thrust him his report the next day, and Tsuna gave no thought to this. He was used to his Cloud's inability to conform to the ordinary.

At times he remembered things of a different nature. There was a time, in a future he had diverted, when the Primo had smiled upon him. Tsuna clung to the memory carefully, inquisitively; his predecessor's support felt strange somehow, foreign. At some point in his life he'd departed from the will of the Primo, like all the other bosses had, and Tsuna had to wonder how it happened.

"If I have to inherit such mistakes, then…I will wipe out the Vongola instead!"

He'd once said something to that effect, perhaps something even bolder; he couldn't quite remember. It was, after all, a line from a future that will not be.

He was embarrassed by those words, like he had been embarrassed by his primary school essay on his dream of becoming a giant robot. Now that he was in the shoes of his predecessors, he understood better.

As one person he had no hopes of changing the ugly, violent world of the mafia. He'd laboured night and day for the Family's safety, so that the underworld wouldn't engulf them, so that they could remain afloat in the flurry of madness and violence and revenge. Years of struggling and hard work, and nothing had really changed.

Wasn't that enough, though, that he'd tried?

"I have been waiting for you."

He thought of the way Giotto's expression had lighted up with hope that day, after so many generations of disappointment, and knew without a doubt that he had failed the Primo.

There was also a reason, he remembered as he stood in front of his bedroom mirror, that he'd always avoided contemplating his reflection for too long these days.

Chrome had smiled at him, earlier that day, as he stared off into the dimension behind the mirror.

Boss looks so much like the Primo, she'd remarked, softly. I have always wondered if it is the cycle of reincarnation at work.

Tsuna had grimaced, because it was true. Chrome had apparently been hanging around Mukuro for far too long; all this stuff about reincarnation and the Six Paths was rubbing off on her.

She'd watched him intently after that, wide amethyst eyes unblinking; uneasy, he'd made a show of choosing a tie from his wardrobe.

The problem was that sometimes, he did not see himself when he looked at the mirror – he saw Giotto, lips turned down, golden eyes demanding an explanation. Like today. It was always something he did. It was as though he was the mischievous son, Giotto the frowning parent.

He explained himself, anyway. Because, when it came down to the technicalities, he really hadn't done anything out of line.

Today it was the massacre of fifty men and women who had been building an underground arsenal against the Vongola Family. Later, he would order the extermination of the Family who'd dared to start this as well. Their territorial dispute had turned ugly over the years; the other Family resorting to violent means despite Tsuna's best attempt at diplomacy. It was time to finish this, once and for all, and minimize the casualties.

"They posed a threat to my Family," he stated, slowly, "it was necessary. I have to protect my Family."

He didn't know when he'd stopped believing this, though. It had made so much sense when they had been fighting Byakuran, nearly a decade ago.

"It is to protect your Family", Reborn had told him, firmly. Over the years he'd clung to the notion, enamoured; it was gratifying, having friends to protect, having in his hand the power to protect them. It had gradually become the whole reason of his being.

Reborn knew this all along, he'd realized some years earlier. The Vongola hitman had known his loneliness as a kid, had taken advantage of it. By giving him friendship, warmth, Reborn had effortlessly tied him down; cinched his position as the next Vongola boss. By the time he'd realized, it was too late.

And so when Reborn told him that by ascending the Vongola throne he would be able to protect his Family, Tsuna became the Vongola Tenth.

Seven years into the job, and Tsuna wasn't sure what it was that he was supposed to be protecting, anymore. He couldn't quite tell the difference between wiping out his enemies from protecting his own. Maybe there wasn't a big difference, not when Reborn meant it, at the time.

Giotto stared back at him behind the mirror, silent and unsympathetic, and Tsuna was suddenly angry.

"It isn't fair! It isn't fair to dump this on me, when you couldn't do it yourself!" he found himself screaming at the mirror, and some part of his mind absently registered that some of his subordinates were bound to storm his room if he kept this up. "It's not fair to judge me like that!"

When Giotto didn't react, he smashed the glass into pieces. Afterwards, Yamamoto rushed in to cradle his bleeding hands, and Tsuna remembered, too late, that he'd wanted to keep this quiet. That he never wanted any of them to see.

Yamamoto's eyes were deprived of his usual cheerfulness, even as he stammered out half-assed excuses about accidentally hitting the mirror. He thought absently that, as things were, he was getting terrible at keeping things to himself.

Of the recollections he held from his time travelling, ten years ago, this in particular stuck in his mind: Giotto's glove-clad hands on his shoulders, a wall of warmth and support, as the man leaned close with a small, devilish smile.

"Go give the Mare boy what he deserves."

He was convinced he could win against Byakuran, then, and it wasn't just because of the upgrade in his weaponry.

Byakuran, it turned out, had deserved death in the end. Tsuna had reduced him into flying ashes with his X Burner, strengthened with the Primo's will. He'd dutifully dished out Giotto's judgement.

The Vongola Decimo, in his rule, had inherited in entirety the sins of the nine generations before him. It made Tsuna wonder sometimes, in the privacy of his studies, how much better he was from Byakuran, and what Giotto's judgement for him, if there was any, would be.

There was a reason, all along, that he didn't wear the Sky Ring to sleep. He kept it in close proximity, enough that he could grab it immediately if attacked, but he seldom wore it to sleep. Reborn would make his life a living hell for it, he knew; Gokudera would have a nervous breakdown if he found out. He took care not to let them know. It had become his personal art, the effort to hide trivia like this from his Family, so that he'd spare them the worry. Mostly he managed to get away with it, too. (he thought of his slip with Yamamoto and the mirror; it wasn't going to happen again.)

The Sky Ring was home for the bosses' consciousness, he'd known. But while the other bosses were present, Giotto was boss of them all. Tsuna was well aware that in a way, Giotto had built his own plane of existence within the Ring, crafting landscape and buildings the way Mukuro casted his illusions. Tsuna had more control with the ring during daytime, but he didn't want to accidentally venture into Giotto's realm in his unconscious state.

He wasn't wearing the Ring. This, he conceded now, was actually a moot point; Giotto was nevertheless sitting across him in his dream world, like Mukuro was wont to do, sometimes, when he was feeling bored or vindictive.

So it had come to this; his trial in his own dream. A condemnation of his crimes over the years.

"Decimo," he greeted, with a smile; Tsuna knew it was out of courtesy. He held no illusions that his predecessor was pleased with him and his deeds. Even though the Ring gave Giotto the means to manifest in the real world, it had been years since they'd last met.

He rested his head against the crook of his arms, face half-buried, and looked up at the Primo in what could be called petulance. It was a childish gesture, wholly unbecoming of a boss, and Tsuna couldn't care less.

"Do you have to haunt my dreams as well, Giotto-san?" he asked of the man, reproachful, as though it was Giotto who was in the wrong. "I have work tomorrow."

Giotto was a lot more interactive in a dream setting, he'd found, than he was when Tsuna usually saw him. The man tilted his head, slight puzzlement on his features.

"You called for me, Decimo," Giotto replied, patient, without a hint of accusation. "It is you who wishes to speak to me."

"I don't," Tsuna snapped, impatiently, "I've always known what you're going to tell me."

"You do?" Giotto raised an inquisitive brow.

"That I'm not what you want me to be; that I'm failing to change Vongola for the better. I don't need to meet you in person to know that."

The Primo blinked. He didn't look very surprised at the turn of events.

"So this is why," he said, his tone laced with subtle sadness.

He stood, made his way around the tea table they were seated around, and stopped within a few feet of Tsuna. His successor tilted his head a little higher, wary of his intentions. Giotto thought this a curious reaction; he'd never tried to harm Tsuna before.

"I am not going to judge you," he said, gently, "I do not have a right to, in this matter. I wish merely to understand what is troubling you so."

"I am not troubled…"

"Your mind is in shambles, Decimo," Giotto sighed, pointing out what should have been obvious, and rested a hand against Tsuna's forehead. "You worry constantly, thinking that I'm going to judge you for what you have done."

Tsuna slouched down on his chair, as if his touch was acidic. "You should be angry. I know you are. You've always wanted me to be something else."

Giotto shook his head. "I feel no anger towards you. You're at war with your own conscience, Decimo. You are going against your own heart, and it is consuming you. I should have seen this sooner. You…are far too gentle for the underworld."

"It isn't as if I have an alternative to this life," Tsuna replied, blank resignation settling like a cloak over him. "My Family needs me."

He thought of how eager his Family, in particular his Guardians, had been of his ascension; how confident they were with his abilities as the Boss. He didn't even want to imagine how Gokudera's expression would be like if he told him that he'd never exactly wanted to be the Vongola Decimo.

They all had high hopes for him, and it would be so wrong to betray that. And it was exactly that expectation that was pulling him under, unraveling his mind.

Giotto's golden gaze was quiet, unwavering, and Tsuna found himself unnerved before his calmness.

"I…see. Think, however, of this: what would your Family feel about how you are, now?"

He held no illusions as to what Giotto was talking about. He was haunted by portraits and lurking images behind mirrors and his own conscience, and it was a miracle that he'd even been able to keep it from them…

His mind turned abruptly, however, to Hibari's contemplation and Chrome's unblinking gaze and Yamamoto's dark expression and the short, concerned glances Gokudera threw at him whenever he thought he wasn't looking; and he couldn't shake off the feeling that holy crap, they already knew.

The realization hit him, a kick to the gut, and Tsuna nearly fell off his seat in his sudden bout of mortification.

"I have no answers for you," Giotto told him flatly. "Whatever it is that you seek, it lies with your Family."

Tsuna's lips turned upwards in a smile; half bitter, half tired. "I used to think you hold all the answers for my life, Giotto-san. Shouldn't there be an upgrade to the Ring for this kind of thing?"

Giotto tilted his head at him, mildly amused. "The answer is yours to find, Decimo. Has the arcobaleno not taught you that?"

Tsuna was about to make a comment about Reborn's sadistic tendencies to pound "answers" into him, but was stunned when he found himself enclosed in a brief, comforting hug.

"But I know you will find your answer, in due time."

He woke up, and found, instead, that his world was still as terrible as ever. His duties repulsed him, there was a war with the Anguilla on the horizon, and he had a meeting with the Cavallone today. He raised bleary eyes to Gokudera, who was now acting in his capacity as Tsuna's personal alarm clock, and frowned.

"I don't want to meet Dino-san," he yawned at his right hand, and snuggled back into his covers. The Hall, another inter-Family meeting, and a talk about recent crackdowns on the drug market; he couldn't be blamed for being unmotivated. "Let me sleep some more."

"Of course, Tenth. I'll get you your breakfast. Chocolate pancakes and coffee," Gokudera replied, unfazed, and started towards the door to fetch the bribe.

"Wait, Gokudera-kun," he almost ordered, grabbing Gokudera by the wrist. The Storm Guardian halted at the tone, brows immediately creasing with worry.

"What's the matter, Tenth?"

He was perceptive as always, a comforting presence in this madness. Tsuna dredged up his courage, and managed to utter what was probably long overdue without stuttering.

"My Guardians…I want to talk to them."

Gokudera studied him for a brief while, eyes hooded. He does know, Tsuna realized with a start. Perhaps he's always known.

"Of course, Tenth. I'll gather them within the day," he assured, and there was something that sounded like both heartbreak and relief in his voice. "I'm sorry."

Tsuna summoned a smile for him, to let him know that it was alright, it would be alright, or something; he didn't know himself - and allowed his right hand man to go about his duties.

Perhaps the talk wasn't going to change anything. It was silly to think that his Guardians would have solutions to this apparent deadlock, this miserable half-life he led. They were knee deep in the mafia business, like he was, and couldn't offer him escape in any way. They couldn't simply ditch the Vongola as a whole and just go back to Japan; it was too late for that.

But as he took his seat at the front of the Hall – Dino flashing a familiar grin at him, Giotto's gaze no longer digging into his back - he couldn't help but think that somehow, they could come up with something even in this dead end.