People ask you all the time… what do you love about him when all he does is be cruel to you?

You ponder the answer for days, for weeks, for months, for years. His looks? He is a very handsome man after all, any woman would be pleased to walk beside such a beautiful creature. His intelligence? He is one of the smartest men alive; he knows everything or at least a little about nothing. His heart? His cold, uncaring, crude heart cut from barbed wire, cement, and gunpowder?

And you believe you have found your answer: his heart. His heart formed from the evils and pains of the world that have somehow shaped themselves into a functioning organ.

You confuse your audience when you say this; what is so great about such an ugly heart? But you are adamant and unmoving. It isn't ugly, it is just on lockdown. Your unrequited love has been a hitman long before you were even born – very long before you were born – and so he has had to hide his humanity within the metaphorical prison cell and then throw away the key for his own protection.

You love his hidden, protected heart. And you love him because he is the being that holds that heart, that holds that secrecy and pain all within him. You love him and you hate him for it. You want to be in that heart as well, you want to show him that at least one or two people wouldn't tear his carefully shielded love from him. Maybe three at most because you want to be in his heart, Vongola has the right to be in his heart, and perhaps Dino since Dino was the first to put up with his sadistic teaching methods.

You want him to take that heavy, rusted door and push it open just enough so that you can squeeze through and home yourself in that beating enigma until you know all its tunnels, passageways, dead ends, and never ending spirals; no, not until then… even after then, you never want to leave.

So you badger him for one year, for five years, for ten years, for thirteen years, and then you're 17 and he's no longer an arcobaleno; soon, you're pondering what you love about him and then you stand where you are now. Now that you know what you know now, you want to try a little harder, reach a little further, go the extra few miles to get there. You want his heart. Even though you will cry an endless river trying to reach your goal – possibly make countless visits to the hospital – you are going to fight tooth and nail to sneak into his heart and get cozy there.

And that is what you do for another year, another three years, another five years, another eight years, and then you're 25. Better than being 25, you're 25 and you're his drinking 'buddy'; did you catch that? You are his drinking buddy, and even though that is all the progress you have made, you feel inanely proud of yourself. He confides in you – though he confides little if anything, because he is goddamned mother fucking Reborn and Reborn has no issues that he knows of (you know differently, but you know you already said it all) – what he only confides in Tsuna, Yamamoto, and Colonello; the three men you realize are strong. Of course, Mukuro is strong too, but you know why Reborn doesn't drink with him; 15 years later, there is still one body the illusionist claims to want to seize and you know Reborn wants no part of it. Hibari as well is strong, but the skylark refuses alcohol, so he is more like a brunch buddy than a drinking one; if a buddy at all that is.

You are now a step up from the women Reborn accompanies; even though you don't get the respect they do, you get to see him for who he really is instead of the well-mannered boy he plays in front of his lovers. You prefer the him that abuses you over the him that likes to sunbathe while chatting idly with a woman, anyway. You actually prefer him doing… well, anything to you over him doing anything with potential lovers. Because you have acknowledged that green seed in your heart that quickly blooms into jealousy.

Some time into this new arrangement, five months and nine days (but you aren't keeping track), you see Reborn get plastered for the very first time. You are amused that he doesn't act any differently from when he's sober and yet there is that slight… wobble in his step. He looks at you with blank obsidian eyes as if he supposes you are in some way going to fix this distortion of his, and so you chuckle and help him to his car. He throws the keys at your face, his aim at least unhindered by the vast amount of alcohol flowing through his system.

He tells you to drive, right after he threatens with maiming you, cutting you limb from limb, pouring salt on your wounds, poisoning you – and basically a long list of things he will do to you if you put one scratch on his car. He is intoxicated and he wants to sleep it off.

You carefully bring both of you home. He's sleeping in the passenger seat, his glazed obsidian eyes staring out the windshield as his chest rises and falls, the silent whisper of breath deep and calming.

You can't help yourself; after all, as proud as you are as his drinking buddy, you are in love with the devil… and he looks defenseless. He looks as if he might not wake up if you touch him very, very lightly. You can do something… and he will never know.

So maybe you are a little buzzed too to be thinking that you can outmaneuver the greatest hitman in the world, even drunk off his ass. But you're a lovesick fool, it has been about 13 years since you realized you are a lovesick fool, and his lips look so inviting…

You lean over… carefully… slowly… gently… and you place your lips on his with every hope that awareness does not flicker into those unconscious oblivions that are his eyes.

Beneath your mouth, his lips are soft, a little cool from having his breath ghost over them, and maybe just the slightest bit chapped. Best of all, you like that feeling – because it feels like Reborn – like his hidden heart: soft, cold, and scarred.

You plan to pull away, even though your body is screaming at you to go a little further – he is sleeping pretty deeply and you might be able to get away with a touch or two – and you are… stopped.

Lips are unresponsive to yours – firm and unyielding – but a hand is tangled in your messy black locks, twisting each strand painfully between fingers. You open your eyes (when had you shut them?) and meet Reborn's scathing glare.

This isn't a fairytale where you kiss him and he kisses back as if he had always returned your feelings, you realize while your heart drops somewhere in your belly and lies there a cold, hard mass clenching your intestines and causing a cold sweat. He plans on hurting you and making sure you never do this again.

You turn out to be right; but in the worst way possible. What better way to stop the advances of another male by giving into them with the utmost selfishness? You have had women before you realized your feelings for Reborn, but it is the stingy bastard who rips your other virginity from you with purposeful carelessness, calculated cruelty, and the least amount of satisfaction to your both.

You stumble away from him, numb and broken. You don't think you will be coming back to him; for that matter, you're almost certain he thinks the same thing.

The next day, you prove yourself and him wrong, but only by accident.

You believe you lost your horns somewhere in that nightmarish car that has haunted your dreams long into consciousness; you weave and crawl and shimmy your way back to the same car where Reborn had pinned you down and – … did things to you, hoping to be unseen as you get your horns and then leave.

He is still in the backseat, right where he had been when you had run out. Now that you are not numbed by terror, you are struck with… pity? Whatever you feel, it feels like pity.

He has his head back against the seat, his hands pressing into his eyes. His figure is taut, clenched with tension and stress. There are blood and semen stains on and around him, but his stance says he isn't freaking out about the interior design. It is so… un-Reborn that you stand there and just stare. This is the man who forced you last night? But he looks so regretful… He looks like he's in pain.

A part of you is happy for that; after what he did to you, he should hurt. Let him a walk awhile in your shoes.

But you love him, and you don't want him to hurt, even though most wouldn't believe such.

You open the car door and sit beside him, sealing you both away in the automobile as you shut and lock the door behind you. He doesn't respond to your presence, but the tension seems to break a few more notches.

You want to do something… anything. Whatever you have to do just so he will reveal those glacial black eyes again.

You remember your goal of reaching his heart; suddenly, the abyss between the two of you is much wider.

You grasp one of his hands – he fights you at first, his palms hiding his face even as you tug – and he eventually lets you peel it away from his eyes. There are no tears, no bloodshot orbs; there is only a murdered darkness, a quiet shame in his one eye. You peel his other hand away and hold both his wrists in each of your own palms.

He ignores you – just like he used to do; except, this time, there is fragility to his silence. He isn't trying to ignore you because he finds you annoying, he's trying to ignore you so he can hold himself together.

You are shocked by how much power last night held over him; truly startled by how affected he was by his own crime. Your eyes widen and your heart trips over itself as it speeds away in your chest.

This is what you have been looking for: you are past that thick, impenetrable (or formally so) shield that hides his heart and you have dipped your fingers into its rivers, experiencing its overwhelming emotions.

Reborn's heart, you understand, is bleeding right now; a monster is a monster, but he is no monster. His actions hurt him. You have accidentally hurt him by making him play his last card – to make you go away at all costs – and have left his heart open and raw. Of course, that doesn't excuse what he did last night, and you do plan to kick his ass for it later, but you feel joy well up. He is in pain, is hurt, and it's both of your faults, but you are happy.

You edge closer; he doesn't look at you. A tick develops in his jaw, but he continues to not acknowledge your presence. You raise his hands to your lips and you kiss each knuckle. Now his jaw clenches visibly. You turn his hands over and you kiss each life-giving vein flowing into his palms from his forearms. He is trembling.

You have the power to remake him or break him in this moment. You choose to remake him.

You handle him as you would a baby, even though you are certain he will get back at you for it later. You wrap your arms around him and you pull his resisting frame against yours, pressing his ear to your chest as a mother would a bothered babe. You run your fingers to his hair and you whisper inaudible comforts, words that have no meaning and express feelings no words could.

By the time you press a kiss to his forehead, he has his arms around your waist and is holding you much more tightly than you are holding him. You whisper the three forbidden words into his ear.

'I love you.'

He looks at you – finally – and gives a shuddered sigh. He says 'I know', and then he holds you a little harder. 'I know'.

One year, three years, five years, and then you are 30 years old and he has gray hairs. He has crow's feet at the corner of his eyes and he holds himself like a man with many old wounds would hold himself – stiffly, though he plays it off with subtlety. He isn't old, you know – he is just older. He is as handsome as the day he reclaimed his adult body; he just happens to have a few gifts from time.

He looks at the world with cold eyes and a sadistic smirk; he still beats on Vongola, still fights with Hibari, and still generally doesn't trust Mukuro. He continues to tease Gokudera of the old days and make fun of Dino, who still needs his subordinates around to do anything right. He's friends with Yamamoto and rivals with Colonello; he still spars with Ryohei. His respect for women hasn't changed either.

There is… one thing different, though. And that is the way he acts with you.

Of course, Reborn isn't a sappily romantic man; he doesn't hand you a rose, kiss your hand, and open doors for you. You still trust him just about as far as you could throw a family of blue whales. He is more likely to slam the door shut in your face and he would prefer to pull that chair out an extra inch so that you seat yourself accidentally on the floor instead. He has that devilish grin that demeans you and he is still a few seconds quicker when you try to attack him.

But you notice how he changes as well; even as he smirks, his eyes soften when they land on you. Not noticeably, just hardly – but their obsidian abysses lose that glacial edge when they focus on you and his eyelids droop just slightly. When he beats you, his hands touch you differently; they drag instead of withdraw, they grab instead of shove, and there is lust in his eyes while his hands do such things. And when you two are alone, making love, he treats you as if you might break if he moves too hard – and you surprisingly have nothing to say against that because you receive his harsh treatment every second of the day when in public; though at first awkward, you revel in it now.

When you pretend to be asleep while he lies restless, you hear the sheets rustle and lips touch your lips. You hear him whisper, as he believes that you rest in dreams, 'I love you'.

And then your life is complete; that hidden, shivering heart is in your hands, putty to your power as you cradle it close to your own. You can't show others that what they believed to be an ugly heart is truly beautiful – a masterpiece of steel and glass. So you horde it, obsessed with its soft edges and course linings.

Your audience asks you if it was worth it – worth the pain, the time. Without hesitation, without uncertainty, you say 'yes'.

You finish your story with a fairytale 'happily ever after', though your story is far from love at first sight, princes and princesses, or chivalry.

That happens to be… just the way you like it.