A/N: No matter what I did, I couldn't excite my muse. She refused to spout the words I needed to make this chapter possible until now that is. Anyway, just an important announcement you guys. A Thousand Palettes was not based on Tsuna-Lover's 'The Love for One.' It's the other way around. Sometimes author's notes do have their uses, ok?

P.S. Seriously, this is the longest friggin' chapter I've written for this story so please show your love and support by submitting a review at the end of this chapter. Thank you. Also, I need a beta. Does anyone want to apply for the part? :)

Warning: Un-betaed.


Tsuna lingered by the balcony window of the east wing, his mind adrift and his eyes distant. All around him, everything was silent and only the wind remained awake along with him. The Hibari mansion at these times had always been his favorite; it gave him time to think and let his thoughts wander.

He had never done so back at his apartment. It was close to impossible when his neighbours didn't care about courtesy and sang at ungodly hours of morn. Well, he shouldn't be judging so callously when he screeches and yells for dear life when Reborn was in one of his moods. Sighing deeply, he sipped from his steaming cup, letting the warm fluid slide down his throat.

He smiled as he let his eyes roam the vicinity. It truly was beautiful—the Hibari mansion, that is. If he had anything to complement the ice king for, it would be his elegant and beautiful tastes. The Light Garden Center was already marvelous but the scenery outside his room inevitably captured his heart when he first laid his eyes on it.

The sand filled garden, marbled steps, the small koi pond at the center, as well as the enchanting blossoms scattered about...they all spoke of tradition, culture, and nobility. They all spoke of who and what the Hibari family really was.

From what he's heard, the ice king designed everything in this mansion. From the floor plan to the smallest crevice, Hibari Kyoya had planned everything. Tsuna's eyes softened and a small smile formed on his lips. Even now, he could see that the former prefect of Nami-chu who dutifully protected the school and its students in his own way, had not changed.

Ten years ago, Hibari had always made sure that he did everything thoroughly and perfectly. He was the perfect example of a principled and disciplined man. From then till now, those innate characteristics have not changed. Hibari Kyoya is, was, and will always be Hibari Kyoya. Well, it goes the same way for the others, it seems.

Gokudera Hayato was the same smokin' bomb Hayato who blew up at the simplest provocation. Yamamato Takeshi was still the air headed stud who always wore a carefree mask. He wouldn't be surprised if Sasagawa Kyoko was still as sweet as she was before and her brother, Sasagawa Ryohei, was still obsessed with boxing. Sure, they all grew up and changed. After all, ten years can bring about so many things. However, at the end of the day, they were still the same. Essentially, they were still them. Unlike me.

Tsuna clenched the delicate china in his hands, not minding the heat biting into his hands. He smiled bitterly. It wasn't something he could deny. It wasn't something he could ever change. It sure as hell wasn't something he could ever ever undo. Sawada Tsunayoshi from back then had all but disappeared. Not a trace of him had remained.

True, some of Dame-Tsuna's habits remained but Tsuna was gone. That innocent, cowardly, pathetic, but pure-hearted child would forever just be distant memories of the Tsunayoshi of ten years later. He just wasn't the same. Everything changed that fateful day and there was nothing he could do. Even now, pieces of him were missing, and he can't even call himself as the real Sawada Tsunayoshi. He just couldn't. Not when that day, he—Crack. Crack. Crack.

"Damn it!"

Tsuna hissed softly as the pieces of porcelain fell at his feet. The fragile glass had cracked under the pressure of his grip. Was he holding onto it that tightly? His eyes widened in realization. What the hell does he tell Hibari? Tsuna groaned. That man was a stickler when it comes to everything he owned. What more for his beloved tea set? Stupid Tsuna, just absolutely stupid!

Cursing in his head, he crouched to the ground and began the arduous task of picking up the broken pieces. Reaching out for a shard, red registered in his vision, and only then did he realize his blood mingling with the dark chocolate he was drinking. I'm injured?

As if in a daze, he raised his hands, his palms facing upward. Shards had pierced the soft skin of his palms, and even as he examined his hands, he could see small pieces were still stuck inside. It should have been painful and he should have felt it first, but strangely, he didn't feel any pain. Even the cool sensation of his blood trickling over his skin had been lost to him. Why didn't he feel anything?

Tsuna's eyes darkened. Was he so used to getting injured that such wounds no longer registered in his brain as pain? A tremor wracked his body, his eyes closing ever so slowly. When did he become like this? When did he stop reacting like a normal person should? More importantly, when did he stop being dame-Tsuna? Tsuna took a shuddering breath and shook his head.

What the hell was he thinking? He was being too melancholy for his tastes. Anger suddenly flashed in his chest. This was that entire damned ice king's fault! If only he didn't do that stupid stupid stunt, then he wouldn't be all moody and contemplative! A uninjured finger fluttered against his lips, the memory of that vivid nightmare still glaringly clear in his orange-tinted eyes narrowed in suspicion. Why did he...?

"Herbivore."

Tsuna flinched, letting the broken pieces in his hands to fall on the ground. His trembling right hand had covered his mouth instinctively to muffle the shriek itching at his throat. Slowly, he turned around and his breath hitched once again. For lo and behold, Hibari Kyoya stood there in all his glory, glaring harshly down at the mess on the floor. Tsuna's eyes widened in fear. Oh shit!

"Sawada Tsunayoshi, in my office now." It was a soft reprimand, but that's all it took to shake his being to the very core.

Deflated, Tsuna sighed and mournfully looked down at his feet. Really, when would he learn? Didn't the saying go like this, "Speak of the devil, and he shows up?" The brunet huffed as he glared at the raven's retreating back. In Hibari's case, it should be, "Think of the devil, and he gobbles you up." Tsuna smirked. Yeah, just perfect.

"Herbivore, I believe I asked you to come to my office now, and not stand there and smile like some deranged lunatic." Hibari snapped at him over his shoulder.

Tsuna tightened his grip over the handle of the cup he was using moments ago. One of these days, he would really really love to show that man just how much of a lunatic he could be. Damn you, ice king! Blatantly ignoring Kai's babysitter, Hibari walked calmly towards his office, his hands hidden in his yukata, a small smile playing at his lips.

An amusing herbivore, indeed.

...

Sometimes there were days when you woke up just feeling happy, while there were days when you woke up and wished that you didn't just for those extra hours in bed. However, there were just those days when you just wanted was to mope in your bed all day and wished that the next day would come quickly. This was one of those damned days.

Tsuna stared, his mind blank but his heart racing at the speed of light. Why...just why?! Damn it! He mourned in his head as the looming building of Cloud Inc. came to sight. Why the hell was he being so obedient to Hibari's whims for the past week? Ah. His eyes dulled at the memory of that incident which shall not be named.

He directed a glare at Kai's bodyguard and smiled in satisfaction when the man stiffened in alarm. Oh someone was going to suffer and he would make sure of it. Because if there was one thing that didn't agree with him that morning, it was the stupid meeting being held with his ward. It had been one long morning trying to steel himself for the inevitable. Unfortunately, Hibari was firm in his decision and Tsuna just knew it was decided this way to piss him off.

Tsuna glared at the glass paned revolving doors, his feet planted solidly on the ground. He was so not going in there. Never, not in a million years. Even the frigid overlord wouldn't be able to force him! Ice king can kiss my ass for all I care.

A soft tug on his right hand had him looking down and locking eyes with ice blue and what Tsuna saw beneath those depths pushed away all thoughts of escaping. There was uncertainty behind those soft hues and Tsuna quickly deflated. Damn it.

As much as he didn't want this meeting to commence, there was no way in hell he would let his adorable, little Kai in there alone. Tsuna grumbled under his breath, his mood souring even further when he let Kai drag him forward. When he felt the cool air of the building's lobby, his spine straightened, and his facial expression schooled into a solemn mask.

This was a mission on its own and his very purpose right now was to make sure his child was safe. His eyes darkened. No one would hurt Kai again. He had sworn absolute protection that day three weeks ago. Anything less would be unforgivable. Tsuna's hand tightened briefly over Kai's, his mind totally focused on feeling his surroundings that he missed Kai's worried stare and Takatsu's suspicious glare.

Nothing had been said though and so their journey towards the dreaded meeting room was a boring affair. Well, for Hibari and Kai, it was more of a chore really, while for Tsuna, it was more like a death sentence. Come on, having all those fucking beasts in one room and knowing for a fact that one way or another, they had the means to turn any place into a battlefield...Tsuna was not a happy camper, even more so now than a few days ago.

Excluding the fact that the excursion three days ago was a complete bust since Dino demanded Hibari to rest, Tsuna was given the chance to live the hotel life for almost the entire week with the overlord loitering inside their suite. He didn't like it. In fact, he hated it.

Sure, they were relieved from participating and avoided another confrontation with Hibari's allied acquaintances but Tsuna was not given the chance to have a breather. Seeing the ice king every single day and in such close proximity...he wanted to maim someone, particularly the grinning blond idiot welcoming them to the meeting room.

"TSUNA~!"

Quickly maneuvering his body to the side, Tsuna closed his eyes and sighed when Dino hurled himself in his direction. His hand swiftly chopped the back of Dino's head with a resounding thump. He had been expecting this. Why was the bucking horse so insufferable?

"Ow! Tsuna! That hurt, you know?" Dino whined as he nursed his abused head. Hibari effortlessly ignored them all and sat at the head of the table. Tsuna frankly didn't care. He still had a bone to pick with Hibari and he was going to settle it sooner or later.

"You were being an idiot, Uncle Dino." Dino was quick to defend himself.

"But! I haven't seen Tsuna in years!" Dino exaggerated.

Tsuna haughtily rolled his eyes. "You mean days. We saw each other last Sunday, Dino-nii. And today's Wednesday."

Dino still wasn't one to be deterred. "But it felt like years so it's the same!" Tsuna sighed while Kai shook his head. Idiot. They both thought

"If all of you are done fooling around, then perhaps you could sit yourselves and wait like civilized human beings for the other herbivores."

Peachy. Hibari was being a tight-ass again, so what's new? Tsuna huffed and led the adorable child away from Dino. They had to start preparing for the arrival of the other representatives and for Tsuna, no matter how put-off he was at having both him and his charge present, promised that he'd help Kai to the best of his abilities.

Setting up the projector and computer, the presentation was up quickly. Tsuna glanced at the screen and almost gasped as Kai's designs were magnified into view. Those were done by Kai? Brilliant. It was just absolutely brilliant.

Tsuna was told that Kai's designs were for the aerial garden for the new building the Cloud Inc., along with others, were constructing but he didn't expect for it to be that grand. It sorely reminded him of the greenhouse at home as well as the wooden carvings outside Kai's room.

Then it clicked.

The same designs and structures, there was no doubt in his mind now that they were all made by only one person. Tsuna cast one furtive glance at the child sitting to his left. Such genius really was amazing. It made him smile inside. Hibari Kai really was a special one, and Hibari no matter how much of a tightwad he was took great lengths for Kai to reach his potential.

Sometimes though Tsuna wished Kai could live the normal life. The life of a child whose woes are that of what games to play next and how they could escape nap time, and the like. But that's who Kai was and even if it may seem like child labor to let a child work like this, it was Kai who willingly wanted to contribute and let his ideas be seen by many.

Kai was six years old but he prided himself with his own capabilities and skills, and Tsuna wouldn't have it any other way. Thus, he was tasked to help this young, little prodigy in his future endeavors while making sure Kai didn't tax himself and always slept early. Tsuna wouldn't fail Kai, no matter what happens.

"Haha. You guys are early." Tsuna was as stiff as a washboard when that voice registered in his head. Without acknowledging the new comers, Tsuna knew right away who spoke. The carefree way of speaking, it was none other than Yamamoto Takeshi.

"Move out of the way, baseball freak!" It was a demand really, but what else can you expect when it was Gokudera Hayato speaking?

"Kufufu. Everyone's quite rowdy this early in the morning."

Tsuna felt a sliver of disgust travel down his spine. He just really hated hearing that voice. Because beneath the layers of times he had long forgotten, that voice triggered something unpleasant inside him which he couldn't begin to understand.

"Maa maa, starting the meeting now would be the best course of action, ne Kyo-chan?"

Tsuna blanched inside. Seriously, how could that pale-haired man stomach calling someone as formidable as Hibari, Kyo-chan? I mean come on! Even Tsuna had something else to call the man, like ice king, evil overlord, and and...Tsuna frowned. He was running out of names already. Once he gets home, he needed to research more. Can't be running low in insults, now, can we?

"Herbivores."

One word and all commotion stopped. Tsuna resisted the urge to whistle in amazement. Trust the icicle king to be just like a 'king' when he wanted to be, was a skill guaranteed to be praised. Too bad the prick was arrogant and selfish.

"For the entirety of this meeting, all weapons will be held custody by Sawada Tsunayoshi." Tsuna's eyes widened as every man in the vicinity turned to his direction, his whole body rigid in surprise and confusion. Why did it have to be him?

Tsuna didn't dare look at Hibari, cause if he did, he might have socked the guy to kingdom come. Instead, he met their gazes head on and didn't let the small slip-up show on his face. This is a mission, Tsuna. Brace yourself. If he was the one assigned to keep these monsters at bay, then so be it.

Tsuna stood up, his hands pressed against the conference table to support himself. He flashed a small smile at Kai's worried gaze and patted him gently on the head. Walking towards Dino, his task for the day began. The blond gave him an impish smile before reluctantly reaching towards his belt and removing the whip fastened in a cord. Tsuna wisely tucked the whip on his own belt. He was familiar with this, since he had many spars with Dino in the past.

After a small bow, he was walking towards the next in line, Yamamoto Takeshi. The man was smiling as he willingly gave his clothed sword to him. Tsuna didn't bat an eyelash at the heavy weapon now propped on his back. Years with Reborn had him already immune to all kinds of weapons except Leon, Reborn's trustee gun. Tsuna bowed and went on to the next person on his list.

Bombs. Tsuna grimaced. Where was he going to put them? Ah! Reaching behind him, he pulled out a neatly folded trash bag in his back pocket. What? It was handy to always be prepared. He ignored Gokudera's incredulous stare and unfolded the plastic bag. He presented the bag to the gaping silver-haired Italian and quirked an eyebrow when the man didn't move. Tsuna moved the bag closer and that snapped Gokudera out of his daze.

Growling under his breath, he reached for the multiple bombs scattered throughout his body. Tsuna sweat dropped as he watched a bomb after another leave the man's hands. From his vest to his pants to his back, there were bombs, bombs, and bombs. The hell? How does he even keep all those on his body? It was a mystery Tsuna didn't want to solve.

By the time Gokudera was finished, the plastic bag was three-fourths full. Tsuna felt like Santa Claus, heralding gifts like the big-bellied man when he hoisted the black bag over his shoulder with ease. Yet instead of goodies, he was parading a loot of weapons which could kill many with just one light of a match. Tsuna held the bag tightly in his hands and bowed. There was no way these people will get a hold of these weapons until Kai was out of this very room.

He breathed in deeply and almost choked on his breath when he stopped before the man who projected himself like some cobra on the loose. His aura was slick and oily as if his very presence clung to every pore in Tsuna's body.

Through his thoughts and facade, Tsuna wondered belatedly why it was so quiet in the room. A quick look around the room told him that everyone else was busy going over the meeting's agenda filed in the folders provided by Kusakabe beforehand. It gave Tsuna tiny assurance that he didn't have to conduct himself like a man running on robotic parts.

"Kufufu. Take good care of my trident, would you?"

Tsuna's eyes narrowed but kept mum as the man held the collapsible trident in front of him. A quick swipe of his hands and the trident was tucked securely beside Dino's whip. A stiff bow and Tsuna was walking over the other side of the table. A foxy smile greeted him and his only response was his empty gaze and a hand held in front of him.

What weapon does this man have anyway? Tsuna watched as the pale-haired man—Byakuran, was it?—reached inside his vest and pulled out a silver gun. A revolver with a silencer, a sleek Smith & Wesson 642 PowerPort Revolver. Tsuna's lips quirked up. Quite simple yet effective. Another bow and the gun was tucked on the left side of his belt.

Now the scariest of them all.

A resounding thud was heard when he finally reached Hibari's side. This time, a sweet sweet smile was on Tsuna's face when he presented his hand towards the apathetic looking raven. There's no way in hell was Hibari going to get away without giving up his weapon.

Tsuna stubbornly held Hibari's gaze, not looking away even when the man's expression changed to something more fierce. Their interaction was too interesting not too miss and without skipping a beat, all folders were snapped closed and all attention were now on the pair glaring at each other.

"Hibari-san." Tsuna started, the smile never leaving his face. The occupants watched with avid amusement. "Your weapon, please." Hibari regarded the herbivore in annoyance before his expression quickly morphed, a smirk now occupying his features. The speedy change took Tsuna by surprise and without intending to, he stepped back. He was so not reminiscing that look that night when the incident-which-shall-not-be-named happened.

Slowly, Hibari retrieved his collapsible tonfas from the inside of his suit and placed them on the palm of the herbivore's hands. Tsuna cautiously withdrew his hands only for his right to be caught in a sudden grip. His breath hitched and his eyes gaped, Hibari watched all these with passing fancy.

"Tough luck, herbivore." Hibari said, his cryptic words plaguing Tsuna even as Kai's father released his hold and he was once again huddled in his seat. Kai worriedly glanced over his babysitter even when he stood up and started his presentation. All that time, Tsuna's face remained blank while trying to ignore the burning feeling of Hibari's skin on his own.

...

Lunch came and finally they were dismissed from the meeting. Kai's presentation passed with little effort since no one found anything to argue about. Damn right, they shouldn't. Even if there was, Tsuna was sure that Hibari would put them in their place. Besides, designs that good would never be anything but magnificent and anything stamped with the Hibari name was nothing but pure genius. He loathed to admit it, but Tsuna couldn't deny how talented and prodigious Kai's father was.

The weapons, unfortunately, were back with their owners. Too bad they were taken away from him before he had the chance to destroy them. Pouting miserably into his food, Tsuna fiddled with his chopsticks. Kai ignored his babysitter altogether. His mind focused on feeding his empty belly with the scrumptious food the head chef created for their lunch today. They both sat on a fur-lined blanket over the grassy fields behind the compounds of Cloud Inc. Tsuna wanted a picnic and Kai's bodyguard was quick to act.

Well, it was still too grandiose for a simple picnic since he was surrounded by lacquered lunch boxes which looked far more expensive than they should. Inside these black lacquered containers were food fit for royalty. Tsuna guessed this must be the reason why Kai was so picky with his food. He ate like a prince everyday.

Not that Tsuna was complaining though because if there was one thing he loved doing, it was eating and it doesn't hurt that he inherited most from his mother. Her slim figure was passed onto him making the glutton that he was the happiest being on earth.

Eating bundles of food wouldn't make him gain an ounce of fat. Sometimes, Kyoko and Haru wished he would drop dead whenever they ate outside. It made their envy flare when they had to watch their weights while he cared for shit. He was a growing man, so he had to eat more.

"Tsuna-nii?"

"Hm?" He chewed the juicy morsel in his mouth while waiting for Kai to continue. Goodness, their head chef was the most amazing man on earth. If Tsuna was a girl, he would happily marry the stout man. Too bad he wasn't. Damn.

"What's that on your hair?" As if hearing his question, the small bird chirped happily and snuggled in Tsuna's nest of hair. Putting down his chopsticks, Tsuna reached for that fluff ball nestled in his locks and peered at it with curious eyes.

Chirp.

Tsuna blinked.

Chirp.

Another blink.

Chirp.

An evil smirk formed on his face. Kai wisely moved away but a hand was suddenly clasping his and he looked fearfully at the expression on his Tsuna-nii's face.

"Kai." He uttered swiftly. The child felt cornered all of a sudden. "Let me borrow your cell, will you?" Kai nodded quickly. Holding back a small whimper at the evil chortling beside him, the child placed his phone on that outstretched hand. When he saw the number being dialed, he just knew the herbivore was up to no good. Why? Because the only numbers on his cell were his Tsuna-nii's and his father's.

"Ah. Hibari-san?" Kai sighed and shook his head. He just knew it.

...

Hibari's stare was burning, intimidating and just downright fucking scary. Tsuna blinked, a smile so innocent on his lips that would put the angels to shame. Kai stood beside Dino, both bemusedly watching the duo in front of them. The other employees of Cloud Inc. chose to ignore them in favor of keeping their lives intact.

"What is that, herbivore?" The glare intensified even more. Tsuna blinked back. His expression still as pure as a child. Hibari didn't buy it.

"It's a bird, Hibari-san." The aura surrounding the vicinity became even darker and more suffocating that some workers were beginning to edge away from their desks. Only one thought crossed their minds. Was that man fucking crazy?!

"I know it's a bird, herbivore." Hibari deadpanned. Tsuna's smile turned brilliant. Takatsu wanted a grave to swallow him up while Kai and Dino looked ready to roll on the floor and laugh on their behalf. Hibari wasn't amused.

"What I want to know is why you called me out here with my son's phone and interrupted me from my meeting to show that bird to me?"

Oh Hibari was livid and ready to beat him senseless, and Tsuna fought the urge to smile like a psychopath on the loose. This was exactly what he was going for. It's revenge, demon king! For the fucking kiss you obviously didn't remember! Ha!

Tsuna gasped dramatically, the small canary held securely in his right hand. "But Hibari-san! It really was an emergency! You see, this canary just wouldn't leave me alone an-"

"How is this important?" Hibari quickly cut him off, his tone of voice warning him to get to the point or else. Tsuna grinned cheekily. The workers watching the scene shamelessly stared, stupefied. The idiot had no sense of danger at all! Takatsu couldn't agree more.

"I mean, doesn't it look like Hibird?"

The brunet raised the bird higher to his face and Hibari scowled. Was this herbivore right in the head? He looked down at the troublesome cretin annoying the hell out of him, only to see him cooing at the bird—which somewhat looked like his bird once upon a time. He had no intention of admitting that, ever.

"Herbivore, what's the point of your silly interruptions?" Hibari snapped irritably. Tsuna looked up and smiled gently. It took the glowering male aback.

"Would it be alright if I gave this to Kai?" Those eyes were shining and full of hope. The mischievousness coloring those irises awhile ago now gave way to something softer and Hibari found himself slightly giving in. A tired sigh almost escaped his lips.

This stupid herbivore really wasn't worth his time but ignoring him would equal to more annoyance in his part. Unfortunately, after living for weeks with this pest, Hibari discovered that this small and weak-looking man bore grudges and paid them back in all the most infuriating of ways.

Like the time the herbivore painted his most prized car with yellow stripes when he had refused to let him cook with the chef. Even after so many pointless arguments and grueling fights, Kai's babysitter refused to give in. The pesky man was stubborn, but Hibari was equally just so.

Countless times he had seen some of his employees with green faces whenever the brunet volunteered to cook. He had only one conclusion—Sawada Tsunayoshi can't cook, even to save his puny life. Ignoring him for the rest of the day led to one of his cars needing a new paint job. Even so, Hibari knew he had made the right decision that day. Cars were dispensable, his health wasn't.

Hibari frowned when he saw that smile on the herbivore's face slowly fading. His silence must be making him upset. A quick glance at his son and he knew that he had no other choice.

"Fine." He uttered curtly. "But bother me during works hours again and your life's forfeit, herbivore." The herbivore nodded eagerly and Hibari watched the man almost glide towards his son, his whole form beaming with joy at something so trivial.

It was stupid and absolutely confusing how different Sawada Tsunayoshi was right now. It baffled him all the time and the mystery this herbivore presented only made him more intrigued. A small laugh interrupted his thoughts. His hands twitched as he twisted his head to the side.

Glaring ferociously at the smugly smiling blond idiot, Hibari stalked off and left the vicinity without a word. Dino watched his former student go, his expression warring between amusement and incredulity. Now, he didn't expect that when he followed Kyoya out. Dino shrugged before ruffling both Tsuna's and Kai's head and sauntering over to wherever Kyoya disappeared to. They still had a meeting to attend, after all.

Tsuna didn't pay them attention. His plan had been a success anyway. Getting to annoy Hibari while being left unharmed and having a new pet for Kai, he killed two birds with one stone. He really was too smart for his own good.

"Stop grinning like some idiot, Tsuna-nii." The canary on Kai's raven hair chirped, as if agreeing with his new owner. Tsuna pouted but relented.

"Fine."

...

It had been almost three months since the precious gem of the mansion had disappeared. It also had been almost three months since any signs of life had last existed within these cold confines. Almost three months of misery and gloom. The lackluster of the once prized mansion had dimmed in his eyes. A midst his contemplation, Asari didn't move his gaze away from the flowers he was tending to even when he felt an all too familiar presence behind him.

"Are they blossoming well this year, Asari?" The former swordsman nodded.

"Yes, the weather's been favorable for months now." He felt the man move behind him, his footsteps getting closer until the sound of a metal chair being moved reached his ears. Asari turned around just in time to see his boss settle down and cast him a cold stare.

"By the time he comes back, these flowers would be no more. What's the use of taking care of them?"

Asari silently faced his back towards him, and gazed solemnly at the countless greens reaching beyond his vision. They truly were beautiful. Magnificent forms of art which can only be found in nature. Asari had been touched, more so than impressed when the countless buds blossomed for the first time and it was all thanks to their anatrocollo who made it possible in the first place. Still...they would have been more beautiful if on-

"You think too much, Asari." Asari sighed. He wouldn't be thinking so much if things were really that easy.

"As you do, Giotto." The newly identified man chuckled, and even to his ears, it sounded empty. It only made Asari feel even worse. His shoulders slumped forward. When had things become like this? So constricting? Full of lies?

"G will be tearing the mansion apart if he doesn't find you soon." Giotto shook his head. Golden strands flying everywhere. His whole aura screamed authority, charm, and power. Sadly, it had become all the more true as years passed by. Asari along with the others had mulled relentlessly over this change.

"Let him be. I need a break once in a while." Asari consented, his hands once again raking over the field he had been working on before he was interrupted.

It was silent for a while, the still atmosphere only broken once or twice when the birds flocking over one maple tree flew over their heads. It was a small change of pace which Asari relished but he knew all good things come to an end at some point in time.

"When will he be back, Asari?" The flutist sighed forlornly. He knew it. He just knew it. G will seriously kill him if he didn't divert Giotto's attention.

"Don't you have paperwork to do? G wou-"

"When will he back?" Giotto was quick to cut him off, his tone firmer and harsher. Asari wished he wasn't the one being asked right now. He didn't excel in these things. Alaude was better at these things than him.

"I don't know, Giotto. None of us do." Asari answered patiently, his shoulders tense and his hands clenched around a small pail and shovel.

Giotto leaned back, his face still indifferent but Asari knew something more simmered beneath that frigid mask.

"I see. I'll just have to wait then, don't I, Asari?" Something sparked in Giotto's eyes and the man addressed could only frown in dismay.

"Yes. You would just have to wait patiently, Giotto." Asari wished that wherever their precious gem was, he was safe and sound.

...

Hibari mulled over the day's events, looking out the glass panes of his office. For once, he felt that deep-seated exhaustion he hadn't felt in years coming down in waves over his body. Rolling his stiff joints, he almost released a groan at the kinks popping in different places at a time. A flash of brown and his gaze was glued on one particular individual he disliked for one reason or another. Sawada Tsunayoshi, the peculiar herbivore whose existence he had been forced to acknowledge.

One month.

For the duration of one month, he had been living with the herbivore. If anyone had informed him a month ago, that he would be living with the most pathetic being on earth, he would have ended their lives where they stood. But looking back now, and seeing the difference between that weakling and this anomaly following his son, Hibari found that he didn't mind as much.

A frown settled on his face. What changed? His plans still revolved around making the herbivore give up totally but pondering the repercussions of his actions didn't sit well with him. If by then his plans succeed, would that same quivering fear in those caramel orbs make him feel in control once again? His frown deepened, almost growling in distaste at the mental image it provided. That was another reason he was beginning to become frustrated.

He turned away from the view below and settled once again on his desk. Hibari didn't have time to think about the trivialities of one Sawada Tsunayoshi. He still had work to finish and he wasn't going to be missing dinner with his son this time for petty musings because it could wait while his work couldn't.

...

Tsuna stared intensely at the items laid out before him. His eyes were blazing and his mouth set in a frown. Kai's attention was on his babysitter for one whole minute before tugging at the hand holding his own.

"Tsuna-nii?" Tsuna didn't turn to look at the child when he answered.

"Hmm?" Kai frowned and tugged harder.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm buying something, of course." Tsuna answered distractedly, his other hand supporting his chin, nodding here and there whenever he spotted something nice.

Kai, for the life of him, couldn't understand why here. "Why are we in the craft store?"

He waited patiently for an answer only to step back when the herbivore suddenly squealed. Kai watched his Tsuna-nii in disbelief as he frolicked towards one section of the store where some strange looking metal-things were placed. Kai sighed. See? Mood swings. Really, he was the child, and the man ogling and yelling in delight in another corner of the store was the adult. So why did Kai feel like he's the one doing the babysitting?

"Found it!" Another shriek here. "Aha! I knew it!" Another screech there and then... "Kai! I'm done! Sorry for taking so long. Haha." Kai silently stared at his babysitter. The herbivore was lugging a whole bag of colorful strings which he couldn't understand what for.

"What are those for, Tsuna-nii?" Tsuna winked and let one hand ruffle the child's tresses.

"You'll find out soon enough, Kai."

Kai didn't like that answer. He had been itching to know since they first set foot into this place. Why does his babysitter need those things? The strings and yarns were obvious but what were those metal things? They looked strange. Small, thin, and had a curved hook on one end. What were those for? Besides, everywhere around him, Kai could only see females, young and old. They certainly looked out of place here.

Before he could ask, his bodyguard had stepped in and bowed at them. Kai glared at the interruption. Unfortunately, Takatsu didn't see his hateful stare.

"Sawada-sama, we would be honored to carry those for you." Tsuna snorted in disbelief and waved him away.

"Meh, I can carry this on my own. Besides." Tsuna looked back and offered one hand towards Kai who didn't hesitate to take hold of it. The brunet smiled briefly and turned to where Takatsu was standing, watching him carefully.

"I can still hold Kai's hand with this." Tsuna continued, his left arm carrying his package. They both walked away from him, leaving him staring after their backs. Takatsu sighed, his shoulders sagging in defeat. Why the heck is that man so difficult?

His analysis in just two weeks should be perfect! He was at the top of his class in Psychology, damn it! His excellence should be showing results by now, but no matter what, he just couldn't pinpoint who and what Sawada Tsunayoshi really was. A frown marred his youthful features as he followed a few ways behind them. Always there but never seen by the pair.

It was frustrating, truth be told. One moment the man would be acting like some spoiled heir, another he would be like a lowly peasant, and at times he had the mentality of an immature child while having the bearings of a leader born to rule.

Takatsu didn't understand it. He just couldn't pinpoint him. Who was he really? It's as if the price of knowing his young master's babysitter is losing one's sanity... Takatsu stopped walking abruptly. His eyes widening to a fault.

That's it, wasn't it?

It was a front, a well-developed mask, almost cultivated to perfection. A crafted persona because beneath all those thick layers would drive a man insane...

"Takatsu-kun?"

Tsuna waved him over, a genial smile plastered on that gentle face. A rush of fair escaped his lungs all of a sudden and he quickly shook his head. It wasn't possible. Takatsu thought. He watched as the brunet bent over and wiped a tiny speck of dust from his young master's face. The simple act was made with so much care, with such gentleness.

Lovingly, if Takatsu had to describe it. His expression transitioned from a look of disbelief to that one of relief. Even if it was possible, Takatsu somberly thought, his gaze never leaving the two in front of him, as long as he looks at Kai-bocchan with such meaningful eyes, he's fine just the way he is. With that conclusion, the Hibari's second best bodyguard stood straight and marched after his two charges. He had made his peace and now, he was duty-bound to honor it.

And that was almost a week ago. Takatsu sighed behind the shadows of the trees he was hiding in. What happened over the past few days that turned his lovable bocchan into a small rampaging bull? He cringed when another crack sounded from somewhere to his left.

His men wouldn't be able to take any more of these spar sessions with the child if he continued beating them senseless every single day. If only the babysitter had the conscience to stop all the massacre happening on the training grounds. That was wishful thinking on his part though.

"On the right, Kai! On the right! Then jab at the chest! That's the way to go!"

But no. The brunet was happily coaching or cheering his young master on if the shrieks were anything to go by. Takatsu sighed and shook his head. There goes another of his allies. Crack. Thump. Whimper. Takatsu winced at the tangled limbs and horrified face. Boy was he glad he wasn't in their position.

"Takatsu-sama?" He whirled around quickly and bowed in earnest at the head butler of the Hibari family, Nakamura Jinichiro. Before him was truly a man to be respected.

"Yes, Nakamura-san?" The old man smiled in response and pointed behind him. Takatsu knew without looking who exactly the man was pointing at.

"Would you please call over bocchan and Sawada-sama for lunch?"

Takatsu's lips twitched. He goes there where the bloodiest war he has ever seen was unfolding? No frickin' way. Nakamura was still smiling at him even when Takatsu stared pleadingly at him. Please spare me. He badly wanted to plead on his knees but the head butler was firm and quickly shook his head as if understanding his internal monologue. Damn it. He was hiding for a reason, you know?

Walking glumly over the pair, Takatsu stopped from a safe distance behind the brunet shouting his lungs out.

"Sawada-sama?" The man turned to face him and small sigh of relief escaped the bodyguard's mouth. The babysitter was in a good mood.

"Lunch is served." Takatsu watched as those caramel eyes twinkled in delight and ran over to where Kai-bocchan was.

And was floored.

Sawada didn't even care when his young master tried to hit him with his wooden tonfas. He just gracefully sidestepped the unexpected attack and snatched the tonfas away from their bewildered wielder. Tsuna twirled his young master around and rejoiced.

"It's lunch, Kai! Let's eat already, ok?" He was grinning and for the first time in his life, his young master laughed. It was small and strange in Takatsu's ears but he couldn't deny it sounded pleasant.

This small discovery smothered the fact that the babysitter was hell as good as fighting as taming the inner beast that razed his men to the ground. Takatsu didn't know if he should be thankful or exasperated. Maybe, Sawada Tsunayoshi really was a sadist at heart and if that was true, Takatsu was glad he was in the man's good graces, albeit reluctantly. The brunet held grudges so what can he do?

"Takatsu!" What happened to -kun? "We're eating and you're coming!" Takatsu sighed before his lips curled into an exasperated smile. Well, the man was tiring to be with but he made his job a lot more interesting. Takatsu couldn't ask for anything more.

...

At 1:55 pm, Kai found himself in a place where he never thought he would ever ever visit in his entire life. A crowd of rampaging children surrounded him all squealing in delight and making their way over to the herbivore standing behind him At break-neck speed.

Then the first child came flying.

It was a horrible sight. Kai watched in horror as his babysitter was pummeled to the ground. One by one numerous children were crawling over his Tsuna-nii's body like little maggots. Kai huffed and walked resolutely away from the massive human pile. Why were they all over his babysitter anyway? And why were they even in a daycare in the first place?

It was a means of recreation his Tsuna-nii says. To have a change of pace. Kai frowned. It wasn't his fault he was in a bad mood recently. It was all because his babysitter refused to tell him what those things he bought in the craft store were for. It's been more than a week! Shouldn't he be told already of what they were for?

"Tsuna-nii! Tsuna-nii! Why didn't you come to visit sooner?" A snot-faced brat inquired over the other shrieks trying to burst his ear drums. Kai didn't like it. His Tsuna-nii should be babysitting him, not them.

"You'll come tomorrow again, right?"

"Promise us, Tsuna-nii!"

"You have to come back!"

They wailed in unison and watching them became annoying after some time.

"Haha. Sorry kids but I have a job now so I can only visit you guys when I have the time." Tsuna explained, his hand rubbing the back of his head.

"EHHHHH?"

Kai decided that he had enough. With a small growl, he turned around and walked out. Staying inside would only suffocate him. Kids were really too noisy and clingy. A soundly bang of the door was drowned solidly by the children's endless racket.

At the time, Kai didn't know anything and he wished that he could go back and didn't leave in the first place because if he had, then he wouldn't have met her.

...

"Were you able to track him down?" The woman purred seductively in his ear. He smiled indulgently.

"Of course, my lady."

Seraphim laughed softly, her voice twinkling like melodious bells. Even with just her voice, he knew, she could charm many. Add her appearance to the mix and you have an irresistible vixen. Too bad she had a poisoned heart, a manipulative mind, and soul as vengeful as a witch.

Yet those very characteristics made him agree to this job in the first place. Besides, despite her personality, she paid very very well. He could be rolling in gold already if it wasn't for the fact that he doesn't roll. Ha! Was he funny or what?

"Kawahira, I hope you're not being a silly little fool again." Damn, caught again.

"Of course not, my lady."

Her neatly trimmed brows rose at the obvious lie but quickly dismissed the thought. Instead, she looked out the window of her car, and watched the scenery pass by like an old movie on repeat. Too long. It had been way too long since she last saw the familiar sights. Though only a year had passed, it felt like centuries. She had not forgotten even once why she left in the first place.

Her pretty features twisted into an ugly sneer. Yes, they will pay. He had to pay for humiliating her. She only needed another five months to finalize the finest details of her plans and everything was set.

By that time, they would be together again and nothing on this planet could stop her. May it be those annoying cretins he worked with or that spawn she abhorred so much. That little pest she had sired. How she loathed that abomination, so much so that she was willing to include the thing in her plans.

Leaning back on the plush seat covers, her mind spurned ideas one after the other until the car suddenly stopped. She turned one cursory glance at her right-hand man.

"Why did we stop?" Kawahira tsked and flashed her one amused smile, his chin jutting towards the view outside. Seraphim followed his line of vision and was suddenly filled with glee. Ah. She smiled maliciously. There's the pest.

"You never cease to amaze me, Kawahira." The man offered her a small smile.

"My life's purpose is to serve you, my lady." Seraphim nodded, her hand reaching for the door latch.

"Yes, as you should." When the door clicked open, her features turned feral. She could hardly contain her excitement.

"I won't be long. Cover me." She opened the door wide, her legs gracefully sliding out of the car.

"As you wish, my lady." Closing the door behind her, she stalked forward, carefully keeping her footsteps as quiet as possible to avoid alerting the child a few feet in front of her. Once close enough, she stopped and called out.

"Kai." The child quickly turned around and Seraphim watched as that small frame flinched and wide eyes stared at her.

"M-Mother." Kai stammered, his whole body stiff as the woman who birthed him came even closer and crouched to his level. Her ice blue irises clashed with his own and a small whimper escaped his mouth.

"It's been a while, Kai. Didn't you miss me?" Kai flinched once again when her fingers made contact with his cheek, caressing the skin softly.

"I-I...M-Moth-" She suddenly pinched his cheek eliciting a cry from his lips. Her hold on his skin was hard enough to hurt but soft enough not to bruise his skin.

"You're happy, aren't you?" Seraphim muttered in a vengeful whisper, her eyes blazing with hate. "You get to live with Kyoya while I was removed completely." She released the skin between her fingers and wiped her hand across her skirt. Such an annoying insect this kid was, and disgusting to boot.

"M-Mother, I-"

"Silence. Not a word, Kai." Kai nodded obediently and was rewarded with a soft pat on his cheek.

"Now, don't go telling Kyoya about this, alright? You're a good boy, aren't you, Kai?" Kai nodded once again. His mask crumbling quickly, leaving only a frightened child in its wake.

Nodding to herself, Seraphim stood up and flicked her hair behind her. "Good. Now go and don't look back."

Kai bowed at her, turned around and quickly ran towards the entrance of the daycare. Seraphim raised an eyebrow in question. A shabby looking place like this was where Kyoya enrolled their son? She shrugged after a minute of contemplation. Whatever it was Kyoya decides was not her concern for now.

"Finished, my lady?" She angled her body to the right and smirked when she saw Kawahira leaning against the car.

"Yes, for the time being, that's enough."

Kawahira opened the door for his mistress and waited for her to glide in before closing the door and moving over the driver's seat to drive off. He glanced at Seraphim through the rear view mirror and saw her humming softly. His mistress was in a good mood. Kawahira could only conclude one thing. Phase 1 was a success.

...

"Kai? Is something wrong?" Tsuna bit the inside of his cheek in worry when the child only shook his head and dismissed him.

"No, just tired, Tsuna-nii. May I be excused for dinner?" Tsuna pondered for a moment.

"Alright, but just this once, ok?" Kai nodded and headed for his room. Tsuna watched the child go, concern clouding his eyes. As small frown appeared on his lips. Since a while ago, Kai had been acting strange. If Tsuna were to describe it, the child seemed to have lost that vivacious and cool aura he normally gave off. So what happened?

Tsuna couldn't understand. One moment Kai was there with him in the daycare and the next he had disappeared off to who knows where but appeared before the brunet had the chance to look for him. In that lapse of time, what happened?

Tsuna's frown deepened. He had to find out, even it meant watching over his charge for the rest of the night. He had a bad feeling about this and for someone with hypersensitivity, it was wise not to ignore his senses. He nodded to himself. It's decided then.

At 11 pm, Tsuna was close to plummeting to the ground almost falling asleep when he heard it. The smallest whimpers and the clamouring of the blankets being moved around messily. Tsuna didn't think of anything else and dashed inside the child's room. His mind reeling and his mouth uttering a soundless prayer. I'm here, Kai. I'm here.

...

Kai beamed, a toothy grin on his face when his latest drawing was finished. It was of him, his mother and father. It was a project his art teacher said. To draw what they think made them happy. And it was this family which made Kai the happiest. Bounding outside his room, the child hurriedly sought after his mother.

The four year old stopped when he saw her lounging outside. Barely unable to contain his excitement, he rounded another corner and reached his mother's destination in no time. Panting with effort, Kai clutched his drawing to his chest and shyly walked towards her. His hand tugged the end of her skirt and he waited as his mother turned to look at him.

She smiled softly when she saw him, that small smile he wished to see always but sadly never directed at him. However, this time, she seemed to be in a good mood and Kai relished this rare moment and tucked it in his chest. His irises, inherited from his beautiful mother brightened and with confidence, he thrust the paper in front of her.

"Look mother, it's me, you and father!" Seraphim grabbed hold of the paper and ripped it up cruelly, barely glancing at the drawing. Kai watched the pieces float around him in sorrow, the pinpricks stabbing at his small and fragile heart. Once again, he disappointed his mother. Why does he always do it?

"You insolent child!" She roared and clutched his cheeks painfully in her hands. Kai looked up at her, his eyelashes covered with crystalline tears. She jeered without remorse at the pain she was inflicting on the thing in her hands. She would never acknowledge him as her son, as her child. It was a fact which Kai sadly knew since he had the mind to think on his own.

"Doing these useless things, didn't I tell you to study? If Kyoya becomes disappointed, it's all on you, you hear me?!" She shrieked and her hold tightened. Kai's tears traveled down his face as he nodded primly.

"Yes, mother."

...

"Kai? Kai? Kai, please wake up!" Tsuna didn't want to be roughly shoving the child, but his composure was quickly becoming non-existent as the child's distressed cries reached his ears.

"Kai!"

And as if Kai had just been saved from drowning, Tsuna watched as his ward took one deep breath and coughed pitifully in his hands. Tsuna was cradling the child before he even registered he was doing. Humming softly, Tsuna smoothed over the child's clothes and let his hands glide softly across the child's back, desperately trying to comfort Kai the best way he could.

"Hush, child. It's ok. I'm here. Shh."

Tsuna's eyes were pained when Kai's soft sobbing escalated, every feeble sound made his chest hurt. Among all the things Tsuna couldn't stomach, it was a child crying. His heart felt as if it was being squeezed and torn out of his chest. Even more so now when his love overflowed for this child. He didn't want to admit it but Kai holds a great piece of Tsuna's. A piece which Tsuna thought he had long lost when he was in Italy.

"It's ok, Kai. I'm here. I'll always be here." Tsuna rubbed the child's back and hummed another tune. He didn't stop from his ministrations even when he felt the last of the tremors from Kai's body.

An hour passed and another, but Tsuna's hold never slackened from the child until Kai shifted and moved to lie on the bed. A tug on his sweater had him doing the same. Tsuna covered their frames with the thick comforter that had fallen off the bed during Kai's struggling. Kai drew himself closer to the warmth his babysitter provided and sighed heavily. An arm settled over his form, and Kai decided then and there that his Tsuna-nii was someone he didn't want to leave from his side.

"I saw mother today." Out of all the things Tsuna was expecting, he wasn't expecting that.

"Oh."

His grip around the child only pulled Kai closer to him. It provided a small means of comfort to stop his growing anger from lashing out. Tsuna kept his teeth gnashed together, his mouth kept firmly shut. All this time, the gnawing suspicions never left him and this incident only proved how right he was from the start. His talk with Dino can't be put on hold any longer.

"She told me not to tell father about our meeting." Tsuna nodded against Kai's hair. Until he knows the whole story, he couldn't just dive into the situation and act. Impatience only brought disaster and Tsuna wasn't one to rush headlong into things, no matter how much he wanted to. Reborn may be a cruel sadist but his ways were effective. And Tsuna was taught better than to let desires dominate his reasoning.

"Tsuna-nii?"

"Hmm?"

"What's a mother?" Tsuna's jaw tightened and the invisible cord reigning on his anger almost snapped.

"A mother is a woman who gives birth and raises a child but." Tsuna paused and let Kai move even closer to his embrace. His eyes softened.

"A mother is only considered a mother when she provides the care for her child to grow properly. To nurture, to love and to care for a child is a mother's role primarily." Tsuna felt the child laugh into his sweater and he relished hearing those rare sounds.

"You sound like father. He told me that mother was only a biological parent and not a real mother." Tsuna ruffled the child's hair, a sign that he wanted Kai to continue.

"What's your mother like, Tsuna-nii?" Tsuna stilled suddenly. His body freezing at the question. Kai must have felt it too because he moved away just enough to peer at him with concern. Tsuna shook his head and reassured him quickly.

"Mom was simply put, an angel." Tsuna smile at his own description. Kai listened closely, his babysitter's voice lulling him to sleep. "She was beautiful, gentle, and above all, cared for me like no other and." Tsuna stopped, finally remembering something. Carefully, he disentangled himself from Kai and smiled apologetically when the child groaned grumpily.

"Sorry, Kai. But as I was saying, she also loved to make me stuff." Tsuna sat up and Kai followed suit. The child watched his babysitter reach behind him and pulled out pieces of clothing.

"She taught me how to make those stuff too. That's why, here Kai." Tsuna slipped one cloth over his head and did the same to his hands. Kai flexed his hands and touched his head and felt the softness of the bonnet covering his head.

"It took me some time before I could finish them but you hate the cold, ne? So I made sure that these were extra thick. Sorry it took so long though. I didn't want to hide anything from you but it was supposed to be a surprise. So surprise, Kai. I hope you like them."

Tsuna gave off a serene smile. Kai couldn't help it this time, he tackled his babysitter down and they snuggled comfortably in bed. Kai felt his eyes droop suddenly. He was tired but there was one thing he realized tonight.

"A mother is what your mother is like, right Tsuna-nii?" Tsuna chuckled.

"Yes, pretty much, but not all mothers are the same, Kai, so as long as they love and care for their child, then they can be called mothers." Kai nodded and closed his eyes. He could no longer fight off his drowsiness.

"Then, you're just like a mother, Tsuna-nii." Tsuna couldn't refute the sentence because the child was already soundly asleep in his arms. He smiled softly, his eyes closing as well. He'll just correct Kai in the morning, but for now, they both deserved some sleep. He was off to dreamland before he could register the presence behind the door.

Hibari slipped inside Kai's room when he was sure they were both asleep. His face remained expressionless as he sat down on the edge of the bed. The first thing he noticed was his son's face. The tear stains were hard to miss. Just by that, he knew Kai experienced his nightmares again and though Hibari didn't look like it, he was worried for his son.

It had been almost half a year since Kai last had his nightmares, and for Hibari, it didn't bode well. He gently stroked Kai's cheek and stopped when the herbivore beside Kai breathed out softly. A small smirk formed on his face, his fingers gently gliding over the flawless skin. Well, if this man could really help his son, then so be it. Hibari treasured his son more than anything else and if Sawada Tsunayoshi was the key to Kai's recovery then he had no other choice. The smirk never left his face when he whispered.

"Welcome to the Hibari family, Sawada Tsunayoshi." As if hearing his words, the herbivore snorted. Hibari couldn't help it this time, he chuckled quietly and flicked the sleeping male's forehead.

"Incorrigible herbivore."

...

When morning came, Hibari stated casually over breakfast. "Good morning, mother, I hope you had a pleasant sleep." And the reaction was instantaneous. Tsuna shrieked in distress and launched himself towards the smirking bastard, his face a complete mess of red as he attacked Hibari relentlessly with swift kicks and accurate punches.

"You repulsive man! You were listening on us, you ice prick!" Hibari arched his eyebrow in confusion.

"What do you mean?" Tsuna raged even more, becoming even fiercer, but Hibari effortlessly dodged every attack, enjoying how that small provocation could make the herbvore lose his cool.

Kai sleepily watched the display of violence so early in the morning and shrugged. He turned to look at the head butler of the family.

"Could I have pudding for breakfast?"

"HIBARI-SAN! GET BACK HERE, YOU JERK!" Tsuna shrieked from a distance.

Nakamura smiled, easily ignoring the commotion in front of them.

"Of course, Kai-bocchan. Anything else?" Kai shook his head and politely smiled. Nakamura stared in shock at the unfamiliar gesture.

"No, thank you." Nakamura bowed. Inside, he was smiling, his heart soaring at the warm display. After all this time, his intuition has never failed him. Dubbing Sawada Tsunayoshi as the key piece to the Hibari family was his best bet yet.

...

"Any news yet?" Irie slouched in his seat and rubbed his stomach. It was hurting again. Why did he always have stomach cramps whenever he was nervous?

"No, their tracks were covered from the day she arrived here. I can only guess she's only here for a visit." Dino frowned. He shouldn't put it past her to be doing so well even after a year of downtime.

"I see. Keep putting tabs on her." Dino turned away and just as he did, he stopped. He looked over his shoulder.

"Have you found him?" Irie's face was dark, and the anxiety he felt disappeared completely.

"No, not yet. His leads disappeared four days ago." Dino clenched his fists and hurried out. Romario followed silently.

"Romario."

"Yes, Dino-sama?"

"Call up Byakuran, set an appointment tonight. Tell him Code Red."

Romario nodded quickly and left his side. Dino was left in his own thoughts, his expression grim and cold. Nothing was going according to plan these days and it sadly leaves him with no choice. He can only hope that his former student and adoptive brother were getting along. Or else. Dino vehemently wished he didn't have to resort to that.

...

As if he was holding a newborn, Tsuna carefully cradled Kai in his arms, tucking him into bed with practiced ease. The child breathed softly, his face relaxed and devoid of the frowns and scowls almost plastered on his face on a daily basis. For almost a week now, the brunet found himself continuously camping on the floor of Kai's room, making sure the child wasn't plagued by nightmares again.

He could opt to sleep on the bed but getting comfy beside the child was a no go. He couldn't risk being found out by the child's father. Who knows how the cold prick would react to seeing him sleeping beside Kai?

Hibari hated weakness and showering his son too much affection where he can see is forbidden. Tsuna didn't take the chance. He loved his job no matter how overbearing his employer is. And being called mother again by the icicle king sent shivers of disgust down his spine.

Tsuna sighed and brushed away a few strands of raven hair from that porcelain face. He closed his eyes, feeling the beginnings of a headache forming. His fingers twitched and his senses prickled. The brunet sighed once again.

"Welcome home, Hibari-san." Tsuna greeted amicably. He didn't need to turn around just to confirm that the ice king was there. He just knew and for some reason that unnerved him. Hibari's presence should be impossible to trace yet why was it so easy for him to pinpoint exactly where he was?

"Hn."

Tsuna stifled a small chuckle. At least, there was something constant in his life. Leaning forward, he pecked Kai's forehead. His eyes crinkled in warmth when the child didn't even stir. It had been another long day and it wasn't a surprise that this little one would be exhausted.

Tsuna withdrew from his charge and faced Hibari. The brunet knew he was being watched but seeing those eyes so intensely focused on his form, he could only step back cautiously. What's up with him? Tsuna grimaced. Well, he didn't have time for this, actually. Taking a deep breath, he spoke in mild tones.

"We need to talk, Hibari-san." To his annoyance, the demon lord didn't even blink as he turned around and walked away. Tsuna followed after Hibari, though he wanted nothing more than to kick that pretty face into oblivion.

Once within the privacy of Hibari's stuffy office, Tsuna went right to business. "I need the day off tomorrow, Hibari-san."

"Why?"

Hibari's eyes met his, and for one sour moment, Tsuna wanted to avert his eyes away from that smoldering gaze. Doing that, however, would be the same as admitting defeat to this intimidating man. And for Tsuna, he did not want to look weak in front of this person, though he would never admit it outwardly.

Tsuna cleared his throat before stating monotonously straight from memory. "My contract states that I have the right to request a day off for every month of the year. However, the request shall be put fo-" Hibari suddenly stood from his seat, completely startling Tsuna into silence.

The once apathetic stare had become something akin to anger and Tsuna could only gape when Hibari closed the distance from his desk to where he was standing. Despite the average height difference, Tsuna was forced to look up, craning his head in the process just to catch Hibari's gaze.

"I asked why, herbivore. I did not ask for details." Hibari snapped, his patience had long receded when it came to his son's babysitter. Sometimes, he couldn't understand how such an insignificant fool could affect him so much.

Tsuna's mouth opened but not a word escaped from his lips. His throat felt dry seeing those silver-tinted eyes solely directed at him. Why...? Say something, idiot! When words couldn't be expressed, Tsuna decided that closing his mouth and sparing himself from the embarrassment was the next best thing. Hibari couldn't accept that. His frown deepened when the herbivore refused to speak.

"You have been acting out of sorts, Sawada Tsunayoshi. I suggest that you get your act together and not endanger my son with your inadequacy."

Raising one hand, Hibari reached forward and tipped the brunet's chin with one finger. Wide, orange-tinted eyes met his. Jaded. The raven concluded. Those eyes, even Sawada's very being was jaded. The herbivore was making it harder for him to understand just what exactly he was missing. He didn't like it. Not one bit. With a derisive growl, his eyes narrowed as he pulled back. His decision was made.

"You can leave after breakfast but I'm expecting you before dinner and not any later. Understood?" Hibari's voice was ice cold and left no room for arguments.

Tsuna nodded mutely. All throughout Hibari's lecture, he had been unable to utter a word. His clenched fists unraveled when Hibari turned his back towards him, and it gave the smallest comfort to his current mental state. How could he...?

How was Hibari able to see past through him? Tsuna shivered at this revelation. There's no way he's letting this get any further than it was now. Hibari Kyoya was much too close. His face became grim. Much, much too close.

When morning came and breakfast was set on the table, Kai immediately knew something was wrong. There was this familiar atmosphere he had not felt since his babysitter came that very morning one month ago.

Disregarding the incident which shall remain a secret from his father, all had been good and well. Anything other than that, Kai could easily identify. Besides, with how well he had come to understand the herbivore and his father for that matter, the minuscule changes were easy to spot.

The almost unnoticeable tremble in his Tsuna-nii's fingers as well as the tense shoulders of his father spoke volumes of what could have happened while he slept last night. They had another fight again, and this one, unfortunately, was quite serious. Kai frowned into his toast. And here he thought things had been going great lately.

"Kai."

He immediately turned to his father. Even with his rapt attention towards the man he adored so much, he did not miss the way his babysitter flinched beside him.

"Yes, father?" Hibari placed his cup down, his fingers dancing like silken vines against the porcelain glass.

"Takatsu will be your babysitter for today." His father had said it so casually while for him, it felt as if he had been doused with boiling water. What?

Kai gasped, so unlike himself, especially in front of his father. At all times, he tried to conduct himself accordingly except for times when he was at home, where it was unnecessary, just like now. He turned an almost accusing glare at the brunet sitting to his right. Was Tsuna-nii leaving...? He felt cold all of a sudden and if it weren't for his babysitter's quick assurance, he would have lashed out at the sudden turn of events.

"It's just for today, Kai. I have to visit someone later on so I asked your father for a day off." Kai heaved a breath he didn't know he was holding and let his fingers clutch the herbivore's sleeve.

"You're not...leaving?" The last word had come off as a whisper but Tsuna understood the meaning well. His eyes widened momentarily in panic and quickly shook his head. Not minding Hibari's stare on the back of his head, he hoisted Kai off his seat and into his lap.

"Goodness no, Kai!" Tsuna exclaimed, suddenly alarmed. "I wouldn't leave until your father decides that I have to." Tsuna tacked on, grinning evilly when the evil overlord flinched at the puppy-eyed look his son gave him. Ha! Revenge is a bitch, ice king. Tsuna thought smugly as he smiled endearingly at his charge. "Besides, I can only visit those people today since I haven't met them for the last ten years. So you'll let me go, right, Kai?" Kai's hold on his clothes tightened.

"When will you be back?" Tsuna smiled and ruffled that soft mane he had come to love so much, but not as much as the owner of those fine strands. He let their foreheads bump softly.

"Before dinner, Kai, and that's a promise."

Tsuna held the child's gaze, letting Kai confirm on his own that he was telling the truth. And after what seemed like ages, Kai nodded though still looking sulky and put-off. Tsuna once again squashed the urge to cuddle the child in his embrace. He was already pushing his luck by being so 'emotional' with Kai in front of Hibari so he had to draw the line. Reluctantly, he placed Kai back on his chair and patted his head.

"I'll be back soon, Kai. So be good to Takatsu for me, ok?" Tsuna beamed another genuine smile when the child nodded obligingly. Good boy.

"I'll be coming with you to school though so you aren't getting rid of me yet."

Kai felt his cheeks warm when his Tsuna-nii winked cheekily at him. Seriously, didn't the herbivore know shame? He grunted, annoyed and chose to ignore his babysitter for the time being. Tsuna laughed softly. At times like these, he was grateful that he wasn't as useless as he was before. Wiping his face with a napkin, Tsuna stood up, nodding at Hibari as he did. It's time.

"Kai?" He called out, his hand poised for the child to take which Kai happily did. Tsuna smiled softly, his fingers closing tenderly around those stubby digits holding his own. Once again, he ignored Hibari's deadly glares in favor of basking his son with all the care and love he could give. Kai didn't deserve anything less.

"We'll be heading out, Hibari-san. I'll be sure to come back before dinner." Tsuna offered Hibari a rather stiff bow. Not waiting for acknowledgement, he began leading Kai out of the house, only to stop short from the main entrance of the mansion.

"Be safe, Sawada Tsunayoshi."

Tsuna gritted his teeth, his hold on Kai unknowingly tightened, and it took only a moment for him to realize what he's doing. He glanced at Kai apologetically who only shook his head. Rubbing small circles on the child's hand, Tsuna looked back at the lone man sitting at the head of the table.

"Thank you, Hibari-san." His tone was clipped and forced. Nodding towards the head butler, Tsuna started walking once again with Kai by his side. Like a soldier walking to his death march, his every step was heavy and hesitant. This visit was taking a toll on his mind and body. Maybe, he shouldn't be surprised that Hibari noticed. After all, the demon lord was the Hibari Kyoya of Namimori.

After dropping Kai off, Tsuna waved a cheery goodbye at Takatsu and ventured on his own. Once out of sight, his attitude changed completelely andthe smile was wiped off his face. Walking for half an hour, he finally reached the train station.

Almost sluggishly, he paid for his ticket, entered the middle car, and sat at the very corner. Sighing, he pulled out his music player and let the music blast in his ears to keep him awake. Ten stops, two bus rides later, and he has finally arrived.

And it meant only one thing for Tsuna, it was time for him to face his inner demons after so many years of running away. No matter how much he didn't want to, some things were just meant to be.

It took much effort for him to act the way he usually does, especially now that Kai was so receptive of his feelings. Children really were amazing creatures and Tsuna found it hard not to concede to them on a daily basis. Lying to them was a sin while pretending arund them was just as grave.

But I'm here now, aren't I?

The ride back to this desolate part of Namimori had taken him almost three hours. It was a good thing that the train station and ticket lines didn't change much through the years. Getting off the bus, he began his trek towards the forest, his steps sure and unfaltering even though he's only been here twice in his life. Once, when he was the young age of fifteen, and now, a ripe age of twenty-five.

Fifteen minutes into the trail, Tsuna stopped abruptly. A faint smile appeared on his lips, his eyes glassy, his lips quivering, and his fingers giving off slight tremors at his sides. Finally. After ten long years, he was met with this familiar sight. The rosewood trees and the countless vines surrounding the forest. Everything was the same. Tsuna took a deep breath and let the fresh, country air caress his face.

This brings back memories.

Tsuna smiled as he crouched down. It seems that he had a lot of work to do. For now, he needed to appease his mother and father. He reached for a nearby broom, his hands brushing against the cold block.

"Long time no see, kaa-san, tou-san."

...

The rhythmic cadence of his feet had him almost plummeting on the ground underneath his feet. His body was crying for rest, his mind begging to sleep, while his heart...his heart was weeping for release. He felt heavy. The salty air of that particular night was making him nauseous.

He could almost taste the pungent smell of a nearby dumpster at the back of his tongue. Yet he fought all of these urges in favor of going home. His mother, he knew, was waiting for him and if he didn't get home soon, she would start calling the cops again.

A stray cat suddenly jumped in front of him, almost scaring him to kingdom come but surprisingly, his body didn't react the way it should. Tsuna smiled forlornly. My body's giving up on me, now, was it? And as if to confirm his statement, his knees buckled beneath his weight, his body thrown off-balance. Tsuna grunted in pain when the force of gravity had been too much to fight against. The world felt as if it tilted off its axis.

He laid on the cold, cemented ground, his exhaustion finally catching up to him. He felt tears prickling the corner of his eyes as he stared above him. The stars looked even more beautiful tonight. They looked majestic and oh so breathtaking that he felt some of the weariness in his heart and very soul alleviate even if just a little.

Today had been a particularly tough day. It was as if every year, this certain day signaled a warning of some sort. It was his birthday today and for some reason, mostly everyone in school, especially the bullies knew it. On the 14th of October, dame-Tsuna became the sole target of the local jocks and resident delinquents roaming Namimori-chu.

Tsuna grimaced when a throbbing pain at his left started burning. He curled around himself and tried to find another comfortable position to rest in. He didn't plan to stay on these deserted streets, but he had to conjure enough strength for the rest of the trek home.

Warm tears pooled from his eyes. Why was he so useless? What did he do in his previous life to be subjected to this type of treatment? It was as if he wore a single red sign, marking him as the bulls eye of every bull-headed person in his hometown. The wounds and fractured bones in his body weren't even a deterrent for other people. These scars inflicted on his body just seemed like justifications for people to do more.

His eyes closed painfully slow, the fresh tears felt too hot against his tired eyes. For once, could he afford not to care? For once in his life, could he be allowed to let his heart stop from hurting? The bruises inflicted everyday, the wounds carved on his flesh every moment of his life—whether physically or emotionally—would he be relieved of these things if he stopped caring?

He blinked suddenly, showing dull caramel orbs. What were once precious-looking little marbles now small fragments of the past gone by. Gone were the days where his innocence beamed like the sun, and so long were the days where Sawada Tsunayoshi was a young child, oblivious to the cruelties of the world. His mother could only do so much to protect him from everything.

Coughing slightly, he shivered against the cool, night air. With a push on his trembling arms, he was back on his feet. One by one, placing one foot after another in front of him, he gasped harshly as his lungs burned. Every part of his body felt as if he was stabbed by millions of knives. The pain coursing through his veins so unlike the previous times he was showered with the same method of beating.

It was agony. It was pure hell on earth to walk home and be in the confines of his warm abode. Another step and he was standing right on the porch of his house, his hands struggling to unlock the door with his key. A minute passed and another when finally the lock unlatched and he was sitting comfortably on the entryway of his house. Tsuna coughed another bountiful, his body being wracked by heaving breaths and sighs.

Kaa-san...she can't find out.

His eyes widened momentarily. He needed to move. Tsuna couldn't let his loving mother see him like this. It would definitely break her heart. His lips thinned at that simple thought and with a determined heave, he was standing on his feet, and was making his way upstairs.

His supplies should be enough to keep everything hidden. The first-aid kit and the various cosmetics lying underneath his bed, they were good enough to start another lie and pretend that everything was just...fine.

His lips curled into a grim smile. Everything just wasn't fine. Everything was wrong, so wrong that everyday he felt like puking at the fact that he was still alive and bearing all this shit he was unjustly being given. And no matter how much he tried being good, no matter how much he tried being something other than dame-Tsuna, he would never be good. Tsuna will never be accepted for who he was.

Lying on his bed now, it felt surreal. He's still alive, wasn't he? His gaze slid from the ceiling to the upper corner of his room. The clock signaled the end of another nightmare. He smiled, yet this time it was hollow, desolate and despairing.

The happiness he usually felt when he saw that small, neatly wrapped boxed on his desk didn't even hold a candle to what he was forced to feel everyday of his life. A broken laugh escaped his lips. He looked like a doll, so lifeless and dark, like a puppet with its strings cruelly cut.

"Happy Birthday to me."

...

Tsuna was fourteen when life decided that someone as insignificant as him was not worth salvation. It had been a breezy and calm day. His life as dame-Tsuna didn't particularly change from last year. He was still the same ol' bully magnet everyone seemed to love and hate at the same time. While he sat alone in his classroom during lunch break, his homeroom teacher had barged in, looking both sad and exhausted when their eyes met.

"Sawada, you're excused for the day. Your mother's in Namimori General Hospital, she..." Tsuna didn't let the older man finish. He was already out of the door by the time he heard 'hospital' from his mouth.

Tsuna's eyes were wild and unfocused, his fingers trembling at his side when he saw her. His beautiful and gentle mother lay there so peacefully on the bed, countless tubes connected to her body. She looked relaxed for once, less tired, almost happy, and all traces of her once exhausted disposition seemed to have disappeared completely.

She also looked dead. That disgusting notion left something sour and rotting at the back of his tongue. If it weren't for the steady beeping of the machine just beside her bed, he would have thought she was already gone. Gone...

Tears flowed unbidden from his eyes. Tsuna wailed against his mother's hand clutched against his cheek. She was warm and alive, and that's all that he needed. Because Sawada Nana was the only thing left that resembled hope in this cruel world. His father had long disappeared in their life, more so last year when news of his accident reached their family.

It was the the beginning of the many nightmares he was forced to endure. His mother had dwindled from there. Knowing her husband, the love of her life was gone from this world, Nana also lost her will to live. The changes had been slow, almost negligible but as months passed, Tsuna saw her slowly but surely give in.

Her smiles were almost never there, her bubbly and welcoming aura vanished from the face of the earth. Iemitsu's death seemed to have robbed her off her own life and Tsuna couldn't find it in himself to forgive the wretched man who was never there for his family. He saw it fit that he should be taking matters into his hands. It was a race and if he didn't act soon, he knew he would be losing so much more than he could take.

Tsuna tried to do everything and anything to bring her back, even just a glimmer of her former self. He had even tried doing well in his studies though they only went up to a fifty percentile from the twenty-four percentile of his class.

He did all he could, even spending more time with her as much as possible. Bringing her to the places she loved to visit, treating her like a queen, and staying by her bedside until she fell asleep. But all was for naught because Sawada Nana was no more.

What was left was only the shell of her former self. She was never able to get over her depression at the loss of her one true love and Tsuna was forced to watch her transformation. A change so horrible that everyday he saw the wilting spirit of his mother, pieces of himself broke little by little.

"Sawada Tsunayoshi?"

Tsuna stiffened when he heard an old, wizened voice behind him. He turned around to face the unexpected guest, unmindful of his appearance. Right now, he couldn't care less about anything else. When he saw the other person, Tsuna almost sighed in relief. Thankfully, it was someone he could trust. The acting family doctor of the Sawadas had always been kind, stern, and neutral. He was a firm and reliable man in spite of his age.

"Misono-san..." Tsuna's voice was only above a whisper. The old doctor smiled gently, the fine lines on his face becoming more visible with his expression.

"I need to talk to you. Would you mind...?" He trailed off, going for the door and waiting for him by the entrance. Tsuna took deep breaths before nodding and following the doctor out of his mother's room.

They sat quietly inside Misono Kikushi's room, both at ease at each other's presence though the easy atmosphere disappeared when the doctor cleared his throat. He looked at him in the eyes and reached for one of his trembling hands.

Tsuna felt another tear slip past his eye. This is it. The verdict of his mother's condition and it didn't take much guessing that it was definitely not good. The expression on that olden face was enough proof for Tsuna to believe so.

"Tsunayoshi, your mother..." He trailed off, the hold Misono had on his hand tightened for a second. Tsuna felt his breath caught in his throat. It was a struggle to swallow it down and force himself not to vomit.

"She wouldn't make it, would she?" His voice was hoarse from crying and his throat sore, but it needed to be said. He didn't need pity. Tsuna needed the cold, hard truth.

Misono's eyes had dulled and Tsuna knew he was right. It was funny really. Out of all the times he could be right, it was when his mother was dying. He shivered against the force of his emotions and he almost doubled over as spasms of pain wracked his form. In a heartbeat, their family doctor was beside him and rocking him back and forth, like a parent would to a baby crying its lungs out.

"Why...Misono-san? Why does it have to be her?" He whispered brokenly against one clothed shoulder, his whole body shaking. Tsuna felt as if he was breaking all over again. Why does it have to be his mother?

"It was an accident, Tsunayoshi..." Misono tried to pacify him, voice soothing and calm. A great contrast against his own cracked and hysterical one.

"It's not anyone's fault, especially not yours." Is it? Wasn't it his fault to begin with? Because he was dame-Tsuna. Because he was useless and couldn't even make his mother happy, and now... Now, I'll never be able to.

A month later and his mother passed on like the winter breeze. It turned out that after the roadside accident, she went into coma and never woke again. Thirty days later and her weakened heart failed her and she went away looking like a beautiful angel sleeping without a care in the world. All that time, Tsuna went directly from school to the hospital. He spent every second possible by her side to the point that he had become a local resident of the hospital.

Usually, such liberties were against the rules but Misono Kikushi was the hospital's acting director, and anything he decides was never questioned. Tsuna was grateful but the bills were piling up. His saviour came in the form of another unknown benefactor, saying he was an acquaintance of his father.

Tsuna never asked for the person's name because when it was the representative always showing up, then the mysterious man obviously didn't want to show his face. On his last day in the hospital, there was no warning. He only heard the life line beeping while doctors and nurses came in and out of his mother's room. Then, it was over.

He was standing there, decked in black. His suit, once again given by their mysterious provider, wet and ruined. The rain cried along with him and he felt comforted by it. Tsuna didn't know how long he's been there, stock still but his dull orange-tinted irises did not move once from the tombstones at his feet. Beside his mother's grave was his father's. Tsuna's eyes were devoid of light when he uttered softly.

"You're finally with tou-san, kaa-san..." He paused, trying to catch his breath. Those pinpricks in his chest didn't go away even when the tears on his face had long dried.

"I hope you're finally happy."

It wasn't the words that broke his heart, but the mechanical voice which pained him. A man well past his prime stepped forward, letting the noise of his steps stir the young man from his trance. He smiled as gently as he could when he saw him turn around.

"Tsunayoshi, my name's Timoteo." He stepped closer, shielding the boy from the rain though it was useless when the brunet was already sopping wet. "I'm your father's acquaintance." Timoteo continued and waited patiently, all the while watching for any changes in expression on that pallid-looking face. Nothing seemed to register in those blank eyes but the young lad nodded all the same.

"You're my benefactor." Timoteo forced a smile to appear on his face. How heart-breaking was it to see such a broken man and so young too. He raised one wrinkled hand towards him, his eyes determined. There was only one thing to be done now.

"Would you like to come with me to Italy?" Tsuna stared at the stranger's eyes and found only warmth and acceptance. He felt his lips quiver at the familiar sight. When did he last saw those emotions directed at him? Too long, his mind supplied, far too long.

"Will you?" Timoteo pressed on and Tsuna could only answer one thing. Tentatively, he reached out and clutched the hand held in front of him.

"Yes."

Tsuna didn't know what possessed him to agree but sometimes he wished that he didn't. Sometimes, he wished he could turn back time and refused Timoteo's offer because if he knew what would happen later on in his life, he would have made a time machine and righted everything once more. However, all that was now in the past and all these wishful thinking would get him nowhere.

A grim smile formed on his face, a bouquet of tulips and stargazers in his hands. Carefully, he set them down on the newly swept tomb stones. He closed his eyes and muttered a small prayer. It was ironic. Why did everything pivotal in his life happened on that same day? His eyes dimmed as he read the epitaph on the graves.

Sawada Nana

1964-2011

Here lies a beloved wife, mother, and teacher.

She had touched the lives of many and will never be forgotten.

Sawada Iemitsu

1960-2010

Here lies a beloved husband, father, and friend.

Forever gone but never forgotten.

October 14. They both had passed on that very day. His beloved mother left the world the very day he was born. It was also the same day his father disappeared totally from their lives. Tsuna swiped a fallen leaf from the ground and watched as the wind blew it away. He turned twenty-five today but his birthday was meaningless when it was the very same day everything was taken away from him.

He drew himself up. It was late and he promised Hibari he would only be gone for half a day. He couldn't delay the inevitable anymore. He needed to go back. Tsuna breathed in the fresh air as he turned away. He looked back one last time, casting a solemn smile over his shoulder.

I'll see you both soon.

Things would be changing soon enough and just like Reborn's warning, time was not a luxury he could afford. Despite his boggled thoughts, Tsuna walked down the path leading towards the bus stop without pause and only occasionally stopping to help some of the elderly carry their things to their huts. Watching the peaceful village at the foot of the mountains, Tsuna was once again reminded why he chose this place as his parents' burial grounds.

The atmosphere is calm and the people kind and friendly. For Tsuna, the deciding factor was the fact that it was far from the bustling life of the city where he knew his parents had grown tired of. Because he knew that way before his father and mother decided to live in Namimori, they had met by chance in this small village whose name had long been forgotten by time, and mostly, its people.

Instead of concrete buildings, there were wooden huts. Instead of water systems, they had deep wells. Instead of markets, they had farms. The people hunted, sowed, and lived in silence. All in all, everything seemed ancient, almost primal in nature that it left Tsuna in awe.

It was a village just believed to be in myths by the townspeople. A village frozen in time. Gone were the ages where people's contentment revolved around the basic necessities. Instead, they all lived in a generation where nothing can be enough. Tsuna could almost sneer at his thoughts.

Wasn't the same greed infesting the current populace the reason why things had turned out that way back in Italy? He felt the darkest of his emotions, ones of which he had always locked up at the deepest pits of his heart, begin to surface. If only...if only he had di-

"Young man?" Wavering and scratchy. Tsuna knew immediately that another elderly had come to seek his help. His eyes cleared from the haze of his thoughts as he regarded the old woman smiling at him.

"Yes? Can I help you?" A round gem was presented to him. A gem which he was very familiar with. He looked up and searched the woman's gaze, confused at the offering.

"It's for you, young one." He raised an eyebrow in skepticism. The doubt and suspicion were clear in his expression yet the old lady only laughed, not offended in the least.

"It's your birthday today, is it not?" Tsuna gasped, his eyes wide in shock. Involuntarily, he stepped back but the woman was firm and shook her head.

"Do not fear, child. I'm merely a widow of fate and I wish to impart just one thing to you."

Her voice quivered in between words but Tsuna could identify determination when he saw one. With slight hesitation, he reached for the gem so brilliantly cut and polished to crystalline perfection. An opal in the shape of an angel's wing, dangling by a golden chain.

Even from a glance, he knew this piece of jewelry would cost more than a year of his salary when he was once a bookkeeper. Well, now he could afford it within a month's wage with his current job. Because in spite of being an aggravating snoot, Hibari Kyoya was generous with his money. Tsuna blanched at this. Way way too generous if you ask me.

"Why are you giving this to me?"

Tsuna punctuated his words with a gentle swig of the necklace. The old woman only smiled, her eyes glimmering in the sun. If he didn't know better, this woman must have been one of great beauty when she was younger. His eyes softened. What a sad thing to be, Tsuna lamented, and to be a widow it must be painful.

"Do you know what an opal signifies, child?" Tsuna quirked an eyebrow. His lips thinned at the question. Ah yes.

"Bad luck, right?" The old woman gave off something similar to an annoyed growl and a mocking snort before hopping on her tip toes and promptly bashing him on the head.

"Ow! What was that for?!" Tsuna groaned while nursing the growing lump on the side of his head. For an old lady, she sure packed a hell of a punch. Was she like, you know, the demented version of Tsunade from Naruto? Dang, and it was a good manga too.

"I swear! Children these days only have rocks for brains! You should know th..."

The hag—Tsuna wasn't trying to be rude but really, what else can he call her?—was stomping her foot back and forth while complaining about the idiocies of the generation today, and that he was a buffoon, and yada yada. Tsuna stopped listening altogether when she uttered the word 'brains.' It only meant he drowned the droning at the first sentence. Huh. Wasn't he kind?

"...and bad lucks about opals? Ha! Fucking bull, I tell you!" Tsuna's lips quirked up when the cussing started. So even these uptight bunch of lassies in an unknown village knew how to cuss like sailors? The hag stopped midway her monologue to catch her breath and pinned him with a livid stare. Tsuna steadily looked back, his eyes half-lidded out of boredom. Will she stop now?

"The annoying douche bag, Walter Scott, who wrote about that what's her name again?" Tsuna perked from his seat on the ground and said cheerfully.

"Lady Hermione!" The woman's eyes lit up in recognition and Tsuna resisted the urge to laugh at her expense. Hey, we should respect the elderly, right?

"Yes yes, that woman who had a personality disorder!" Tsuna looked at her dubiously. Were they still talking about the same character? "The market for opals plummeted to horrendous levels and my ancestors were affected!" Tsuna rolled his eyes. So this was what it was?

"Anyway, opals do not mean bad luck, you insensitive ingrate!" The hag pointed rudely at him, her eyes passionate and full of life. Tsuna yawned into his had.

"Are you done yet?" She scoffed at him, her nose upturned and her arms crossed in front of her. She looked like one of those snotty and annoying inn housekeepers he sometimes frequented in Italy. Where was the wizened and mysterious looking lady from a while ago?

"Yes!" She shouted and Tsuna cringed at her loud voice.

"Geez, you didn't have to shout you know. So can we get back on track? Seriously, I'm running late for an appointment." Tsuna gave his watch one last glance before appraising the lady with a pleading look. Please, please be over already.

The old woman sighed, finally down from her high. She looked him a once-over and sadly shook his head. Tsuna blinked at the sudden change. Maybe, she was the one that had a personality disorder? Hmm... He watched curiously as the woman stepped forward, reached over and clasped a hand over his right hand, which was holding the necklace. Tsuna looked down at her. She was transfixed at the sight of the gem in his hand.

"Take good care of this, young man. It's an heirloom from my mother's side of the family." Tsuna frowned as the lady pulled back and stared at him with serious eyes. Her haughty and playful attitude now shadowed by the hollow look in her eyes.

"Then, I'll ask again. Why are you giving this to me?" She offered him a tired smile.

"Because you need it more than I do." The woman said cryptically.

"And why do I need it?" Tsuna asked, his tone clearly doubtful.

"Because you lack two things, child." Tsuna snorted. Now, this was just superstitious mumbo jumbo and for the life of him, he never believed in such things. The old woman could see this. She could see how he didn't believe even a word she was saying. Her wrinkled face showed her sadness as she reached out to him, trying all she could to get through to him.

"Pray, child. Pray." She said fervently and Tsuna found it harder to dismiss her when she looked so desperate. He sighed and placed the necklace around his neck. It was still a gift, and throwing it away would just be asking for the wrath of the most powerful force in the world—karma.

"Alright, I'll keep it. Happy?" He didn't mean to sound so annoyed but really he had to get going. His time was limited, after all.

The woman gave off a soft smile which Tsuna willingly returned. Well, she wasn't so bad, if you ignore her crazy tendencies.

"Thank you, lady but I really need to leave." The widow nodded, and it was the only dismissal he needed. Beaming with joy, Tsuna sketched a polite bow, flashed a grin, and disappeared behind the trees. Not soon after, a younger woman appeared from behind their hut and joined her.

"Baa-chan, was that ok? It's been with the family for centuries, after all." The old woman nodded, patting her grandchild's hand, her gaze not moving from the forest.

"It's fine, Yuni. We're living fine but that child. I feel for him." Yuni's gaze shifted form her grandmother to the path beyond the trees.

"Why is that, baa-chan?" Honestly, it baffled her how his grandmother had just suddenly upped and approached a random stranger and offered their most valuable possession. She could do nothing but watch because in spite of her age, her grandmother had once been a powerful priestess. As her granddaughter and her apprentice, she had no right to question her ways.

"He's a sad, young man, my dear." She paused and looked up at the bright, afternoon sun. "As if the weight of the world lies heavy on his shoulders. I can only wish that opal would bring him what he needs."

...

Tsuna stared at the piece of jewelry in his hands. It felt cool to the touch, though its luminosity made it seem like it was on fire. It gave off life, a fire which cannot be extinguished so easily, much like the old woman who gifted him this precious opal.

It was beautiful, too beautiful, and it didn't deserve to be in his hands. Because he knew, just like all teens who had once been curious of their own birthstones, his did not match him. A bitter smile graced his lips, his eyes taking in a duller hue. Hope, happiness, and purity. They did not suit him. Not at all. Tsuna looked up when he heard the door click open. Sighing, he deftly hid the necklace inside his clothes.

"Tsuna! I hope you didn't wait long." Dino grinned from the entryway, Romario flagged behind him. Tsuna greeted the older man with a wave to which Dino's bodyguard only bowed in respect and disappeared behind the door. The brunet's lips twitched downwards. No matter how long they knew each other, Romario remained as stiff as a rock.

"So? What do I owe the pleasure of this impromptu date?" Dino was all smiles and good cheer, but Tsuna knew better than that.

He closed the menu on his lap. With a derisive snap of his fingers, the waiters situated on the four corners of the room left, giving them the privacy they need. Dino knew immediately that this wasn't going to be a normal conversation between sworn brothers. He dropped his joyful facade and mirrored Tsuna's expression. Both regarded one another with fierce intensity.

"Tell me the truth." Straight to the point as always. Dino smirked, his eyes dark and alluring.

"About what?" Tsuna frowned and leaned back. He would not take the bait. Not this time, bucking horse.

"The Hibari family. And no cutting corners, Dino."

Said man blinked, surprised at the drop of honorifics. It only showed how serious Tsuna was. The blond Italian sighed, suddenly breaking the spell. He should stop the mind games for now. Besides, it wasn't the time for that. Across from him, Tsuna let his shoulders relax, his tense muscles crying at the much awaited release. Dino threw one disgruntled look at his younger brother.

"Where do I start?" Tsuna gave him one meaningful look.

"The beginning." Tsuna breathed out. He looked at his adoptive brother straight in the eye and there Dino saw the resolve in those eyes. It left him feeling hopeful yet at the same time, he wished that things weren't progressing so well.

"What do you want to know?" Dino asked. Tsuna's eyes dimmed but that same flaming will didn't dwindle in the slightest.

"Everything."


Please note that for the time being, my muse would be put to sleep. She's currently depressed and is unable to think of ideas to continue all of my stories. Please give her some love. For now, arrivederci tutti.


Completed: September 14, 2013