Huge thanks for Shiki for beta-ing this chapter again! It always awes me how you seem to know my story better than me. Thank you so much. ;u; And thank you to all my readers for their support and reviews! Sorry for the long wait!
Last Chapter - Nagi was hospitalized with critical injuries and only had a week left to live, unless she received the necessary implants in time. Her mother responded in vicious anger when the doctor asked her parents for organ donations, screaming that Nagi had left her son to die. Tsuna stayed the night at the hospital but was forced to go to school by Reborn. Meanwhile, the hitman stayed at the hospital to question Hibari's second-in-command, Kusakabe, who had been assaulted by the mysterious attackers in town. Discovering a clue about the assailants and their next targets, he sent Bianchi to go watch over the Sasagawa siblings. However, the enemy got to them first. Ryohei managed to protect the girls long enough for Bianchi to show up and save them.
Warnings – Violence and language
Chapter 14: And Then There Was One
Tsuna turned around to glance at Kyoko's still-empty desk. It was already halfway through the class period and she still hadn't shown up. Gokudera did not miss the way his boss kept checking between the clock and the auburnette's chair. He growled internally, irritated that the Sasagawa family seemed to give his boss so much trouble.
When class was almost over, Tsuna finally noticed that Hana was not present either. Knowing that the two walked to school all the time, dread started to creep up his spine. As soon as the bell rang, he stashed all his belongings into his bag as fast as he could and headed for the door, Gokudera close at his heels. Yamamoto was just waking up from his usual class time nap and got up to follow his friends.
Tsuna headed straight for Ryohei's classroom and peered in. The boxer was nowhere in sight, causing the brunet's heart to drop. He turned around to see two pairs of concerned eyes on him.
"Tsuna, what's wrong? Who are you looking for?" Yamamoto glanced up at the room sign.
"Stupid baseball idiot! If you hadn't spent the entirety of first period drooling all over your desk, you would have noticed that Sasagawa and Kurokawa weren't there! And it seems Turf Top isn't either." He stopped talking, having noticed Tsuna's downcast expression. He hastily added, "I'm sure they're fine. Stupid as he is, Turf Top can hold his own."
"Only just barely, though." Reborn walked up behind the teens, causing them to jump.
"Reborn!" Tsuna exclaimed. He immediately assaulted him with questions, "Do you know where Kyoko and Onii-san and Hana are? Are they ok? What happened? Wha-HIIIIIIE!"
Reborn stopped his student's rambling with a harsh kick to his shin. Gokudera squawked and caught his boss before he could fall down. Curling his lips, Reborn addressed his student. "Tsuna, I'm disappointed. I thought I told you to stop screaming like that?"
Tsuna said nothing, his earnest caramel eyes meeting Reborn's onyxes. A tiny smirk crossed Reborn's face before he took off his hat, removing the slip of paper concealed in the brim. Without a word, he handed the slip to Tsuna.
Tsuna unfolded the paper and scoured the list. "One…Kyoya Hibari…Two, Takeshi Yamamoto. Three, Hayato Gokudera. Four, Ryohei Sasagawa. Five…" He looked up at Reborn in confusion. "What is this? The rest of these people are from Hibari-san's disciplinary committee! Well…maybe not Mochida-senpai, bu-hey, Reborn!"
Reborn started walking down the hall. "I'll explain on the way. Come on. I already excused you guys for the rest of the day."
"Where are we going?" Yamamoto chirped.
There was a pause before Reborn spoke again. "The hospital. Ryohei Sasagawa was attacked and wounded."
The three teens stopped in shock. Tsuna yelled, "What do you mean Reborn? Attacked? What hap-"
This time, Reborn kicked him in the head, scolding, "Not so loud here. Do you want the whole school to hear? Now hurry up, we don't have all day now that we know Rokudo's already made his move."
The group showed varying levels of shock in response to Reborn's mention of Mukuro Rokudo. They hurried out of the school and was greeted by a fancy limo. To their surprise, Dino was inside.
"It's you." Gokudera growled. His cigarette withdrawal had not helped his attitude at all.
Dino grinned and gave a small wave. "Nice to see you again too, Gokudera."
When they were on their way, Reborn did not waste time in explaining the situation. "As you already know, Ryohei was attacked . Kyoko, Haru, and Hana were with him too." Tsuna looked horrified and was ready to interrupt but a sharp glare from Reborn stopped him. "I sent Bianchi and she saved them all just in time. Only Ryohei was injured, though his injuries are nothing to sneeze at. The assailant was feral, almost like a beast. He fought with his brutal strength and claws."
"Th-That's him!" Tsuna suddenly exclaimed. "That's the guy who attacked me!" Reborn looked up at his student in mild surprise, although he had figured as much.
"We know now that he was sent by Rokudo. The other man, the one with the yo-yo is definitely from him as well. That makes two dangerous assassins running around. They were the two behind all the attacks as of late." He pointed at the list still in Tsuna's clutches. "This is their hit-list. In the mafia, when one boss challenges another boss, they attack the strongest members of the enemy family whilst leaving the boss alone. Rokudo's ploy is to challenge Tsuna by attacking the strongest people at Namimori Middle School, since he doesn't know who is in Tsuna's family. He must have assumed they would be people near him, which would be his classmates."
"Haha, that's really a really specific list though. It's numbered, as if it's a ranking." Yamamoto gently eased the paper from Tsuna's hands to look at it again. "He's definitely got first place right. Hibari might be the strongest person in all of Namimori."
"That bastard!" Gokudera punched the seat next to him, gritting his teeth. "How could he rank me below the baseball idiot?"
"That's hardly the problem right now, Gokudera." Dino frowned, casting a stern glance at the silver-haired teen. "The problem is that he's been working his way up the list. Ryohei was fourth, which makes you and Yamamoto the next targets. These two men have been easily taking down person after person. You need to be more careful from now on."
Gokudera crossed his arms and sat back, huffing. "I'd like to see that bastard try and attack me."
"Because you handled the last encounter with one of them so well," Dino snorted.
"What was that?" the silveret hissed.
"Shut up. Both of you." Reborn said curtly, catching everyone's attention once again. "Dino is right. You two need to be very careful. The reason they left those pocket watches behind was to denote a countdown using the dial as numbers. Seems they stopped now, though. They've deliberately left this list behind for us. That means…" He looked up at the boys, eyes glinting. "He's tired of waiting."
Dino was pensive "If he's got them ranked this carefully, then we know what happened to Ranking Futa."
"What? You know where Futa is?" Tsuna cried.
"Most likely, Rokudo kidnapped him and forced him to make this list. If that's the case, we may be in trouble. Futa's rankings are very powerful. He could know our top weaknesses, our top strengths."
The car came to a stop. Tsuna looked helplessly at Reborn. "So..." Tsuna's eyes widened. "It's my fault everyone is getting hurt?" Reborn ignored him. Tsuna pressed further. "What…What do we do?"
Reborn stepped out of the car without a word to his student, prompting the teen to follow. "Reborn!"
The hitman ignored Tsuna and remained silent as he led the group through the hospital. Soon, they were in front of a room with Ryohei's nameplate on it.
All three girls were seated around the bed, which was occupied by Ryohei. His left arm was in a cast and he had a large bandage over his nose. Various bandages covered his body. A nurse was there, affixing a new bag of IV fluid to the stand beside his bed. He looked up at the new arrivals, eyes lighting up for a moment before his face clouded.
Tsuna flinched when Ryohei's steely eyes bore into him and he greeted, "Um…O-Onii-san…"
The room went quiet for a moment except for the sounds of the nurse going about her work. Tsuna looked down at the ground, blushing. What could he say? Where did he even start?
"I'm sorry! Onii-san, Kyoko, Haru, Hana, I'm sorry!" Tsuna suddenly blurted out, catching everyone by surprise. "Because of me…"
"Why are you apologizing so extremely?! You weren't the one who attacked me." Ryohei huffed, face scrunching in irritation. "He came after me specifically. He knew my name and everything." Despite his earnestness, Tsuna saw a spark of suspicion in Ryohei's eyes.
The nurse cleared her throat. "I'm sorry to interrupt your visit, but the patient needs to sleep. I must ask you all to leave. Visiting hours will be later."
"Sawada, come over here." Ryohei urged the brunet. Tsuna nodded and shuffled over, bending down to listen.
Ryohei pursed his lips in a hard line, speaking only loud enough for Tsuna to hear. "Protect Kyoko. I don't know what's going on, but I don't want her in danger again. I made her cry over me again because I couldn't take care of the bad guy. You know what's happening, don't you?" His eyes burned so strongly even in his state that Tsuna felt nervous. "Always do at everything with full energy…No, go beyond 100%. Stay active on your toes and fight vigilantly. You…owe me this much at least."
Tsuna was taken aback by the slight bit of venom in his last statement. Actually, the whole statement took him off guard. He could only nod and Ryohei cracked a weak smile as the drugs started to work their way through his system. The brunet watched as he closed his eyes and fell asleep. He caught a glimpse of the girls and finally took a closer look at them. Haru and Hana both looked downcast, but their discomfort was nowhere near the level of distress visible on Kyoko's face. It looked like she had been crying and she was trying hard to contain herself right now.
"Remember your family when danger is around. Don't give in to your personal feelings and focus your energy on protecting those important to you." Reborn hopped up onto Tsuna's shoulder as he spoke. When Tsuna looked confused, the hitman scoffed. "You asked me what to do. So I told you. There's nothing left for you to do but protect those still around. That's your duty as boss."
Tsuna looked at his distraught friends again and shook his head. "That's not right."
"Hm?" Reborn turned to his student.
"It's…" He frowned when Kyoko looked up at him. "It's my duty as their friend."
Instead of going back to school, Reborn took the teens to the park for another round of training. Tsuna found himself wanting to curl up into a ball under his covers, but knew he would never get away with it the way things were right now. He was burdened with a heavy responsibility that he was not sure he could handle. Still, he could not just leave his friends alone.
He was not completely ignorant. He remembered most of what happens when he is under the influence of Reborn's so-called Dying Will bullets. He knew he was fearless, powerful, and competent with its power flowing through his veins. The bullet gave him a boost confidence and took a little bit of his fear away.
While stretching, Tsuna asked, "Hey, Reborn?" When he had the hitman's attention, he asked, "Why can't you just shoot the Dying Will bullet into me for the fights? Why do I have to train so hard if I already have so much power with the bullet? I'd have enough regrets from dying right now anyways!"
Reborn scoffed, "You shouldn't depend on tools like that to be strong. Learn to be strong on your own."
"But there's no way I will be able to fight those crazy dangerous people anytime soon! I'll die!"
"You won't die. I'd sooner kill you than let them kill you."
"Wha…?" Tsuna blanched. "That's not reassuring at all!"
"Oh well. Time to get started. Start with one hundred pushups. You've been doing better under Ryohei's training, so you should be able to do it now. So start."
Without another word, Tsuna started his Spartan training session with Reborn. The soreness of his muscles was so common now that he found it easier to ignore. He tried to focus on Ryohei's words again, drawing motivation from that. He had never wanted anyone to get hurt because of him. It hurt to be alone, but it hurt even more to have people he cared about in danger.
"Oi, Tsuna. Tsuna!" Reborn's voice snapped him out of his musings. He looked at the hitman in confusion, seeing the tutor curl his lips in annoyance. "I told you to start running. You already finished everything else."
"O-Oh. Ok." He got to his feet and began his usual rounds around the park while Reborn watched him like a hawk.
He's improved to the point where those workout reps are ingrained into his movements. I'm impressed he's came so far in a couple of weeks. He wasn't even paying attention anymore halfway through them. Reborn mused as he watched the boy. At this rate, he might be able to handle another bullet.
When Tsuna came back around for the second lap, the baby hitman hopped onto Yamamoto's shoulder. "You run with him too. Run as fast as you can. Try to go faster than him."
"Haha, alright!" Yamamoto chirped, starting off at a brisk pace. Tsuna saw Yamamoto catching up to him and squeaked when he saw Reborn as well. He knew this exercise well enough to not want Yamamoto to outpace him. The brunet picked up his jog into a fast run, fearing the gun aimed at him.
After a few hours of intense workouts, Tsuna collapsed for a long break. Gokudera was right there with cool drinks and lunch. Tsuna smiled gratefully at the silveret and accepted the food. He leaned back against the tree to catch his breath.
"So tired…" he mumbled, trying to uncap the bottle of juice. Gokudera gently took the bottle from him an opened it before handing it back. He frowned at Tsuna's shaking hands.
"Juudaime, are you ok?"
"Just more tired than usual. Never had to work so hard. Onii-san never worked me as hard as Reborn." Tsuna took a swig of the drink, downing half the bottle in one go. "But I have to keep at it. Everyone is getting hurt because of me, so I have to get stronger. But…"
Tsuna pulled his knees up to his chest before talking again. "I-I don't know what to do once I'm stronger. What if I get hurt more? What am I doing all this for? I never really wanted to be a mafia boss. I just wanted friends and to be worth something, if only a little, to those around me. And…" He grew silent.
He stretched his legs out, sighing. "Sorry, Gokudera-kun. You're so strong; you probably think I'm being stupid. I..I don't…" He stopped again, not willing to voice his thoughts. Instead, he cracked open his lunch bento and started to eat. "Thank you…For the food." He smiled at the silveret, who was still watching him carefully. Tsuna's smile dropped a little and he went back to his food.
Gokudera knew at some point that Tsuna's desire to help his friends was going to be at odds with his physical capabilities. His boss had the best of intentions for his friends, but there was only so much he was able to do at his level. Gokudera did not know how to help him other than pushing him to get better.
"I don't think you're stupid," he huffed. Tsuna turned in surprise. "I told you before. When it comes to yourself, you can't do squat. You have people around you to depend on. You don't have to shoulder everything yourself! I'm here!" Gokudera turned to him earnestly, emeralds blazing. "I'll help you get stronger so you don't have these kinds of thoughts anymore! I swear it on my title as your right-hand man!"
After hearing his inspiring words, Tsuna just did not have to heart to tell him off about the right-hand man business. He smiled and nodded. "I'm in your care then."
The silveret grinned in return.
After lunch, the group resumed training. Reborn had Tsuna dodge Yamamoto's ridiculously fast pitches again, some of which he was still unable to dodge, resulting in more than one painful bruise.
It was later in the afternoon when Reborn decided to pull out the big guns. "Hey, Gokudera, we're going to need your dynamite now."
"Dynamite…? Reborn, we aren't going to use dynamite here in the park, are we?" Tsuna exclaimed, whirling on the hitman.
"Sure, why not?"
"We can't trash the park! And isn't that really dangerous?"
"As opposed to your current situation? Knowing what danger feels like is a good thing. Now quit whining and let's start." Reborn turned to Gokudera again. "Just aim for him, just like during your duel. Tsuna needs to learn how to dodge in real life situations."
Hesitating, Gokudera said, "I think that's a little risky, though. What if I mess up and hurt Juudaime?"
"Then it's his fault. We don't have all day, so hurry up and start. I'll pay the costs for your supplies to make more dynamite later."
Reluctantly, Gokudera started to take out his dynamite. Yamamoto interjected, "Why don't we move somewhere else then? We really shouldn't make a mess of this pretty place, haha."
Tsuna could not understand how Yamamoto treated everything so nonchalantly. He was glad, however, that Reborn heeded his suggestion this time and sighed in relief. "Alright, let's go to the mountains then. No one will be there."
By the time they reached the mountains, the sun was starting to set and Tsuna was beyond exhausted. "Alright, Gokudera, start." Reborn commanded, sitting back to watch.
Gokudera and Tsuna exchanged a glance and the latter gritted his teeth and nodded. Setting his mouth in a tight line, Gokudera pulled the string of his dynamite and set it to ignite. Tsuna anticipated his first throw, especially since it seemed like Gokudera was going easy, and dodged it. Seeing that his boss was doing fine, the silveret picked up his pace and started to toss faster and in less predictable places.
Tsuna's vision started to blur with all the smoke and his ears rang from the explosions. Once in a while he narrowly escaped from a blast and the momentum pushed him into a tree or rock. Eventually, it was hard to tell left from right and he ran straight into the path of a blast. He cried out when the blast sent him sprawling across the ground and he managed to soften the impact. Gokudera stopped at once and ran towards his boss.
"Juudaime! Are you ok?" he cried, shaking Tsuna. With his eyes closed, Tsuna gave a slow nod and pushed himself up into sitting position. His breath came out in wheezes and he started to cough from all the smoke.
"We're not done yet. Keep going," Reborn said, hopping down from his tree.
Gokudera opened his mouth to protest, but Yamamoto beat him to it. "Haha, I think that's enough for today. Tsuna already worked out a lot. A break would be nice, eh? Let's go to my place for sushi!"
Tsuna said nothing, opening his eyes to look at Reborn. The hitman sighed before walking over and taking a seat on Yamamoto's shoulder. "Very well. Let's head down for the night. Tsuna still needs to do his homework."
With that, the teens started to head down the mountain. Reborn took one last look behind him as the others went ahead, frowning. Deciding not to say anything about the three girls hiding in the trees, he followed after the boys.
Once the boys were out of sight, Hana was the first to speak. "What the hell was that? My ears are still ringing from all that fricking dynamite! That's so dangerous! What were they even doing?"
"I…I have no idea…" Haru murmured, twisting his skirt in her hands. "Reborn was…kinda scary just now."
Kyoko said nothing, not sure what to make of it all. All she could see was the scary man…no, it was a beast. That beast that nearly killed her brother had dominated her thoughts throughout the day. She remembered the day she met I-Pin and Lambo and how scary that encounter had been.
"This mafia game is getting really serious," Haru nervously commented.
Kyoko shook her head. "I don't…I don't think this is a game anymore."
Hana glanced at her friend and frowned. She looked up at the sky and her frown deepened. "Well, no use standing around here in the middle of nowhere. Let's go home before it becomes too dark to see. We'll talk to those idiot boys tomorrow."
With that, the girls started after the boys.
Down at the base of the mountain, the boys continued the long trek to Yamamoto's sushi restaurant. When they finally reached there, Tsuna got his long awaited rest. He would have passed out on his feet if Gokudera had not shouldered his boss. Yamamoto and Gokudera led Tsuna to the sushi bar and helped him into a chair.
"Wow, Tsuna looks like death himself today. What happened, boys?" Tsuyoshi asked, raising his eyebrows at the boy slumped before him.
"Haha he was working out!" Yamamoto chimed, picking up Tsuna's favorite fatty tuna for him.
"That must have been quite the workout. Take it easy, yeah boys?" Tsuyoshi grinned, cutting up a piece of fish. "Don't overdo things, even if your bodies are at their prime. I wish I had as much energy as you got now! I'm just not what I was 30 years ago!" He laughed, placing out another plate of sushi before the teens. "Eat up! Gotta restore all that energy, eh?"
"Thanks, Pops!" Yamamoto grinned, offering food to his friends. Gokudera took it gladly, although he tried to eat slowly so as to not show just how famished he was. Tsuna, on the other hand, was still very out of it. A soft poke from Yamamoto brought him back to his senses and he squeaked a little.
"Th-Thanks for the food!" he cried out, fumbling for his chopsticks.
"Don't mention it, kid. Take care of yourself, eh?" Tsuyoshi grinned, going off to tend to another customer.
After dinner was over, it took a lot of coaxing (and a couple threats on Reborn's part) to finally get Tsuna to stand up. Now that he had let all his adrenaline leave, he was having difficulty even standing, let alone staying awake. He was ready to go home and sleep.
As if reading his mind, once the group was outside, Reborn piped up, "Tsuna, you have homework at home. Don't forget."
The brunet answered with a groan. Could Reborn just let it go for one night? As they walked through the chilly and dark streets of Namimori, Tsuna considered possible bargains he could strike up with Reborn. It was not like anything was due tomorrow anyways. His brain was processing his thoughts slowly, so it took half of the trip to finally come up with a good enough excuse. "Hey, Reborn-"
"Shh, Juudaime." Gokudera interrupted, suddenly stopping. The brunet ran into him, squeaking. Yamamoto had stopped as well, looking around with a frown. He had started to carry around his baseball bat as of late and had now taken it from his bag.
All was silent for a moment except for the buzzing of the streetlight overhead. The teens strained to listen, their eyes scanning the foreboding shadows before them. Tsuna wanted to ask them what they had heard but something in him was going crazy. He knew there was something very dangerous nearby.
He snapped his head to the right just as Reborn cocked his gun. "The right!" he screamed as a snarling beast burst from the shadows.
Yamamoto pushed the brunet out of the way at that instant whilst brandishing his bat. Fangs met metal in a grating screech. A shock of blond hair covered the beast's head and the group immediately knew who it was. Yamamoto grunted and pivoted, allowing the beast to surge past him. "What strength…" he breathed, positioning himself for the next assault. In the dim light of the lamp, he saw gouges where the fangs had met with his bat.
Tsuna started to head back to the group when his body stopped him again. Above this time? He looked up, catching a glint of silver near the lamp. "Gokudera-kun, up there!" He pointed at the lamp.
"Got it!" The bomber whipped out a few of his leftover sticks of dynamite, igniting and sending them flying in one fluid motion. The explosives met with a rain of needles and the tremor of the explosion rocked the quiet neighborhood. A few screams from within houses could be heard.
Reborn clicked his tongue. "Both of them are here this time, huh?" He took off at a run, shouting, "We need to run. At least to a different place."
"To the park!" Yamamoto shouted, serious for once. Gokudera pulled out a couple more bombs and threw them at the ground, creating a thick smoke screen.
"Oi, baseball idiot! I hope you know those guys aren't going to talk! You better be ready to fight for your life!" Gokudera shouted at Yamamoto.
"Yeah…I know…" he responded, face set in a deep frown.
Gritting his teeth, Tsuna started after his friends, pushing his exhausted body to keep moving, but he could feel himself falling behind. He could also feel their pursuers hot on their trail. Luckily, they were very close to the park and arrived in a matter of minutes. In the open space lit by lamps, they could face their attackers without worrying about civilian casualties.
"Stopped running, did ya now?" the familiar voice that spoke made Tsuna flinch and his healed wounds pricked with slight pain. The blond beast stepped out into the light, his fangs glinting.
"Chikusa Kakimoto and Ken Joshima. Known to be associated with Mukuro Rokudo for many years now." Reborn commented when both of the assassins appeared.
"Oh, the kid's done his research, hasn't he?" the beast grinned.
"Coming after the second and third on your list now, huh?" Gokudera snarled, feeling his pockets for whatever was left of his dynamite.
The blond beast seemed to want to speak again, but his companion silenced him. "Ken, we aren't here to chat. Take care of your target as planned."
"Aw, Kaki-pi, you ruin the fun, byon!" Ken pouted before turning back to stare rabidly at Yamamoto. "Oh well, I can settle for KILLING HIM."
Ken shot off at such a blinding speed that Yamamoto barely got out of the way. The baseball star grunted again, pushing off his back foot and making a bee-line for Ken.
I'll try making the first move this time! Yamamoto planted his forward foot adjacent to Ken's and swung his bat with all the might he could muster. To his shock, Ken's arm shot up and caught it without any effort. Before he could recollect his thoughts, the beast kicked Yamamoto straight in the stomach. The teen gasped, collapsing to his knees. His bat clattered to the ground, now a dented and bent mess.
"Yamamoto!" Tsuna screamed, running towards him.
"No, Juudaime, stay back! I got this!" Gokudera yelled, spinning and unleashing a round of smaller sticks of explosives. Tsuna stopped his approach and retracted his steps, not wanting to get caught up in the onslaught. Gokudera dashed over to Yamamoto before they detonated, covering his companion with his own body. The bombs exploded, several catching Ken. The other leapt out of the way again, escaping the explosives completely. Ken roared as his fur caught on fire. He ran over to a patch of open grass and started to roll on it.
Gokudera got back to his feet in the meantime, brushing off the dust on his clothes. "Get the hell up, baseball idiot!"
"Yeah…" Yamamoto winced, taking a shaky breath before grabbing his disfigured bat and getting to his feet. He hunched over a little, trying to control his breath. Tsuna started heading back towards his friends, not sure what he could do. Adrenaline kept him moving and alert.
Chikusa clicked his tongue, throwing his yo-yo forward and unleashing another volley of arrows. The two boys easily dodged this time, although Yamamoto stumbled a little from his earlier injury. That caught Chikusa's attention and he immediately directed his attacks at the weakened teen.
Tsuna reached Yamamoto just in time to shove the teen away, although he sent them both tumbling to the ground. As they tried to recover, Ken returned, heading straight for Gokudera. The bomber scoffed, tossing out several sticks of dynamite. Ken swiped at all of them, causing them to fly off trajectory and to the side.
"Shit!" Gokudera swore, taking a step back as he reached for more explosives. Ken caught up with him at this point, his jaws wide open to bite down on the bomber. With a daring idea in his head, Gokudera grit his teeth and stood his ground, withdrawing a small stick of dynamite and holding his arm in front of him to block the incoming beast. However, he was not strong enough to stop Ken's jaws, which enclosed forcefully on the bottom half of his forearm.
Gokudera let out a pained screamed, nearly letting go of the dynamite in his captured hand. Tsuna screamed out for his friend, but Chikusa said, "You don't have time to worry about others."
"Tsuna!" Yamamoto cried, grabbing the brunet and rolling out of the way of another flurry of needles. He had gotten his breath back and was ready to fight again. However, a glance down at his bat told him his chances of victory were slim.
Ken smirked with Gokudera's arm in his mouth. "You taste disgusting, byon! All that gunpowder from your explosives really ruins your flavor!"
"O-Oh?" Gokudera gritted out, trying to control his breathing. Shit, that really hurt. He tried to move his fingers, but his arm was going numb. It felt like something had been broken, much to his chagrin. He endeavored and shakily pulled the string of his dynamite, setting it ablaze. He immediately grabbed a fistful of Ken's hair and held fast.
Ken seemed to realize what Gokudera had done and tried to open his open his mouth, but the bomber forced his head down. The movement made the fangs puncture further into his flesh, but he fought back another scream. "Taste some mo-more of it then, asshole," Gokudera smirked.
The bombs exploded inside of Ken's mouth, setting the beast roaring in pain. Gokudera screamed again, stumbling back with his now freed, but mangled, arm. It hung limply at his side. "Sh-Shit that…that really…hurts…" he hissed, not daring to touch it. It did not respond to his will to move it and he wondered if he may have overdone it this time.
Ken was groveling on the ground, crying out in pain, his jaws gaping. Curling his lips, Gokudera stumbled over to him, bringing down a crushing foot atop his head. "Delicious, right, you sick freak?" When he tried to stomp on his head again, a dizzy spell brought on by the pain caused him to slip and fall instead. He landed on his side, where he stayed, clutching his bleeding arm.
Chikusa's eyes widened for a second at Ken's defeat but the moment he saw Gokudera fall, he did not waste the chance. Yamamoto seemed to notice that Chikusa's target had changed and threw himself forward, knocking Chikusa off balance. Yamamoto's eyes flitted to Gokudera's arm for a second and he felt his stomach churn. The instinct that kicked in back at the gang hangout flared up within Yamamoto again, and he poised himself to strike at his opponent lying below him. However, Chikusa rolled out of the way of the bat, which missed him by inches.
"Ken, can you still fight?" Chikusa called out, rolling to his feet and adjusting his glasses. Yamamoto gritted his teeth and charged at Chikusa, going for another hit.
The blond beast slowly got to his feet, his breath coming out in angry wheezes. Every breath seemed to hurt him. His eyes, bloodshot and ferocious, scanned around for Gokudera. Knowing that he was in danger, Gokudera hastily got to his feet, enduring his arm and running on pure adrenaline. "He's a monster…" he breathed, not believing that the beast was still moving after taking that much damage.
Ken said nothing, only roared and sped off after Gokudera. The bomber's eyes widened and he leapt out of the way just in time. He tossed out another smoke screen to buy himself time to come up with a new plan.
However, after losing his initial target, Ken sniffed out new prey. Yamamoto had his back turned, busy with his attack on Chikusa. He was far too busy to see Ken stalking towards him.
"Yamamoto, behind you!" Tsuna cried. His friend whipped around just in time to see Ken pounce on him. He held his bat up as a last ditch attempt at blocking Ken's fangs.
With a grating groan, Yamamoto's bat finally snapped in half from the attack. Ken spat out the bat and roared in pain. As he tried to side-step and escape, Ken's claws came down and gripped his arm like a vice. It seemed like the beast had no intention of using his mouth anymore. Yamamoto swung the remaining half of his bat at the beast, successfully getting Ken to let go.
Yamamoto barely had time to retreat before Chikusa was after him again. However, a stick of dynamite appeared right above the duo and Yamamoto immediately leapt back just in time to avoid most of the explosion's force.
Things were quiet for a while. Neither side made another move. Reborn had been watching from the sidelines since the start and did not like what he was seeing. The enemy had barely taken any damage and Gokudera and Yamamoto had already sustained substantial injuries. Tsuna had no way to fight and Reborn did not want to risk another Dying Will Bullet at the moment. Still, if worse came to worst, he could just step in. Right now, he wanted to see if the teens were capable of any more, although it looked like they were reaching their limits.
"Hm." Chikusa studied his opponents, eyes scanning over them. Ken sidled up to his side, sucking in pained breaths. Likewise, his eyes darted from person to person, lingering a little longer on Gokudera.
Chikusa said something too quietly for the three to hear, but Reborn could definitely discern his words. He started, turning to the teens. "He's going after-"
But by the time he started to talk, Chikusa already shot another round of needles at Yamamoto who was too distracted by them to notice Ken speeding towards him. Unexpectedly, Ken rushed past the baseball star without so much as a glance and raced straight for…
"Juudaime!" Gokudera screamed, catching onto Ken's ploy immediately and wasted not a second more in dashing to his boss. Yamamoto whipped around in shock and was caught by a few of Chikusa's needles. He was forced to pay attention to the enemy before him.
An enemy who was no longer in front of him. Yamamoto gasped, spinning around to try and find Chikusa. His wounds were throbbing and causing his mind to turn in circles.
Tsuna yelped and dived to the side, falling to the ground. He scurried to his feet as Ken made a turn and came after him again. It was clear that the beast was far faster than the brunet and he was almost overtaken when Gokudera sent a volley of mini explosives between the two, sending them careening in opposite directions. Yamamoto immediately headed towards the brunet, still on alert for Chikusa.
With a yelp, Tsuna rolled back to his feet, feeling utterly alone even though Gokudera and Yamamoto were but several feet away from him now. He turned to his tutor, screaming, "Reborn! I want to fight too! Help!" When he got no response, he tried to yell again, but a sudden sense of foreboding flared up within him.
Gokudera saw him first. There was movement up ahead of him and by pure instinct, he sprinted for Tsuna, who was looking in the wrong direction for the threat he had sensed. Yamamoto sensed him next and took off in his own mad sprint.
Tsuna was not quite sure what had knocked him off his feet again and yelled in alarm. In the next moment, he realized it was Gokudera. Then, he noticed that the silveret was not moving anymore.
"Gokudera-kun!" Tsuna screamed, shaking his friend. His hand felt something wet and he choked when he saw it was blood. It was then that he saw the various needles protruding from Gokudera's entire upper body and how fast the blood from those fresh wounds was spreading. Yamamoto slid down next to Tsuna, keeping an eye on Chikusa and Ken, who were circling around the trio. Why were they not attacking?
"Hey, Gokudera-kun. Goku…Wake up! Wake up!" Tsuna started shaking him vigorously. Nagi flashed across his mind and he gasped, clasping both hands up to his mouth.
Yamamoto took the moment to direct his attention to his friends. "Tsuna, don't shake him so much! It will worsen the wounds!"
It was a mistake to take his attention off of their enemies. The moment his guard was dropped even a little bit, Chikusa and Ken closed in. Ken grabbed Yamamoto in a headlock, causing the teen to gasp and clutch at the beast's vice grip. Tsuna lurched forward towards Yamamoto but felt a prick at the back of his neck. His blood ran cold when he heard Chikusa's voice. "That's far enough."
"Took….long enough." Ken grated out. Yamamoto kept fighting against his grip, but the blond boy only tightened it.
Tsuna could only kneel there in shock, trembling violently. Unwanted tears started to drip down his face and he fought for control of his emotions, his thoughts going a mile a second.
"You…gotta be kidding. This…crybaby…is who Mukuro-sama's challenging?" Ken gave a harsh laugh. Yamamoto's struggles were becoming weaker. "He let his…subordinates fall like that. He only…ran!" Despite his stinging mouth, Ken did not waste the chance to gloat. It was a hard-earned victory after all.
Tsuna was choking on his tears trying to stop them, but he did not dare move. He shakily hung his head, trying to hide his face from the taunting enemies. He never wanted this. He always thought that taking beatings and abuse from bullies was painful. But watching his friends literally sacrifice themselves for him tore far more excruciating wounds in him. What a sick and cruel twist. He thought having people defend him would feel great; to feel loved and protected was supposed to be nice. Not like this.
Not like this at all.
Yamamoto had completely stopped moving now. Ken scoffed and released his grip, letting the teen collapse in a heap on the ground. "What now, byon?" he asked Chikusa.
"Mukuro-sama is tired of waiting. We might as well bring him with us. Number one was already taken down anyways."
The hitman started. They could only have mean Hibari. Was he defeated?
"Let's go then. My…mouth's hurting like a bitch." Ken sucked in a breath and hissed in pain. He stalked forward and grabbed Tsuna's thin arm in his giant hand, yanking the brunet forward.
So fragile. So frail. So weak. Tsuna could do absolutely nothing. Oh, how he wished he could fight.
"Re-Reborn." Tsuna sobbed.
Reborn could step in and fix everything right now. Chikusa and Ken were easy prey for him. Gokudera and Yamamoto had already done everything they could at their current level. Reborn could easily stop things right now. Chikusa and Ken seemed to have forgotten about his presence, or had not noticed it at all.
It would be so easy.
Leon transformed in a burst of technicolor, lighting up the dark night. Reborn clicked off the safety and took aim. The bullet shot smoothly out of his gun and connected with its target.
"That makes six." Reborn breathed as Tsuna gasped and fell forward, the blood spurting from the back of his head. Chikusa and Ken cried out in alarm, both of their gazes shooting straight to Reborn.
"H-He killed the crybaby!" Ken screamed. "What the fuck was that?"
Chikusa was at more at a loss for words than usual. "Wha-?"
A fist connected with Chikusa's jaw, sending him crashing to the ground. Without a break in step, a foot slammed into Ken's stomach and he went careening back. The two stared in shock at the transformed brunet, unable to form coherent words.
Tsuna's Dying Will flame flickered savagely to match the ferocious expression on his face. He unleashed an enraged shout and leapt on top of Chikusa, delivering another crushing punch to his face, breaking his opponent's glasses. Then he punched again, and again, and again. Chikusa grunted in pain with each fist and tried to fight off the raging brunet atop him to no avail.
The onslaught only stopped when Ken reached out to pull Tsuna off. The brunet transferred his attention to the beast immediately, planting his arms behind him and kicking his feet up in a back-flip. He hooked his knees around Ken's neck and held fast. Using the momentum of his flip, he continued to spin, sideways now, and used the force of his spin to knock Ken off balance and send him crashing down. He kept his knees around Ken's neck and proceeded to choke him. Ken started to gag and tried to pry off Tsuna's legs.
Tsuna only let go when Chikusa finally collected himself enough to attack the brunet. He immediately flipped away from the duo.
"Wh-What the hell is he?" Ken gasped and took a deep gulp of air. Chikusa shook his head, never taking his eyes off of the glowing brunet.
Without giving them a chance to regroup, Tsuna sped forward and hurled a punch at Ken. The beast caught it just in time and grunted as he was shoved back by the sheer force of the attack. Tsuna continued to drive his opponent back with pure power and Ken's eyes widened in realization.
For the first time since he had gained his beastly powers, he was being overpowered in strength.
"O-Oi! Y-you're kidding!" Ken cried. He was forced to dodge when Tsuna sent his free fist forward. The brunet stood there heaving savagely.
"Ken, let's leave. We did what we were sent out to do," Chikusa said, clutching his face. "Leave him to Mukuro-sama."
Ken nodded numbly, taking several steps back. He announced, "We had our fun. Smell you later, crybaby!" He turned tail and sprinted away. Chikusa disappeared into the shadows. Just like that, the two assassins were gone.
Tsuna was ready to give chase, but Reborn kicked his student in the head. However, the brunet did not seem like he was ready to quit and started forward again. Clicking his tongue, Reborn leapt up towards Tsuna for another kick. However, the teen turned around with a feral snarl, swiping at the baby. Reborn dodged in midair and landed on Tsuna's head, cocking his gun with a loud snap. "That's enough, Tsuna!"
The night suddenly filled with an uncomfortable silence. Seconds ticked by as Tsuna's flame began to dim and wither. Sensing his student was ready to topple, Reborn hopped off. Leon turned into a cell phone just as Tsuna phased out of his Dying Will and collapsed.
Reborn noticed right away that his student was trembling violently, his eyes wide. Fearing the consequences of the shot, he asked, "Oi, Tsuna, what's wrong?"
Tsuna's mouth was gaping as if he was trying to speak. He could not move his arms and legs at all. He was not even sure how to move his body. Was he saying anything? His delirious eyes fluttered to Reborn, who seemed to be saying something. Tsuna could not hear him. He wanted to ask him to speak up, but he was not sure how to move his mouth anymore.
He hoped he'd done enough. Were Yamamoto and Gokudera-kun safe? Were the enemies gone? Why could he not remember a single thing from his fight?
He could feel his head splitting open though. Joy, it was that horrible headache again. Why was he getting so many of those lately? Somewhere through the pain, dark waters seemed to flood his mind. He was quickly going under. The water drowned out everything around, including the pain.
Ah the darkness. Sweet, sweet oblivion.
Reborn watched as Tsuna passed out again. "So he wasn't ready yet…" He pursed his lips, dialing a number. "Dino bring the ambulance to the park. We need to get to the hospital now." He hung up and dialed Shamal's number.
The doctor picked up after three rings, groaning, "Reborn, this is a really bad time."
The hitman could hear a woman giggling in the background, but said, "Don't care. Meet me at the Vongola's hospital. You better be there by the time I arrive."
Dino reached the park very quickly after the call. He frowned at the unconscious trio as he helped them into the ambulance. "They couldn't handle Rokudo's men?"
"They held their own for a little while, but they were outclassed from the start. I had Tsuna finish up the fight," Reborn replied. "The bullet is still too much for him. The reaction from it was much worse this time. And look." He pointed at the near-naked boy. "There are more lesions this time. I want Shamal's assessment on his condition."
Dino and Reborn sat in silence on the way to the hospital. The siren numbed out Reborn's senses, leaving him with his thoughts. Tsuna's behavior had been a surprise to him. It was unrestrained, as if he acted on pure instinct. Not to mention that his student was reacting worse to the bullet that served as his only source of power.
The situation just got a lot more complicated. For a second, Reborn doubted his choice, but he quickly perished the thought. He was never wrong about his choices, so he was determined to see this student through to the end.
But you were wrong once in your life. Your past life. That nagging thought sent the hitman into a bout of irritation.
Shamal was in a worse mood when everyone showed up. Reborn ignored the grumbling doctor and said, "Shamal, do a check up on Tsuna."
After catching sight of the brunet, Shamal's bad mood seemed to lift a little. "Well, looks like the Skullitis got worse. What did you do?"
Shamal gave Reborn a withering look. The baby shrugged. "He asked me to. The situation warranted it."
"Well, thanks to that, he's even worse off now." Shamal studied one of the lesions. "It's at the stage where his actions should be sporadic. Did anything of the sort happen?"
Reborn recounted Tsuna's feral reaction. "He definitely didn't act like himself in his Dying Will. He's usually restrained and unwilling to hurt his enemies, but he was ruthless this time. He tried to swipe at me when I tried to stop him."
"Sounds 'bout right," Shamal mumbled. "And his post-Dying Will reaction?"
"Severe trembling, and it appeared like he lost all of his senses and motor skills. He passed out almost immediately."
Shamal chewed on that information for a bit. "That's new." With a sigh, he snapped his fingers. His mosquito flew out from Reborn's hat and landed on Tsuna. "Increase dosage to one third," he commanded the mosquito. The insect did as it was told before going back to Reborn.
The doctor turned to the hitman, eyebrows furrowed, "No more shots if you know what's good for him. I can tell he put on a little weight and muscle, but it's not nearly enough. His body mass index is still far too low."
"I can't make that promise. Rokudo has been coming after him. The last of his family just got defeated today. I don't think they can fight for a while."
"Why can't you take care of Rokudo then?"
Reborn looked up at the doctor with his onyx eyes. After a while, Shamal broke eye contact with a sigh. "Do what you will. The kid's life is in your hands. Now if you'll excuse me." He headed to the door. "I got a lady friend waiting for me."
Oh man, when I started this chapter, I was having a hard time even getting 3000 words down. Once I got to the fight, it just suddenly turned into 8000. Jeez. Hope you guys enjoyed this chapter! Sorry for the long wait again.
I've been drawing a lot lately to try and improve more. I had a ton of fun selling at Anime Expo but seeing how good everyone was around me made me want to pick up my game. I wanted to take advantage of the summer to draw as much as I can before I have to go back to school. I'll try to update once more before school starts, but no promises, as usual. I daresay my next update might not come until Christmas time, cry. I'm so sorry for my inconsistency, you guys! ;_;
 If you're having a hard time visualizing this, Google image "martial arts girl taking down male opponent" and click on the first one with the man and girl in blue gi's(martial art uniforms). It should be an animated gif. Shit is REALLY badass. Trust me when I say you should take the time to look it up.
Thanks again guys! Love you all for reading and reviewing!