Chapter 53: Drowning out Hurt

Tsuna found himself staring at empty space, the voice still echoing through his marginally less aching head.

"Does the primarian know what such a bond will do to you?"

Blinking, Tsuna looked around, but he still only saw a blank, empty…room?

"For the record, I wasn't interested in your heart. The primarian was being dramatic. I would have settled for a portion of your flame. Enough so I could move and leave this ridiculous shop."

"Um…who are you?" asked Tsuna, shrinking into his kung fu uniform's large sleeves. He stood spotlighted by the lack of...everything. Nothingness had never been a word Tsuna had thought to use before, but it seemed to exemplify this place.

"You're pretty naïve. Why would you touch my maw simply because the primarian told you so? He might have been trying to get rid of you. It would solve many of his problems," the voice continued. A large white dragon separated itself from the white space, the exact shape of the dragon statue only much much bigger. Tsuna took a step back. "He definitely cannot be thinking that I would listen to you. I would be more likely to eat your heart."

"I-I thought you weren't interested in my heart," said Tsuna taking another step back. He hesitated. He was looking at the dragon, but something wasn't right. Tsuna couldn't tell whether the dragon would eat him or not. He neither felt hot or calm, and his limbs quivered with panic. He couldn't feel the heat. He couldn't feel it cool or warm or anything. As if the heat was gone.

"I did," said the dragon. Its snarling mouth streaked right into Tsuna's face. "But why would I tell you the truth?"

Tsuna bit back a yelp that still managed to escape as a whimper, and he fell backwards. The dragon snorted.

"And the primarian expects you to be my master," said the dragon while Tsuna tried to regain control of his spasmic limbs. "He has lost it in the last century."

Clutching his fists tight enough to have his nails dig almost through his gloves, Tsuna stood straight and gazed into the fiery orange eyes. They burned. He could feel his stomach boiling and his blood evaporating. But he didn't look away, even as none of his own unnatural heat powered him. The dragon cocked his head, and Tsuna's body instantly cooled as smoke curled out the dragon's snout in a snort.

"Flames have no power here, outside of my own," said the dragon. "Seeing as this is my heart."

"Your heart?" asked Tsuna, unconsciously cocking his own head to match the dragons.

"Soul, mind, heart. Take your pick," said the dragon flicking his two long whiskers. "It is me. As such, you are cut off from your body and your flames. I could devour you, your heart, mind, soul, or whatever, without any trouble."

This time Tsuna didn't step back. He clutched his fists and didn't look away. The dragon yawned and crouched down to lay down on his stomach. Tsuna didn't move. After getting comfortable, neither did the dragon.

For a long moment, Tsuna stared at the dragon, and the dragon kept his eyes loosely on Tsuna. Finally, Tsuna bent down and sat in seiza in front of the dragon. The dragon didn't blink. Despite not being attached to his body or whatever it was the dragon had done, Tsuna started to get tired. His eyes sagged, and his head lolled onto his hand. The dragon's jaw opened in another yawn. Tsuna let his eyes slip from the dragon and rove around him.

"…empty," Tsuna said quietly.

"It is, isn't it," said the dragon, the smoke stilling in face of the words. "A bane of my race's existence. We are not much without a master."

The hand below Tsuna's head slipped, but the brunette managed to keep his forehead from hitting the floor. He regained his balance and sat back though not really in a proper seiza.

"Why?" asked Tsuna.

"Because we are nothing without a master. We gain whatever characteristics our masters need, and then we go back to being this. In the process, we lose ourselves. I don't remember who I used to be when I started out. I don't believe it matters. I just know that it would be best if I was tied to a master who compliments my current self. Who would fill this with something comfortable for me."

The white expanse suddenly gleamed to white, like the inside of the hospital that held his mother when she…Tsuna closed his eyes.

"Are you ready to reenter your body?"

Tsuna's fists uncurled long enough to wrap around his knees, and his eyes opened to gaze at an empty floor. Slowly, he nodded. The smoke curled at the edge of his vision.

"Good," said the dragon, and the same instant Tsuna's senses started to fade. A thought widened the brown eyes and a word escaped out of Tsuna's mouth.


The fading sharpened, and Tsuna raised his head to face the dragon again, his back straight and legs in their proper places.

"What is your name?"

The smoke cut off.

"Name? I have none until my master gives me one," said the dragon.

"But," Tsuna said, the word almost a stutter. "Don't you have one you like?"

The dragon rose to his full height a few feet above Tsuna's head. The dragon's eyes burned brightly again, but Tsuna's body didn't.

"I have none," said the dragon. "I don't care for such things."

"Why?" The soft question echoed the one from earlier, but the tone was entirely different. The dragon's mouth opened in something more threatening than a yawn as the dragon pushed it right in fron of Tsuna's face.

"Because, little paradox, they were given to me by my masters," snarled the dragon.

"Did you hate them?" asked Tsuna, wishing he could feel the heat licking under his skin. The senselessness left him off-balance and oddly weak. Which was weird because Tsuna already thought he was those things.

"No." The dragon's size deflated slightly. "It was much worse than that."


"I loved them."

The dragon and teen stood in the emptiness surrounded by filled silence, and then Tsuna stretched out his hand and placed it on the dragon's lowered, snarling snout. The dragon growled and dropped his snout out from under Tsuna's hand, but the hand moved quickly to the top of the dragon's head before it could return to its towering height.

"Are you lonely?" The question whispered between them, and the dragon billowed smoke out of his nostrils that engulfed Tsuna's face. Coughs racked Tsuna's body (was it a body?), and Tsuna's fingers clutched the ridge on the top of the dragon's head.

"Let go of me," the dragon roared, the sound rattling through Tsuna's whole body (soul? heart?). "Leave or I will devour you."

The coughs didn't let Tsuna talk, so Tsuna tightened his hold on the dragon's head. He remembered what it felt like to not want someone to let go. Even when the person gripped so tight that Tsuna felt like running. Tsuna had run. And while he had run to get away and loosen the grip that he still wasn't used to, he feared more than anything that their grip would finally slip and let him go. But he was starting to believe that it wouldn't. That the grip his friends had on him wouldn't ever slip. Maybe this dragon wanted to believe that too.

The smoke cleared enough for Tsuna to see the dragon's eyes. The orange eyes no longer burned. They pierced Tsuna, like if they were sharp swords cutting through a straw post. Tsuna had seen Takeshi preform such a trick at the start of their training.

Tsuna's heart took the full impact, and Tsuna wanted desperately to return home. To return to his mother, Takeshi, Yamamoto-san, Fon, and the others. He wanted them to know he would get Tamaki back without carelessly tossing his own life away. He wanted them to see some other expression than the one in those broken, seared eyes, because he knew (and why did he suddenly feel warmth where there was none before?) that he had shown them all that look before running, too scared of failing to notice that by running he was failing them.

Pulling at his hand that somehow felt like part of the dragon's head, Tsuna brought up the dragon's forehead to his own. The dragon's skin was scaly and slick but still felt soft, and the snout that was still pouring our smoke bumped Tsuna's chest reminding Tsuna of the creature's size.

"Please let me help you," whispered Tsuna. Memories of his own friends saying that same thing in so many ways had him placing his other hand under the dragon's jaw. "Please."

"Zarathos," the dragon said as the smoke evaporated completely. "I think my first name was Zarathos."

A smile forced back Tsuna's cheeks, and the hand on top of the dragon's – Zarathos's head slid down to join the other and so form a type of embrace. Tsuna didn't see the white blankness streak orange and smudge red-brown. Nor did he notice the warm breeze blowing past them to fill the no-longer empty space. Lights filled every crevice, like the sky on a well-awaited sunrise. Twin whiskers wrapped around Tsuna's right arm and distracted the teen with the help of softly glowing orange eyes. The warming light touched Tsuna's own face and highlighted the teen's wide, gentle smile.

"Thank you, Zarathos."

"Lambo! It's I-pin's turn!"

Lambo looked down from his perch on 哥哥''s arms and stuck out his tongue at I-pin. Lambo wasn't going to leave 哥哥' arms until 哥哥' got home. If not 哥哥' might disappear again.

"Nyah! Lambo isn't giving up his seat."

"Lambo, you need to let I-pin have a turn," said 哥哥', but he didn't put Lambo down. Lambo crossed his arms. He always obeyed his 哥哥', because if not 哥哥' might end up liking I-pin better. But he wouldn't leave 哥哥' arms.

"No," said Lambo. "Lambo needs to sit here to protect 哥哥'."

"But I need you to protect I-pin and Fuuta too," said 哥哥'. Lambo felt his 哥哥''s arms shake a bit. "And besides, I think the only one who is going to attack me right now is Reborn."

"Don't worry! Lambo-sama will protect 哥哥' from Reborn!"

"I don't think that's a good idea," said 哥哥' with his smile that wasn't a real smile. 哥哥''s real smile was big and bright and really, really warm.

"Reborn mean. Master say so," said I-pin. "Master told I-pin to no fight Reborn, and I-pin stronger than Lambo."

"Heh-heh," Lambo laughed as he almost stood up in 哥哥''s arms. "Lambo-sama was just going easy on you when he practiced fighting with you. Lambo-sama can beat up anyone, even Reborn!"

"Please don't say that in front of Reborn, Lambo," said 哥哥'. "He will probably use it as an excuse to hurt you and call it training."

"And why would I do that, Dame-Tsuna?" asked a deep voice. 哥哥''s arms grew awkwardly firm under Lambo, and 哥哥''s grip grew tighter.

"It appears that our student knows your methods well," said a not-so-deep voice that Lambo recognized as I-pin's master. The master stood on a wall not too far from where Lambo and I-pin were walking with哥哥' . "But then, he doesn't know them too well or he wouldn't have run off or so long."

"That only means that he has to better familiarize himself with them," said the deep voice, and Lambo had to look where 哥哥' was looking to see Reborn in a tree. The scary hitman was dressed all in green so that Lambo couldn't see him in the tree's leaves.

"Reborn! Shishō!" said 哥哥', and Lambo wondered what trick the hitman had used to make 哥哥' sound like a girl. "I-I didn't…I mean I-I wasn't …I was going back hom—"

"Hana-chan got hurt while you were gone," said I-pin's master. The grip on Lambo slipped and nearly let Lambo fall, but 哥哥' folded his arms again right before Lambo fell to the floor.

"What happened? Did the Vindice attack? Did Daemon?" asked 哥哥'. Lambo smirked at Reborn because the stupid hitman's trick had failed. 哥哥' didn't sound like a girl anymore. He sounded like 哥哥'.

"You wouldn't know. You weren't there," said Reborn. "Mama had to take care of her after Yamamoto rescued her."

哥哥' didn't say anything for a long time, and so Lambo looked up at him and his tummy felt like that time he ate that surprise Vince made him . 哥哥''s eyes…they were dark. Like the room Vince had put Lambo in right after Lambo came home. 哥哥''s eyes looked like someone had put him in a dark room.

"哥哥' here now!" said I-pin, but she wasn't very loud, so Lambo stood up in Tsuna's arms again and yelled.

"Lambo 哥哥' was taking a break, but he's back and he is always going to come back. Lambo-sama made him promise!"

"That no true! 哥哥' promised I-pin! Lambo played with Fuuta!"

"Is it true you promised them always to return to them?" asked I-pin's master. 哥哥''s eyes were hard to see under his hair, but Lambo thought they were even darker than the room.

"He did," said Fuuta in an almost loud voice. Of course, he couldn't be as loud as Lambo-sama, but he was learning. "And Tsuna-nii is ranked 26 out of 394,102 most trustworthy Mafioso in keeping his promises, so he's going to keep this one. Right, Tsuna-nii?"

"I'm sorry," 哥哥' said so quietly that Lambo-sama's awesome ears barely heard 哥哥'. "I…I…"

"Speak clearly, Dame-Tsuna," said Reborn, clicking his gun and pointing it at 哥哥'. Lambo thought he heard a small 'eep' noise come from 哥哥', but then 哥哥' shifted and lifted his clear, bright eyes that would never be like Vince's dark room.

"I promised that I would always try my hardest to come back, even when rescuing Tama-kun."

"That's a hard promise," said I-pin's master. He was smiling now. Lambo decided he would let I-pin's master have some of his candy next time. A really small piece. "It's one you'll have to work hard all your life to keep."

哥哥' didn't say anything, but Reborn suddenly smirked as if 哥哥' had said something. Lambo glared at the hitman just in case. No way Lambo would ever give Reborn candy, not even the smallest piece that tasted like lemon.

"As your tutor, I have to make sure that you can keep your promise," said Reborn. "After all, a good mafia boss doesn't break promises to his subordinates."

"I-pin and Lambo aren't my subordinates, they're m—" 哥哥' started, but Reborn kicked 哥哥''s head and knocked him down. Lambo tumbled out of 哥哥''s arms and onto the sidewalk.

"They're your famiglia," said Reborn. "A boss is over all other members of the famiglia, so they are your subordinates."

"Stop bullying 哥哥'!" yelled Lambo, lunging at Reborn. The hitman merely batted Lambo away. Lambo tried to remember his balance like I-pin had told him, but Lambo hit the ground too fast and too hard to land on his feet.

"Reborn! Don't hit him!"

"You are a thousand years too early to try to give me orders," said Reborn, giving 哥哥' another hard kick.

"Agh! I'm sorry!" cried 哥哥'.

"You've said that already," said Reborn, giving Tsuna a couple of more kicks. "A mafia boss doesn't repeat himself more than once."

"Be careful not to break him," said I-pin's master calmly. He walked over and looked like he was going to help 哥哥', but grabbed his hand instead and did the weird thing that doctors sometimes did where they put fingers on the place your hand meets your arm. "We still have to return him to Nana-san, and Tsuyoshi would like to see him fairly unharmed as well. You can continue this when his training starts."

"You're no fun," said Reborn in a voice that sounded scary because it wasn't the hitman's normal tone. He almost sounded like Lambo. 哥哥' groaned as the hitman hopped off him, and Fon let go of his hand. "Time to go home to Mama, Dame-Tsuna."

哥哥' rubbed the back of his head before looking at Reborn.

"She's been waiting for you," said Fon, and 哥哥''s face became like a sick tomato, all red and white and squishy, but Lambo didn't find it funny.

"I know," whispered 哥哥' so quiet that Lambo wasn't sure he was really talking. Lambo was thinking that 哥哥' needed to talk louder when I-pin jumped into 哥哥''s arms.

"Oi! That's not fair! 哥哥' was carrying me!" yelled Lambo, running forward with his arms out to grab I-pin and make her leave his seat.

"It my turn! Lambo lost!" said I-pin with a smile and a hard look that made Lambo stop. "Lambo want fight I-pin?"

Growling, Lambo crossed his arms and didn't step forward. He looked away, because he didn't want to see I-pin's stupid face. She was probably laughing since she got lucky and beat him every day. Since they started practicing to help 哥哥', Lambo hadn't won once. One day soon, Lambo would stop going easy on her and defeat her in one blow and then she would—

"Here, Lambo," said a voice, and Lambo looked up to see warm brown eyes. Lambo's favorite warm brown eyes. "I'll carry both of you."

Lambo looked down at the hand in front of him and then at 哥哥''s face. Lambo wanted to act like a man, like the others at the Bovinos did and say no. He wanted to yell really loud that he wouldn't share, like a real Mafioso would, and show 哥哥' that Lambo was strong enough to protect 哥哥' and didn't need to be treated like a baby. But 哥哥' was there, and Lambo wanted more to make sure that 哥哥' stayed. That he didn't break his promise. So Lambo jumped up into 哥哥''s arm.

"Fine, but 哥哥' owes Lambo-sama candy," said Lambo.

"Lambo!" cried I-pin, but Lambo was ignoring her and 哥哥''s smile was better to look at anyway.

The bell above the door chimed, and Takeshi lifted his head from where he was cutting a large tuna very slowly. Nana only caught a glimpse of his shadowed frown before it quickly morphed into a bright customer smile. Her own smile slipped at the change, but Nana knew she couldn't say anything. Not without her heart sinking further into that dark hungry worry. Tsu-kun would be back. He would be back soon, and then they could say goodbye to Papa…to Iemitsu together. And after that, Tsu-kun could go get his brother. And they could all start again at their new house that Iemistu's old boss—the Ninth had said would be ready in about two weeks. Maybe…maybe everything would be okay then.

"Welcome to Takesu—" Takeshi's greeting cut off strangely, and Nana quickly lowered the heat so the pot of soup would only simmer as she hurried to check what had startled Takeshi and perhaps make a quick retreat through the back exit like Tsuyoshi had shown her "just in case" someone a little more unpleasant came to the door. "Ah…you're back."

Nana barely registered the words before she noticed the hunched over figure in front of Takeshi. Faster than many would have thought possible, Nana sped across the shop and encircled her eldest son in her arms. She held him, her sweet son with clear eyes and a bright smile that could cause anyone's heart to warm at a glance. Her hands trembled as they ran through his hair, and she had to steady them by wrapping them tighter around her sweet, strong Tsuna. She clutched him so hard that she barely noticed the arms tightening around her.

Nana would have gone on holding her son (he was the only one she could hold right now), but she knew that if she kept going he would be embarrassed. Boys his age always did get embarrassed when their mothers hugged them in front of their friends. And if she didn't make herself unwrap her arms now, she might never be able to.

"Tsu-kun, welcome home," said Nana as she wrestled her arms out of their hold, though she couldn't bring her body under control enough to stand from her slouched position. She could see her Tsu-kun's face better from here where he couldn't hide beneath his hair. "You should have told Mama you were going to go play at a friend's house. Mama was worried."

A wrinkle of confusion passed across Tsu-kun's face, but his expression quickly wrinkled into a darker emotion, one that Nana worried Tsu-kun experienced too much. Her own chest hollowed at the sight. Nana would do anything so that Tsu-kun wouldn't feel the same way she did.

"I'm sorry," said Tsuna in his quietest voice, the one that made so many people wonder if he had said anything in the first place. "I…I couldn't…I…"

"It's okay, Tsu-kun. Papa…Papa made his own deci—"

"I'll get him back," said Tsuna, and Nana's body almost straightened at the tone. That tone…Iemitsu. Nana had heard Tsuna talk like that before but now—now she realized why she couldn't believe Iemitsu when he'd said he'd get Tama back. Brown eyes bored into hers. "I'll save Tama-kun. You won't lose a son too."

A sad smile flicked onto Nana's lips. Her arms itched to surround her eldest, but Nana moved them firmly by her sides. This was her fault, and she would just have to keep doing her best to fix it.


"I'm going to bring him back," said Tsuna, and the brown eyes seemed to warm with a faint orange like the simmering flame in the kitchen. "I promised I-pin I would."

"Yeah!" said I-pin from where she was standing near Tsu-kun's leg. "哥哥' promised came back. 哥哥' bring back Tama and 哥哥'."

Nana stared wide-eyed between her eldest and the little girl she had come to look at as her own daughter (or rather very adorable niece), and a smile stretched her lips as she watched Tsu-kun's eyes flick warmly to the small girl and then return their gaze to Nana with a solid gaze.

"Tsu-kun always keeps his promises," said Nana, and the solid gaze faltered. She stroked her son's soft head remembering when he was a baby, so soft and small. He was always so small. And now, he…he wasn't small anymore. Her short but growing, sweet and…and strong son. So strong. But still her little boy. "Sometimes it just takes him a little longer."

The smile that appeared under warm, firm eyes made several of Nana's worries lift. He would be fine. A glance to her left allowed some new worries to settle themselves across her shoulders, but she was used to them. She was a mother after all.

"Takeshi, do you think Tsuyoshi-san would mind if we close a little earlier? I want to start preparing for Tsu-kun's welcome home party," said Nana, bringing attention to the boy standing to her Tsu-kun's right. The shadows darkening his face disappeared under the force of his cheerful grin. Nana wondered how Takeshi was so like her Tsu-kun.

"No. Dad would probably help you get it ready," said Takeshi, his grin too wide and too open. "He loves parties."

"I'll go tell him then," said Nana. She straightened herself out and gave the two boys a smile of her own. "Why don't you help Tsu-kun get Lambo and I-pin ready for a nap?"

"What?! Lambo-sama isn't sleepy!" cried Lambo.

"I-pin no want to sleep now," said I-pin in what would sound too calm to be a whine in any other child.

"But if I-pin and Lambo don't go to sleep now, then they won't be able to stay awake for all of Tsu-kun's party," said Nana. "And then they won't get to see the fireworks."

"Fireworks?" asked I-pin, her eyes almost sparkling.

"Lambo-sama can stay awake without taking a nap," whined Lambo with an obvious pout.

"But it's better to be safe than sorry, right, Lambo?" said Tsuna, and Lambo's pout shifted as he looked up at Tsuna.

"If 哥哥' says so," said Lambo. Nana let out a quiet giggle, and four pairs of eyes looked at her.

"Tsu-kun's such a good big brother," said Nana, and the two kids nodded while Tsu-kun blushed which almost made her giggle again. But Takeshi's face…the shadows had returned. She closed her eyes and smiled wider. She would go tell Tsuyoshi that Tsu-kun has come back. And hopefully while they were gone, Tsu-kun would see the shadows and help Takeshi like Takeshi wanted to help Tsu-kun.

As Nana walked off, Fon's respect for the woman increased. She most likely wanted more time with her son, but she was willing to relinquish extra time with her son to someone who needed it more. Fon gazed cautiously between the two boys.

At the best of times, Tsuyoshi's son was hard to read despite seeming so simple and open. Takeshi was much like his father in that respect, though Fon suspected that the boy's more serious side came from his mother, considering what little Fon had heard of her. Nevertheless, from whatever side of his family Takeshi got his darker side from, he was a force to be reckoned with. And with Tsuna…apparently Fon's student needed all the forces available to keep Tsuna off his current path of destruction. Though Tsuna was making steps on his own, there wasn't such a thing as too much carefulness when it came to Tsuna. Too little, and they might just lose him. How many times had they almost lost him already?

"So you were at Kawahira's all this time then," said Takeshi, his grin returned to his face.

"Yeah," said Tsuna gazing up quietly at the taller teen. Tsuna's eyes were wary but sharp. Apparently Tsuna's hyper intuition was warning him to take this conversation seriously. Good. He would need to.

"Then let's take the kids up to take that nap. Dad's been a bit worried since they went off to play with Fuuta and didn't come back," said Takeshi, and Tsuna blushed a little and scratched the back of his neck.

"I'm sorry. I should have asked Kawahira and Lancia if they called home," said Tsuna quietly.

"I-pin sorry too," said I-pin politely. Not that Fon expected any less from his first student. And his second student was a good example of manners if nothing else.

"That's okay. But we should get you to bed quickly so you'll be awake in time for dinner. I think Dad can make us all Bluefin sushi," said Takeshi. Fon and Reborn quietly followed the two boys in the shadows. Reborn wasn't going to admit it, but the hitman wasn't going to let Tsuna out of his sight any more than Fon was.

Lambo struggled and kicked off his covers when Takeshi tried to help the boy into bed, but the five-year-old would-be assassin settled down when Tsuna came over after helping I-pin into bed. Tsuna became a bit flustered as the little boy threw his arms around Tsuna in a quick hug before sticking his tongue out at I-pin and laying down in bed. Soon enough, the two teens stepped out of the children's room and headed downstairs.

"Dad'll be back soon," said Takeshi. "He had to go to the Geko's place to get some of the really good fish for tomorrow. Yashido-san asked Dad to make his wife some special sushi for her birthday."

"Takeshi," said Tsuna, his voice low and quiet. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" asked Takeshi. His grin remained bright and cheerful, and only years of exposure to the elder Yamamoto allowed Fon to see past it. Of course, even with much less exposure, Fon's student had little trouble seeing past it, but whether that fact testified to the closeness of the two or Tsuna's hyper intuition, Fon wasn't sure. Tsuna's averted eyes and downcast expression gave credit to the former conclusion.

"I ran away," Tsuna whispered, the "again" echoed soundlessly in the words, and Fon remembered hearing Takeshi talk about a closing door and a forced intrusion. Tsuyoshi had given his son a softer than usual smile and a pat on the younger Yamamoto's shoulder.

The grin on Takeshi's face shrunk significantly as Tsuna didn't look up. A hand came up and scratched the back of Takeshi's neck, and the young swordsman sighed as the two entered the restaurant's large kitchen.

"She watched baseball with me," Takeshi said, his voice low and his grin gone. "She could barely sit up at that point, but it was the Swallow's first game of the season, and we always watched it together. She wouldn't say anything for the most part, just stared at the TV until the Swallows scored. Then she would grin really wide and say something like 'About time!' or something like it or if they didn't score she would say 'Their line-up was ridiculous' or 'They didn't train enough off-season.' She wouldn't shout, not like she would when we went to a game, but she would always say something. I knew something was wrong when the Swallows got three homeruns and she didn't say anything."

Tsuna's eyes had lifted to Takeshi's face, but the taller teen had looked away. From where Fon was standing hidden in one of the various shadows in the kitchen, he could see the wet gleam sparkling in the younger Yamamoto's eyes. Fon nearly left the kitchen and left the two boys alone, but concern over how Tsuna would react kept him rooted.

There was a reason that both he and Reborn had hidden their presence shortly before Tsuna entered Takesushi. The two had pretended to leave to take care of business, but neither was going to let Tsuna out of their sight. However, Tsuna could not see either of his teachers treating him like glass, especially considering what they had planned for the boy after he finished reassuring his friends and mother with his presence. Tsuna needed to finish this first, and then they would start the boy's punishme—no, training.

"She was sick for a long time by then. She didn't like me to see, but it was kinda hard to hide," Takeshi continued, and his head tilted forward as if to cover his eyes with his hair. Unfortunately for Tsuyoshi's son, he didn't have enough hair to truly fall over his eyes or the height to make the gesture fully effective. Tsuna could still see Tsuyoshi's son's face clearly. The young swordsman must have realized this fact because he put on one of his more stretched grins. "I hoped the game would make her feel better. I hoped…I thought maybe if she felt better, if she would smile, then maybe…maybe she'd get better. I didn't want to break her concentration if she really was paying attention to the game, so I didn't look back to check that she was. I didn't move. But then the game ended."

Tsuna's hand twitched upward as if Tsuna wanted to touch his friend's shoulder, to bring Takeshi back to the present when he was enclosed in shadows of the past. But then Takeshi's grin slumped into a barely visible smile, and Tsuna froze as if pinned beneath the weight of the tired hazel eyes.

"Dad had been crying," said Takeshi, his voice matching his grin. "I only noticed because his cheeks were wet, and his eyes didn't see me. I looked at Mom and she…her eyes weren't looking at me either. They weren't looking at anything."

Wide brown eyes stared into dark, sagging hazel. Takeshi attempted another grin, but Tsuna barely moved his head in a shake. The attempt at a grin failed, and the taller teen's face took on its most blank expression.

"She died. When I wasn't looking, she died," said Takeshi. "I never got to see her smile again."

Tsuna leaned slightly backwards as if to put distance between the statement and himself. Minutes passed, and Takeshi's blank face gained slight lines along his brow and eyes as Tsuna's remained in an expression of confusion. Suddenly Takeshi shifted and inclined his weight onto his left foot as if he was going to turn around, but Tsuna immediately leaned forward.

"He smiled too much," said Tsuna almost too quickly. Takeshi's gaze became fixed on the smaller teen as Tsuna's line of sight fell just right of where Takeshi was. Fon felt himself lean forward as his student continued. "He'd come home with a big grin, like if he hadn't been gone long. He started talking about how he missed us, and then he would grab Tama or Mom and twirl them around. He would always try to grab me, but I always ran away from him. I didn't…I didn't want to…to have anything to do with the man that made Mama and Tama cry."

"I thought if I hated him it would be easier." Tsuna's voice quieted, and he tried to hide his shaking hands by making them into fists. "I wanted to hate him. He got Mama hurt and then he…he didn't even visit her in the hospital. He hurt Tama with his words and made Tama push me away. And he…he really didn't care what happened to me. I wasn't…I wasn't Tama or Mama. He didn't come home to see me. I was sure of it. He didn't care about me…but then…he…"

The last words came out distorted and wobbly as the voice that produced them became wet and heavy. No other sound followed the heavy-sounding words, but Fon could see his student's cheeks gleam wet. Tsuna brought up an arm to stop the flow, but rubbing his eyes did little to stem the streams of tears.

"You know, your dad didn't sound like a good guy, and I don't think Dad or the others really liked him," said Takeshi, a soft smile on his face that didn't resemble any of his wide grins. "But he was still your dad. I think it's okay to cry because you'll never see him smile again. Actually, you really should cry. It wouldn't be fair to your dad if you didn't."

The gleaming brown eyes grew wide for an instant as tears continued to leak down his cheeks and then scrunged shut. The small brunet's whole face crumpled and wrinkled as a quiet, hiccupping sob escaped the boy's shaking lips. More sobs followed, none louder than the last, and the small brunet soon bent in half and crouched on the floor with his head behind his knees.

Soft smile still in place, Takeshi bent down and sat next to his friend, and Fon wanted to come out from his hidden corner and place a hand on Tsuna's arm. But a quick glimpse to another dark corner stopped him. Reborn was watching the two with a shadowed, almost unreadable look. If Fon had not spent several months interacting with the hitman, he would have thought that the hitman was merely an indifferent observer, but Fon had grown to understand the hitman better. The tightened fist and frustrated glint in the hitman's eyes were now clear to Fon, and the martial artist could even venture a guess as to what the hitman was thinking.

Should Fon go to comfort his student, Reborn would not follow. He would stay in his corner and continue to watch. But the hitman would want to come out of his corner. He would want to comfort their student. Unfortunately, the boy didn't truly trust the hitman yet. Even after all this time, Tsuna still saw the hitman as mainly his brother's tutor and a man to fear. Tsuna would never cry if he knew Reborn was in the room.

Fon made himself comfortable where he stood. In the end, Fon could not bring himself to add salt to that wound. Tsuna would be fine. Takeshi would make sure that the smaller boy would be fine. He didn't need Fon right now. But he would. And he would need Reborn as well. They could wait.