Disclaimer: I own nothing from Katekyo Hitman Reborn.
-No yaoi. No pairings planned either.
Chapter 3 – When the Rain Threatens to Fall
Reborn burst into the bedroom and began firing. One would normally assume that there was some sort of danger.
Smirking, Reborn watched as arms flailed and a terrified yelp was heard as the newly-woken teen fell out of bed. There weren't any words but at least there was sound.
Ever since he had overheard the unfamiliar muffled voice responding to the Hurricane Bomb during one of the afterschool study sessions, Reborn had redoubled his efforts to make Tsuna talk in front of him. Somehow, the teen always managed to sense when he was nearby, or at least close enough to hear him, and he would clam up. Reborn had the odd feeling that Tsuna was now actually not speaking because Reborn wanted him to.
It was too bad Reborn always got his way in the end.
Brown eyes, no longer as wary or frightened as when Reborn had first arrived, peered back at him blearily, still half-asleep. Apparently, being woken up and disturbed by bullets and other assorted weapons on a daily basis lost its incentive after the first few days. Reborn couldn't decide whether or not to be pleased by this.
"Time to get up," Reborn informed him cheerfully. "Gokudera's already waiting for you outside."
A resigned sigh answered him. Reborn knew Tsuna didn't like the fact that the bomber always got up early just to keep Hiko from him and accompany him to school but Reborn partially approved. Tsuna would probably have to have his own set of bodyguards one day, even if he stayed as a civilian, and Gokudera was getting in good practice. On the other hand, Reborn wanted Tsuna to learn how to stand up to his twin sooner or later. Having the bomber cut in every time, either with a verbal threat or a stick of dynamite, wasn't helping matters. Reborn didn't want to turn the twins against each other – that would be terrible for the future of the Family – but Tsuna couldn't let his brother walk all over him either, if only because Reborn hated seeing it.
Fifteen minutes later, Hiko was in the bathroom, Nana was frying eggs and bacon, Hayato was setting the table, and Reborn was watching Tsuna stand around looking a little lost again. Ever since Hayato's addition to their morning routine, Tsuna had found himself without a job since Nana had insisted on cooking for all of them.
"Tsuna, come here," Reborn ordered as he hopped up onto the counter and nudged out the coffee machine. He knew Iemitsu drank coffee, but since the man came home once a year at most, it had been collecting dust until Reborn took it out again. "I'm going to teach you how to make coffee."
Tsuna came over willingly enough, no longer flinching from Reborn every time they came within a few feet of each other, though he didn't look particularly keen either as he kept a watchful eye on the hitman. He tilted his head questioningly, frowning at the machine.
"You want something to do, don't you?" Reborn asked rhetorically as he pulled out different bags of coffee beans. Without further ado, he started a lecture on the different types of coffee one could make and hid a smile when Tsuna rushed out of the kitchen a few minutes in, hurrying back with a notebook in hand and scribbling down Reborn's words as quickly as he could.
"Too mild," Reborn shook his head after a cursory glance at the cup Tsuna produced. It was the teen's sixth attempt at making a café mélange after Reborn had gone over the process. "Do it again."
Tsuna's brow furrowed further, scanning his notes as he dumped out the pot and started again.
Maybe it was because Tsuna refused to talk in front of Reborn or because he had seen what would happen if he defied him but the hitman hadn't heard a word of complaint from the teen no matter how many times Reborn had told him to start over, refusing to give him even a hint.
Over at the dinner table, Gokudera seemed torn between wanting to help and staying silently watchful, the latter winning out after Reborn had shot him a warning look. Nana was observing them as well, a contented smile on her face as Tsuna worked with what Reborn had given him.
Hiko was also watching, having shut up after Reborn had fired a few shots in his direction and was now eyeing his brother resentfully.
Reborn glanced down at the liquid when a seventh cup was handed to him. The colour looked the closest so far and he took a cautious sip, mindful of the anxious eyes watching him.
Drawing out the silence just to watch Tsuna squirm, Reborn finally nodded once. "Far from perfect, but acceptable. Go eat your breakfast."
Hiding his surprise when Tsuna beamed at him for the meagre compliment, Reborn took another sip as Gokudera jumped up and declared his desire to taste Tsuna's coffee as well, with Nana agreeing enthusiastically even though she usually stuck with tea.
Hiko wrinkled his nose when Tsuna glanced hesitantly at him. "No way," He objected. "I'm not going to risk getting sick over something Dame-Tsuna made."
Gokudera was instantly on his feet, leaning forward and glowering at the younger twin across the table. "Appreciate Tsuna-sama's hard work, you little brat!" He barked. "It's coffee, not poison."
Reborn had heard Gokudera call his student a lot worse but the bomber always seemed to be able to curb his language around Nana, not to mention, through some miracle, keep his dynamite out of sight. In all honesty, Reborn couldn't see that lasting.
Hiko had no compunctions. "It might as well be poison," He retorted. "It was made by Dame-Tsuna."
Gokudera looked ready to vault over the table to strangle the younger twin so Reborn quickly cut in before things could get out of hand.
"Ow!" Hiko yelled when Reborn kicked him in the head and knocked him out of his chair. "What was that for?"
"I felt like it," Reborn said simply, taking his designated seat beside Hiko's. "Now eat, or you'll all be bitten to death."
Tsuna paled and hastily sat down, pausing only to nod at his mother when she complimented his coffee. Beside him, still scowling, Gokudera took a seat again and dug in, proclaiming his new love for coffee and his aspiration to make as good a beverage as Tsuna could.
Tsuna still looked apprehensive and didn't smile this time, but his eyes shone as he nodded his thanks and he sat just a little bit straighter.
"Better, Sawada," The teacher said with mild surprise as she handed back the most recent test.
Tsuna barely heard the whispers around him as he stared wide-eyed at the sixty at the top of the page. It was the first time he had ever gotten above fifty-five percent in anything, much less math, which was his weakest subject.
Twisting around, he answered Gokudera's grin and thumbs-up with a smile of his own.
"Thanks," He said quietly, and then blinked, not understanding why Gokudera suddenly looked even more pleased.
With a shrug, he tucked the test away, making a mental note to show his mother later. The mark wasn't high but it was the best he had ever done and he hoped it would make his mother happy.
"Reborn, are you training my brother or me?" Hiko demanded as he exited his classroom after school, annoyed that his tutor was hauling him off somewhere before he could get a chance to talk to Kyoko. The girl was playing hard to get. Why couldn't she be in his class instead of Dame-Tsuna's anyway?
Reborn barely glanced at him. "Do you think I'm getting you to run laps and gather Family members for fun?" The hitman countered.
Hiko scowled at the baby. "Then what was with teaching Dame-Tsuna this morning?"
Reborn's features didn't change and his voice was as blank as usual but Hiko caught the condescendence anyway. "I taught him how to make coffee," The hitman said blandly. "Not something a boss absolutely needs to know. Do you want to learn?"
"Of course not!" Hiko shot back. "What do I care about making coffee? I just want to know why you're wasting time on Dame-Tsuna."
Reborn stopped and turned to face him, that cold glint Hiko was afraid of entering his eyes. Hiko towered over Reborn but whenever the hitman looked at him like that, he couldn't help the shiver of fear that ran up his spine.
"I've been wondering about this for a long while," Reborn stated evenly. "I wasn't going to ask since there was a chance it would resolve itself eventually, but I can see now that it'll only continue like this and become detrimental for the Family. So I'm asking now; why do you dislike your brother so much?"
Hiko instantly scoffed. "Isn't it obvious? He's Dame-Tsuna."
"He's your brother," Reborn pointed out.
"He's pathetic," Hiko snapped. "Always cowering everywhere. People pick on him since he's so stupid-"
"Why don't you help him then?"
Hiko sneered. "Why should I? He's my older brother. Not much of one, but he should help me."
Reborn didn't so much as twitch but Hiko knew he had displeased the hitman again. A rush of anger welled up inside him.
"Why do you like Dame-Tsuna so much anyway?" He spat out sullenly. Nobody was fond of Dame-Tsuna but his tutor had clearly taken a liking to his twin, and the bomber who had wanted to become his Right-Hand Man had become his brother's friend. Not that he would've taken Gokudera into his Family, but still.
Reborn only gave him a thoroughly unimpressed look before turning away, not bothering to respond.
Gritting his teeth, Hiko followed, promising that when he became Vongola Decimo, he would make sure Reborn stayed as far away from Vongola as possible. The baby might be the strongest hitman in the world but he was still only one person. Hiko didn't need him, and besides, the hitman had mentioned something about a temporary contract with the Ninth and doing him a favour. Reborn wasn't a proper member of the Vongola Family so he would have no reason to stay.
Training underway. Progress slow.
Reborn paused, pen tapping idly against the sheet of paper. A part of him wanted to question the Ninth for his decision to make Takehiko his heir but it wasn't Reborn's place to do so, no matter how much he wanted to. Still, maybe he could...
Brother seems interesting. Equal potential.
Reborn scanned the five words and then tore the letter apart and tossed it into a nearby trashcan. No doubt, the Ninth would let Iemitsu read it and he remembered the CEDEF leader's adamant stance on his eldest. To the blond, Tsuna was too weak to become a mafia boss and wouldn't amount to much more than a barely average civilian in the end. Oh, Iemitsu ranted about the boy like he did Hiko, but only that he was cute and shy. Nothing substantial like Hiko's athleticism and popularity and a whole bunch of other things Reborn had tuned out after the first five seconds.
In Reborn's opinion, Iemitsu didn't know anything about Tsuna. He probably wouldn't know much about Hiko either if it weren't for his wife's letters. And while Nana loved both her sons deeply, it was clear that she had little belief in her eldest succeeding in life. More than once, Reborn had sat through a meal, listening to Hiko taunting his brother about his latest failure, listening to Nana gently admonishing his son for being rude (rude, not offensive, abusive, cruel, completely wrong), and wondering why Tsuna just took it.
Well, Reborn had a pretty good idea why. It was the same reason Tsuna never talked. He was used to it.
Reborn was no family man, far from it, but even he knew the Sawada household would fall apart at the rate it was going.
But Iemitsu had also made it clear that Tsuna was unsuitable to be a candidate and the Ninth had even cautioned Reborn to keep the older twin out of most Vongola matters. The boy could be informed, but not in depth. Reborn had his orders. He couldn't put Tsuna in direct danger.
But how that stupid airhead could look at his son, really look, and not see the potential in the boy was beyond Reborn.
Then again, perhaps that was the problem. The last time Iemitsu had come home had been two and a half years ago, and that was only for a few days. Reborn had heard from Nana that Tsuna had almost completely stopped talking by the time he had turned seven. Knowing that and what Reborn had seen of Tsuna's nature, Iemitsu would not have known what to do with someone as reticent as his eldest, and Tsuna would've been free to melt into the background and do what he did best: disappear. The boy did it enough times hiding from bullies. It didn't always work, and now that Gokudera was there to scare off anyone stupid enough to confront the brunet, bullies weren't much of a problem anymore, but even Reborn was impressed with how well Tsuna knew all the shortcuts in the neighborhood.
With a sigh, Reborn wrote another letter.
Training underway. Progress slow. Otherwise fine.
He didn't particularly like this version either but it was the closest to the truth. Reborn would just have to work harder with Hiko. The brat could still change.
Furious couldn't begin to describe Reborn's mood as the hitman fumed silently from his perch on the kitchen counter. Not even the coffee he was drinking could calm him down. He kept a lid on his anger of course; he would've sent the other occupants of the house running. But even Nana seemed to sense his ire because she made no attempt to talk to him as she cooked dinner, not humming like she usually did.
His idiot student had botched another attempt to gather a Guardian. Yamamoto Takeshi was a natural-born hitman. Reborn had been pleasantly surprised at the rare find and had wasted no time prompting Hiko in his direction. With the teen's easygoing nature and friendly countenance, Reborn had thought, mistakenly, that not even the spoiled brat could fail.
His hand clenched around the brim of his fedora as he stamped down the urge to shoot something. Or someone. His student hadn't just failed; the boy had been completely heartless when Yamamoto had mentioned his recent downhill slide in baseball.
"No matter how much I practice, my average has been dropping and I just can't seem to get out of my slump. You were great today. Do- Do you know what I'm doing wrong?"
"I saw how bad you were, and it wasn't just today. It doesn't look like you're cut out for baseball. You should just quit."
"Baseball's all I have; it's my life. I- I can't just-"
"If it's your life, then you don't have much of one, do you? With your skill, all you'll amount to is a failure."
Reborn was anything but soft-hearted, yet even he had felt sympathetic for the black-haired teen after his student's careless words. The lost, pained look on Yamamoto's face after Hiko had walked away had been enough for Reborn to wish he hadn't let the brat anywhere near the baseball player. Now he could only hope Yamamoto wouldn't take Hiko's words to heart.
The sound of the front door opening made Reborn look up, and a moment later, Tsuna appeared in the doorway, nodding at his mother when she called out a greeting.
A split second later, the teen's features had frozen and his eyes had darted over to Reborn, pensive and wary as he took a step back.
Reborn eyed the boy carefully. Had Tsuna sensed Reborn's anger? The brunet hadn't reacted so defensively against him for a good week now.
Instead of fleeing the kitchen though, Tsuna entered, steps cautious and ready to leap back if Reborn gave any sign of attacking. Still keeping half his attention on the hitman, the brunet dug through his bag and withdrew a sheet of paper, holding it out to his mother.
Nana blinked at it and Reborn tilted his head far enough to recognize the math test. The sixty stood out in stark red ink but Reborn knew it was the highest mark Tsuna had ever gotten.
"Oh Tsu-kun, this is great!" Nana beamed, enveloping her son in a hug. Reborn mentally frowned at the way Tsuna stiffened momentarily before relaxing against his mother. "I'm so proud of you!"
A half-smile made its way onto Tsuna's face but it instantly disappeared when footsteps thumped down the stairs and Hiko appeared in the kitchen.
"There you are," The younger twin looked annoyed. "Where have you been? Out with Gokudera again? Kaa-san had to start dinner by herself."
Tsuna flinched but Nana was quick to jump in. "Now Hiko-kun, Tsu-kun already told me he would be late today, and I don't mind. It isn't often he goes out with friends."
Hiko scoffed. "That's because he doesn't have any." His eyes landed on the piece of paper still clutched in Tsuna's hand. "What's that?"
Before Tsuna could react, Hiko had snatched it away, eyes landing on the sixty as a smirk grew on his face.
"Did you show this to Kaa-san 'cause you're proud?" He sneered. "Only you would be proud of being a failure."
Nana was frowning at her youngest. "Hiko-kun, don't be rude. Tsu-kun tried his hardest."
Hiko opened his mouth again but Reborn didn't give him a chance. The shot that rang out in the kitchen made the tension skyrocket.
"That's enough," Reborn stood up, his voice flat and cold as he pinned his student with a hard look. "Return that and get back to work. Now."
Not even Hiko dared disobey, and after tossing the test down at Tsuna's feet, he escaped the kitchen, speeding back upstairs as fast as he could.
For a long moment, the sizzling pot on the stove and the ticking of the kitchen clock were the only sounds that permeated the air. Nana stood beside Tsuna, for once looking uncertain as to what she should do next.
Reborn only gave her a cursory glance before focusing on the brunet. The boy's bangs shadowed his eyes as he stood stock-still in the middle of the room, head bowed as his gaze stayed glued on the test at his feet.
"Tsuna," Reborn waited patiently for the teen to look up. It took several seconds but the boy finally raised his head, brown eyes dull as he stared back at Reborn.
Reborn gestured at the test with his gun. "Are you satisfied with that mark?"
Say no, he urged silently.
As if he had heard, Tsuna glanced down once before meeting Reborn's eyes again and slowly shaking his head.
Reborn nodded, satisfied. "It may be the best mark you've ever had but there's still a lot of room for improvement. Go over everything you got wrong and do them again," He cocked his gun pointedly. "I'm checking it tonight."
Surprise crept into Tsuna's expression, followed by a desperate sort of hope that made Reborn want to fly back to Italy and put a few holes in a certain blond, but before he could study it any further, Tsuna nodded anxiously, scooped up his test, and scampered out of the kitchen.
An uncomfortable silence descended as soon as the brunet left. Reborn paid it no mind, letting Leon crawl back onto his fedora.
"Thank you, Reborn-chan," Nana's voice made Reborn look her way, noting the mild sorrow clouding her features.
Reborn released a short sigh and shrugged, tilting his fedora down. "I'm Hiko's home tutor. It's my job to keep him in line."
Neither of them pointed out the fact that it hadn't been Hiko Reborn had cut in for.
"Twenty-one, thirty, thirty-two, and forty are still wrong," Reborn fired a shot for every wrong question, making Tsuna duck and scramble for cover as the bullets whizzed past his head. "Do them again."
With a frustrated grimace, Tsuna clambered back into his chair, pulling over his textbook to look at the examples again. They had been at this for three hours now but Reborn had refused to relent until every question had been corrected.
With a sigh, he started on twenty-one again. These four had been giving him particular trouble all night.
"Tsuna," Reborn interrupted, frowning at him from where he was sitting cross-legged. "Don't just use the textbook and memorize the method. Use your brain and apply what you know. You've finally got the basics down now. These four shouldn't give you so much trouble."
Obediently, Tsuna gave the text a last glance before pushing it away, studying the question instead. Recalling all the different calculations Reborn had forced him through at gunpoint, he carefully went over the problem again.
Half an hour and another five wrong tries later, Tsuna finally sat back, a tired but triumphant smile on his face as Reborn put away his gun, granting him a tiny smile of approval.
"But," Tsuna stiffened as Reborn tapped the test. "This is only one test and it took you far too long to finish it. You understand the concepts now; work on doing them faster."
Tsuna nodded but couldn't hold back a yawn. Reborn waved a hand in the direction of his bed. "It's nearing midnight. Go to bed. You still have school tomorrow."
Tsuna nodded sleepily, rising from his chair as he murmured absently, "'Kay. Thanks, Reborn-san."
Already in his pajamas, he tumbled into bed and was out within seconds, breathing evening out as he fell asleep.
He didn't notice the visible surprise painting Reborn's features for a full five seconds nor the smile on the hitman's face as he tugged the blankets over Tsuna's shoulders before leaving the room.
"Get up," Reborn ordered, not bothering to raise his voice as he flooded his student's room with killer intent. He watched impassively as Hiko jerked awake and fell off his bed, instinctively looking around wildly for the danger.
"Damn it, Reborn!" Hiko shouted when he caught sight of the hitman sitting on his desk. "Why did you wake me up? It's..." He squinted at his alarm clock. "It's not even six in the morning yet!"
"Sit," Reborn ignored the brat's complaints. He had no more patience for the boy's temper tantrums anymore.
"First of all," He started once Hiko had reluctantly sat down on his bed. "Do you know what kind of boss I'm training you to be?"
"We're talking about this at six in the-"
"Answer the question," The ominous click of Reborn's gun cut the air.
Hiko scowled petulantly. "You already told me. A boss who is strong, who leads by example, who has the resolve to follow through with their actions, to understand and accept those around me for who they are. I remember."
"Do you?" Reborn tilted his fedora up. "And how many of those things have you even been able to start doing?"
Hiko gritted his teeth. "I'm strong and you're training me to be stronger. When I get into fights, I always finish them. And Kyoko's going to be mine sooner or later. And my Family members-"
"-Have the personality and resolve of cannon fodder," Reborn finished harshly. "They're lackeys. They follow you because they fear you."
"What's wrong with that?" Hiko asked indignantly. "So long as they listen to what I say-"
"Do you thing that will last?" Reborn asked sharply. "When someone stronger comes along who scares them more than you do, do you think they'll stay with you?"
A dull red had started growing on Hiko's face. "Then I'll just be the strongest!" He said belligerently. "That's what you're here for, right?"
Reborn shook his head in disgust. "Loyalty is a fickle thing for people like you," He said bluntly. "So long as you refuse to respect your subordinates, they won't respect you. And as long as that stays the same, it won't matter how well I train you. Someone stronger will always exist."
Reborn jumped down from the desk and headed for the door. "Think on it. Someone who rules with fear; is that the kind of boss you want to become?"
"...I know what this is about!"
Reborn paused in the doorway, glancing back with an unreadable look. Hiko was on his feet, one finger held up accusingly as he glared at Reborn.
"You want Dame-Tsuna to be the next boss!" Hiko snarled. "You like him better for some reason and because I won't take on any of the people you picked out as Guardians, you want to train him!"
Reborn turned, staring Hiko down. "Whether or not I like Tsuna is not the issue here," He said quietly. "And if you found Family members with equal potential to the ones I suggest, I wouldn't say a word against it. I came here to train you. I could despise you but that still wouldn't change my goal. The problem here is the fact that you have no understanding of how a true boss acts and you barely make any attempt to listen to my advice," He paused, and then said coolly, "Sometimes, I don't think you even understand how a decent human being acts."
Hiko turned beet red, anger swelling around him. "What, because I treat Dame-Tsuna like he deserves?"
Reborn surveyed the boy closely. "Why does your brother deserve it?"
"Because he's pathetic!"
"Because he can't do anything right!"
Reborn hid the displeasure he felt at these words. He suspected jealousy and resentment but the boy always talked in circles when Tsuna came into the picture. Well, he would leave it for now. Hiko would simply reiterate himself the more Reborn asked.
"Then what about Yamamoto?" Reborn countered instead. "Do you honestly see nothing wrong with what you said to him yesterday?"
Hiko's eyes flared with defiance. "He said baseball was his life. Something as unimportant as a sport got him all depressed, and not only that, he sucks at it too. Why should I invite someone like that into my Family?"
Reborn stared in downright disbelief. "This is what you think?"
Perhaps Hiko caught something in Reborn's bland voice because he hesitated, some of the scorn retreating as he slowed down enough to consider the situation.
"Maybe it was a bit harsh," Hiko conceded stiffly. "I could... apologize."
Reborn scoffed, turning away again. "Don't force yourself; you won't mean it. You get ready for school in half an hour; you might as well get changed."
And wtih that abrupt end to their impromptu conversation, Reborn left, heading downstairs for another cup of coffee. It was too bad there was no alcohol in the house; even he could use a few glasses after putting up with his student.
You goddamned fool, Iemitsu. You've doomed the Vongola to another generation of blood and cruelty.
Tsuna and Gokudera both looked up when a boy in their class came bursting into the room, red-faced and panting.
"Hey!" The teen shouted, radiating a mix of excitement and anxiety. "Yamamoto's about to jump off the roof!"
The room exploded into horrified exclamations as everyone scrambled for the door. Tsuna didn't move, frozen in place as he remembered the conversation he had accidentally overheard between Reborn and Hiko that morning, having been awoken by Hiko's raised voice.
Hiko, his brother, had pushed someone like Yamamoto this far. Tsuna didn't know the baseball player but the teen had always seemed cheerful enough, if a little gloomy lately.
"Tsuna-sama?" Gokudera was still in his seat as well, eyes alert as the bomber waited for him to make up his mind.
With a shaky nod, Tsuna darted for the door as well, sprinting in the same direction as a large number of students, Gokudera only a step behind him.
Unfortunately, it was the roof Tsuna almost always spent his lunchtimes on. As they reached the top, he didn't think he would ever be able to come up here again without picturing Yamamoto standing at the edge on the outside of the fence.
With a muttered curse, Gokudera shoved forward, clearing a path for Tsuna through the crowd of whispering students.
"Don't jump!" Some called.
"You can talk to us, Yamamoto!" Others assured.
Yamamoto didn't even glance back as he stared out over the school.
Tsuna felt himself shaking and he clutched at his shirt to try to stop the tremors. He opened his mouth but the words jumbled together and lodged themselves in his throat.
Stop, he wanted to scream. My brother's not worth this.
Instead, he took a step past the undrawn line everyone else had seemingly created.
"Dame-Tsuna, what the hell do you think you're doing?" Someone hissed. "If you screw up again, he'll d-"
The student was cut off and Tsuna heard Gokudera growl something derogatory at the person. He didn't turn to look.
His attention stayed on Yamamoto instead, who had taken half a step closer to the edge. Desperation and terror welled up inside him, and this time, the words came.
"S- Stop," His voice was barely above a whisper but Yamamoto's back stiffened. "P- Please. Please stop."
Yamamoto's head craned around, near-lifeless eyes falling on Tsuna.
"Hiko?" He frowned in confusion. "No. You're the other one. Dame-Tsuna."
Tsuna nodded unsteadily, advancing another step. "I- I'm sorry," He mumbled. "A- About what my brother s- said. I'm s- sorry. Please don't j- jump."
Yamamoto stared at him before a bitter smile curled at his lips. "So even you pity me, so much that you're even willing to talk. I've fallen pretty far, huh?"
Tsuna shook his head violently, trying to center himself as blood pounded in his ears. If Yamamoto jumped here, he would never forgive himself. He had to take responsibility for what his brother had done.
"I d- don't pity you," He denied. "Y- You've always b- been someone I've a- admired."
The previously dull eyes flickered with shock, a little of the usual light trickling back into them. "Admire me?"
Tsuna briefly recalled all the times he had felt like he was drowning, friendless and always alone as he ran from bullies, suffered through his classmates' taunts, watching from his window as groups of kids passed by, chatting and laughing.
"Y- You always keep smiling n- no matter what," Tsuna choked out. "No one c- can be happy all the t- time but you always tried to be, you always k- kept going. A- And baseball. Y- You've played it f- for as long as I've known you, a- and you're really g- good at it! You a- always work hard and you've d- dedicated so much t- time to it. I d- don't have any of that. I'm no good a- and stupid and s- slow so whenever I s- see you practicing a- after school no m- matter how h- hard it gets, I a- always f- feel better b- because I know that th- there's someone out there who h- has it harder th- than I do, b- because y- you have something y- you love to work towards."
Tsuna paused, swallowing as he stared back into Yamamoto's wide eyes. God, he hated talking. Was he even making any sense? The entire rooftop was as silent as the grave but all Tsuna could see was Yamamoto, still teetering at the edge, torn between life and death, and Tsuna knew he couldn't stop, even if he was babbling nonsense. He'd talk all day if it kept Yamamoto from jumping.
"I- I know y- you're having a bit of a s- slump at the moment," He continued, trying not to let his voice crack. "But i- if you give up now, h- how will you know how much better you c- could become? Nobody c- can be good at everything a- all the time; what's the p- point of doing anything if y- you don't have to work for it? L- Life would be pretty boring. I- I think y- you should just take each day at y- your own pace. P- Pushing yourself too h- hard w- won't solve anything s- so sometimes, m- maybe you just have to take a s- step back and l- look around."
Tsuna hesitated, and then took two quick steps forward. "Y- Yamamoto, look around."
Almost as if in a trance, Yamamoto slowly shifted, mouth falling open a little in almost-surprise when he looked down at the vertical drop mere inches away. Instinctively, the teen jerked back, bumping into the fence with a soft rattle.
Awareness dawned on his face as he turned back to Tsuna, tawny eyes brightening with each passing second as they clung to his own eyes.
Tsuna didn't dare look away, willing Yamamoto to come back, afraid that breaking eye contact for even a millisecond would, quite literally, push the other teen over the edge.
And finally, finally, one of Yamamoto's hands reached up for the top of the fence, and the teen carefully hoisted himself back up and over, landing on the safe side with an almost unnoticeable tremble in his legs.
Tsuna would've collapsed right then and there if it hadn't been for Gokudera's hand at his elbow.
"Great job, Boss," Gokudera murmured, and Tsuna felt far too tired to even correct the bomber on his form of address.
Now that the danger was over, the other students burst into conversation again, converging on Yamamoto as they conveyed their relief and clapped him on the back.
Knowing he was now safe, Tsuna dropped his gaze and let his shoulders sag as the cause for this entire almost-disaster came rushing back to him. He allowed Gokudera to lead him back inside and away from the crowd.
Hiko had almost pushed Yamamoto into committing suicide. His brother had almost been... a murderer?
Tsuna felt sick.
"It's not your fault, Tsuna-sama," Gokudera said fiercely as the bomber led him back to the now-empty classroom and sitting him back down. "You know that, right?"
Tsuna sighed and shrugged but Gokudera reached out and squeezed his shoulder.
"Please, Tsuna-sama," Gokudera persisted. "Talk to me."
Tsuna chewed on his lip and fumbled for the right words. "Hiko said some things to Yamamoto. Th- That's why Yamamoto wanted to jump." He rubbed a weary hand over his face. "Hiko's my brother. Maybe if I was a better older brother, a better role model-"
"Tsuna-sama, with all due respect, that has nothing to do with whatever the clone said," Gokudera cut in firmly. "First of all, you're twins. You were born minutes apart; you might as well be the same age. Second of all, Tsuna-sama would never push anyone into committing suicide. If the clone learned it from anyone, it certainly wasn't you, but I think it's just because he's stupid and talks crap without thinking about any of the consequences. And last, Tsuna-sama,"
Gokudera leaned forward, staring Tsuna dead in the eye. "You have to stop taking all of the clone's faults and making them your own. Your brother needs to learn how to take responsibility for his actions."
Tsuna gaped at him a little. Gokudera had never been so vocal about Hiko before. He knew the bomber didn't like (more like detested) Hiko's attitude, but he had always kept to only a handful of insults since he was Tsuna's brother.
Tsuna nodded dumbly, to which Gokudera smiled and then hastily backtracked and apologized profusely for speaking out of turn. Tsuna sweatdropped and did his best to calm the bomber down.
It wasn't until the bell sounded that the students began to file back inside again. Tsuna heard the whispers of disbelief, that Dame-Tsuna of all people had saved Yamamoto, had talked again, and he kept his head down as much as possible. He hated being the center of attention. It always made him feel uncomfortable.
"Hey, wait up!" Takeshi called, stuffing the last of his homework into his bag as he raced out after Tsuna and that new student, Gokudera. Those two always left so quickly.
Tsuna paused mid-step, turning back uncertainly as the teen beside him whirled and pinned Takeshi with a death glare.
"What do you want, baseball freak?" Gokudera snapped.
Takeshi grinned cheerfully at him before focusing on the shorter of the two. "Just wanted to thank Tsuna. I would've been in big trouble if he hadn't been there."
Wary brown eyes blinked back at him and Takeshi made sure he looked as laidback as physically possible.
"So thanks," He told the younger teen. "And I'm sorry if I worried you."
"Damn straight you should be!" Gokudera barked. "Who told you to do something as stupid as listen to the clone?"
Takeshi blinked, glancing down at Tsuna who was staring silently at the ground.
"I shouldn't have," He agreed easily, reaching out to clasp Tsuna's right shoulder. He gentled his grip but ignored the slight flinch under his hand as Tsuna looked up again. "But now I've got Tsuna to watch my back."
"Tsuna-sama's got better things to do than watch out for an idiot like you," Gokudera retorted.
"Maa, maa," Takeshi shouldered his bag as he swung one arm around Tsuna's shoulders. "I'm just saying we'll look out for each other. We're friends now, after all."
Tsuna's head shot up, twisting to look at Takeshi with a surprised but almost fearful look.
"Yup," Takeshi confirmed freely, hearing the brunet's unspoken question. "We're friends now."
"Don't just assume things, baseball freak!" Gokudera growled, but his expression became resigned when Tsuna shook his head at him.
"Cause trouble for Tsuna-sama and I'll blow you up," Gokudera promised instead.
Takeshi laughed. "Oh, you must be talking about those fireworks you're always setting off around the teacher."
"Fire-!" Gokudera spluttered before whipping out said fireworks and waving them in Takeshi's face. "Listen, you retarded jock! These aren't fireworks; they're dynamite! Make one wrong move like annoy Tsuna-sama and I'll blast you to kingdom come!"
Takeshi brushed the threat off as they began to walk out of the school. "Cool, maybe I should get some too, just in case you annoy Tsuna."
Gokudera looked torn between outrage and disbelief. "You'd blow yourself up if anyone ever handed you a bomb. And I would never annoy Tsuna-sama!"
"And neither would I," Takeshi agreed, expertly ignoring the insult. "Why do you call him Tsuna-sama anyway?"
Gokudera drew himself up proudly. "I"m Tsuna-sama's personal bodyguard."
"Oh, Tsuna needs bodyguards?" Takeshi's gaze sharpened, looking down as Tsuna frantically shook his head. He frowned thoughtfully. "Well then, I'll be his bodyguard too. After all, two people protecting him are better than one."
"Are you implying that I can't protect Tsuna-sama properly?" Gokudera demanded.
"Are you having any difficulties with the job?"
"Of course not!"
"Then I can help you."
"I just said I wasn't!"
Takeshi laughed again, taking note of the small smile on Tsuna's face as he watched them banter. It was rather sad that he couldn't remember Tsuna ever smiling before and he was fairly certain they had been in the same class together since kindergarten.
"Hey Tsuna," Takeshi peered down at the brunet, still smiling but serious now. "I don't agree with everything you said on the roof."
Gokudera's glare immediately zeroed in on him but Takeshi hurried on before he could interrupt.
"I don't think someone no good, stupid and slow could've saved me," He continued earnestly. "So that means you're none of those things, okay?"
Tsuna blinked at him, clearly startled, and then promptly turned red as he dipped his head in an affirmative nod.
Takeshi grinned brightly as Gokudera clicked his tongue in annoyance but didn't refute his claim.
"So where are we going?"
Gokudera almost fell over. "Baseball freak, do you make a habit of following people around without knowing where they're going first?"
"Nope, but if it's Tsuna I'm following, then it's alright, isn't it?"
Gokudera looked momentarily incensed but Tsuna reached out and patted him on the arm, calming him down somewhat.
"Gokudera-kun's j- just walking me home, Yamamoto-san," Tsuna murmured, surprising Takeshi. He had hoped it wouldn't be a one-time occurrence; Tsuna said a lot of cool things when he wanted to talk, but it seemed Takeshi now fell into the small group of people who Tsuna would talk to. Come to think of it, it had only been Gokudera before.
Grinning widely, Takeshi quickly corrected the brunet. "You don't need a –san at the end of my name; it sounds weird. In fact, you can just call me Takeshi; I don't mind."
Tsuna turned red again and stammered something that sounded like a protest but Takeshi shook his head. "Call me Takeshi," He insisted.
Tsuna's mouth opened and closed for a moment before he mumbled, "T- Takeshi-kun then."
Over Tsuna's head, Gokudera shot him a blistering glare before turning back to the brunet.
"Then I would be honoured if you could call me Hayato, Tsuna-sama," Gokudera flushed a little but stared back at Tsuna determinedly.
Tsuna scratched his head in an embarrassed manner but nodded shyly in the end. "Okay. Hayato-kun then."
Gokudera looked exceedingly happy and Takeshi opened his mouth to tease him a little but a highly unwelcome voice cut him off.
"What are you doing here?"
All three came to a stop in front of a two-story house, and judging by the way Takehiko had one foot inside the gate, Takeshi guessed that this was Tsuna's house. Under his arm, he felt the tension gathering in Tsuna's shoulders and he tightened his arm a little to try to reassure him.
"Walking to Tsuna-sama's house, clone," Gokudera spat out, instantly hostile in a way that was completely different from when he had been arguing with Takeshi. "What does it look like?"
Hiko glared at him before switching his gaze to Takeshi. The words from yesterday echoed in his head but they seemed fainter than even just a few hours ago, replaced by Tsuna's words, shaky and faltering but holding a certain conviction that Hiko's had never had.
"I meant what is he doing here?" Hiko eyed Takeshi suspiciously.
Takeshi did what he did best: smile. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flicker of movement and found a kid in a black suit and hat perched on top of the wall surrounding the Sawada household.
"What Gokudera said," Takeshi answered before turning a curious look on the baby. "Who's this?"
The baby blinked at him. "I'm Reborn, Hiko's tutor."
"Oh, really?" Takeshi grinned at the kid. "Nice to meet you."
Reborn tipped his hat in reply but Hiko spoke up before the baby could say anything.
"I heard about your suicide attempt today," Hiko said, and Takeshi felt Tsuna flinch under his arm. "And to think, I was actually considering you for my Family. How stupid can you get?"
Takeshi could feel Tsuna shaking and Gokudera released an almost inaudible growl on the brunet's other side.
"Pretty stupid," Takeshi said cheerfully. "So I'm lucky I had Tsuna to talk me out of it."
Hiko scoffed. "Dame-Tsuna?"
Takeshi's smile sharpened. "No," He corrected. "Tsuna. There's nothing Dame about him at all."
Hiko just sneered and his eyes burned with something Takeshi almost thought was jealousy. "Dame-Tsuna's always been Dame. But I suppose a failure like you fits in perfectly with him."
Tsuna jerked underneath his arm as if he wanted to pull away and launch himself at Hiko, and Takeshi quickly glanced down, tightening his arm to show he didn't mind.
He stilled when he caught sight of the haunted look in Tsuna's eyes, angry and hurt and confused all at once, like he couldn't understand why his brother would say things like that, angry that his twin would say them at all, and hurting for Takeshi all the while.
Hiko's hurting Tsuna more than he's hurting me, Takeshi realized with sudden clarity.
Which was absolutely unacceptable.
Tsuna had saved his life and that was something Takeshi would never forget. When Tsuna had told him to look around, he had been almost shocked at how high up he was. One wrong step and he would've fallen. His father had inexplicably flashed into his mind in that one instant and Takeshi just knew his old man would've been devastated if he had really committed suicide.
So Takeshi couldn't ever repay Tsuna enough and he had made up his mind the moment he had consciously decided to live; he would do the same for Tsuna, protect him as much as he could, even from his own brother. Especially from his own brother.
"Oi," Gokudera's voice was low and dangerous as he pulled out those fireworks he always carried around. If the white-knuckled grip he had on them was any indication, Takeshi was pretty sure the other teen had caught a glimpse of Tsuna's face as well. "Why don't you do everyone a favour and keep your fucking mouth shut?"
Hiko snorted. "What, like Dame-Tsuna? He's the one nobody cares-"
Takeshi saw the exact moment Gokudera snapped, half a second before the teen lunged forward and hurled the fireworks straight at Hiko. They went off with loud bangs and an explosion of smoke, and Takeshi instinctively shielded Tsuna from the detonations.
"You fucking bastard, what is wrong with you?!" Gokudera bellowed, and Takeshi wholeheartedly agreed with the question. How could anyone treat family like that?
"Tsuna!" Takeshi exclaimed as the brunet tore himself away from his grip and into the smoke. Without thinking, he dove in after him, squinting his eyes as he tried to keep Tsuna in his line of sight.
Several loud cracks erupted into the air just as Takeshi managed to grab Tsuna and Tsuna managed to grab Gokudera's arm. The grey-haired teen's fist was in the air and he strained against Tsuna's hold.
"Enough," A dark voice interjected, and as the smoke cleared, Takeshi found the baby still standing on the wall but with a green gun in hand and pointed upwards.
"Hiko," Reborn turned to Tsuna's twin first, who, now that Takeshi could see, was laying on the ground, a little singed and glaring furiously at Gokudera.
"Go inside," The baby continued in a voice that warned against anymore antics. When Hiko opened his mouth (unwisely, in Takeshi's opinion), Reborn directed his gun at the boy's head. Takeshi wasn't sure how much use a toy gun was but the look on the kid's face was enough to get anyone moving.
Hiko was no different, and with a last glare at all of them, the teen disappeared inside.
Gokudera had lowered his arm by the time Reborn turned to them. To Takeshi's surprise, the baby's gun changed into a lizard of some sort and crawled back onto Reborn's hat.
A long moment of silence descended over them and Takeshi took the time to check Tsuna over. Gokudera did the same, looking anxiously over the brunet.
"Tsuna-sama, are you alright?" Gokudera asked worriedly. "You didn't get hurt did you?"
Takeshi didn't say anything. He took one look at Tsuna's expression and knew, just knew, the teen was crying inside. He had never known that someone could cry without actually crying, but Tsuna could talk without actually talking so he supposed if anyone could pull it off, it was him.
"Tsuna," Takeshi made sure to keep his voice light as blank eyes turned to look at him. "I know it's a bit short notice but do you want to come over to my place for some sushi? My dad runs a sushi store and he makes the best dishes in all of Namimori."
He glanced over at Gokudera and added, "Gokudera can come too. We can make it a party to celebrate our newfound friendship."
Gokudera blanched and shot him a disgusted look but didn't say anything against it. Instead, he muttered a slightly strained agreement and they both waited for Tsuna to decide.
Tsuna glanced back at the house before nodding tentatively.
"That's a good idea," Reborn interrupted, and a second later, Takeshi found a packed duffel bag being thrown at him. He hastily caught it and shot the kid a bewildered look.
"Could you put Tsuna up for the night?" The kid requested, and Takeshi immediately nodded. He had been planning on asking Tsuna anyway once they had reached his house.
Beside him, Tsuna stiffened and began shaking his head but Takeshi headed him off. "You're welcome to stay, Tsuna. We've got a spare bedroom but it'll be fun if we just make it a sleepover and you can both bunk in my room."
Tsuna hesitated but the kid cut in again, tone firm. "Tsuna, it wouldn't do you any good if you stayed tonight," He paused and then offered with a strange glint in his eyes, "Or you could stay and I'll have Hiko sleep elsewhere."
This seemed to make up Tsuna's mind because the brunet nodded, shoulders relaxing a notch, and Takeshi released a sigh of relief as he and Gokudera ushered him away.
Takeshi had only just befriended Tsuna, but technically, they had known each other for years, and the easy camaraderie he felt with his classmate certainly made it seem as if they had been friends for just as long. A sleepover didn't seem at all strange even though his dad would probably do a double-take. Takeshi hadn't invited anyone over since he was eight.
When his son walked in with the Hurricane Bomb behind him, Tsuyoshi hadn't known what to make of it. He remembered Takeshi mentioning a transfer student but he had never imagined it would be someone in the Italian mafia.
It had taken him a moment longer to spot the smallest of the three straggling behind his son but in front of the bomber. Tsuyoshi had scanned the boy for all of a second, nodded when Takeshi asked him if they could have a sleepover, and immediately set out to make some of his best dishes for the three as Takeshi came over and introduced them.
Sawada Tsunayoshi was worryingly guarded against Tsuyoshi's smiles. His son had pulled him aside for a moment when the boy was occupied with an unraveled shoelace and cautioned him about his tendency to stay silent. Tsunayoshi could talk but usually didn't, especially when strangers were around.
Tsuyoshi hadn't so much as blinked, treating the two boys with sushi and small talk as Takeshi helped him in the kitchen. And slowly, Tsunayoshi had relaxed, especially when his son had gotten into a rather one-sided argument with Gokudera Hayato.
And when all three were full, Takeshi had ushered Tsunayoshi upstairs, Hayato had run home to get an extra set of clothes and a few other things, and Tsuyoshi had been left with a knife in his hand and contemplating who he was going to have to wave it at.
Tsuyoshi turned and smiled at his son. "Is Tsuna-kun settling in alright?"
Takeshi nodded, running a hand through his hair in a distracted manner as he took a seat on one of the stools. "He's phoning his mom just in case she doesn't know he's over here."
Tsuyoshi waited for a long minute before enquiring evenly, "Is he being abused?"
Takeshi jerked and almost toppled off the chair. "What? No, of course not!" He stopped. "...Well-"
"Abuse doesn't necessarily have to be physical, Takeshi," Tsuyoshi said calmly. "That boy hasn't smiled once since he got here, and no one stops talking for no reason. Someone's hurt him, badly, and I don't mean just once or twice."
Takeshi shrugged helplessly. "I don't know, Tou-san. I- I only just became friends with him today. He helped me out- I mean-"
Tsuyoshi watched him closely and finished for his son when it looked like Takeshi wouldn't be able to tell him. "He stopped you from jumping today."
Takeshi's head shot up and his jaw dropped open. "How did you-"
Tsuyoshi smiled wryly but there was no joy in the action. "Some students came in for sushi after school and I heard them talking. I knew you hadn't in the end, which is the only reason I didn't rush out immediately when I heard."
Takeshi flushed and his shoulders hunched guiltily. "I'm sorry, Tou-san. I don't know what I was thinking."
Tsuyoshi just sighed, coming around the counter to wrap his son in a hug. Takeshi's arms came around him and tightened almost painfully.
"There's nothing to apologize for," Tsuyoshi said quietly. "If anything, I should be sorry for not seeing it."
Takeshi pulled away, shaking his head vehemently. "No way; I was the one being stupid. But Tsuna talked me out of it."
Tsuyoshi nodded thoughtfully, glancing up the stairs in the back. "Yes, he must really be something, though your schoolmates had less than ideal opinions about him."
Takeshi's eyes hardened in a way Tsuyoshi had never seen before.
"They're wrong," Takeshi said heatedly. "Tsuna's great. He's not the best in school or sports and he doesn't talk much but he cares about people. He even cares about that brother-"
Tsuyoshi raised an eyebrow when his son cut himself off, an uncharacteristic frown marring his features.
"His brother?" Tsuyoshi felt a sense of foreboding as he took a seat beside his son.
Takeshi grimaced. "Younger twin brother. He's... really nasty. And I don't mean your average bully nasty. I was with Tsuna and Hiko for no more than ten minutes and he didn't stop insulting Tsuna until Gokudera threw fireworks at him."
Tsuyoshi was fairly certain the 'fireworks' were actually real dynamite but he'd let his son think what he wanted for now.
"And Tsuna-kun didn't say anything?" Tsuyoshi asked, though he supposed that was a rather stupid question.
Takeshi shook his head. "He just stood there. He didn't really get angry until Hiko insulted me about... today."
Tsuyoshi frowned and he had to shove down a rush of anger at this. How could anyone, even a child, throw something like suicide around so carelessly?
"I think it's been going on for a long time," Takeshi added.
"What about his parents?" Surely they wouldn't stand for such behaviour?
"Oh, Tsuna lives with just his mum," Takeshi revealed almost awkwardly. "Somehow, someone found out years ago that his dad's almost never around and some of the kids tease him about it. Not recently though. I think Gokudera chases away anyone who even looks at Tsuna the wrong way."
Probably, Tsuyoshi agreed silently, thinking of the near-worship attitude that had shone through various times throughout that afternoon.
"There's this kid, though," Takeshi continued. "Says he's Hiko's tutor. Packed Tsuna an overnight bag and asked if he could stay over here. He must be really smart."
Alarm bells were ringing in Takeshi's head. "Kid?" He repeated. "Do you know his name?"
Takeshi nodded. "Reborn."
Tsuyoshi was very careful not to reveal any sort of shock. What in the world was the Sun Arcobaleno doing in Namimori?
Tsuyoshi was retired but that didn't mean he didn't still keep an ear to the ground, just in case something big happened. He had no idea what Reborn was doing in Japan though. And did Reborn know who Tsuyoshi was?
"I see," He said out loud. "Well, Tsuna-kun will always be welcome here. If it is his brother, then for now, perhaps it would be best if Tsuna-kun spends some time apart from him. Maybe you could have a few more sleepovers?"
Takeshi finally smiled, features relaxing again. "Yeah, that's what I thought. Thanks, Tou-san."
Tsuyoshi nodded and watched Takeshi disappear upstairs. Life had just gotten a lot more interesting.
Training underway. Progress slow. I find him unsuitable, but will do my best.
Next Chapter: Bianchi and Lambo