Disclaimer: I own nothing from Katekyo Hitman Reborn.
Chapter 2 – Toys
When Tsuna was little, his dream was to become a giant robot. Robots were strong and could protect themselves, and he had a collection of toy robots that he played with day in and day out.
Of course, when second grade rolled around and he turned in an essay that said as much, his classmates laughed when it was read aloud and his teacher gave him that disappointed look of disapproval that Tsuna was quickly getting used to. That was the last time he ever mentioned his dreams and his toy robots disappeared in a cupboard in his room but that didn't stop him from wanting to be one.
Years later when Tsuna looked around on an average Tuesday and found himself surrounded by friends, he wondered why he had ever wanted to be a robot. Robots could defend themselves but they also caused a whole lot of destruction around them in the process and that wasn't what Tsuna wanted.
Before Takeshi became Tsuna's best friend and Rain Guardian and Takeshi, he was Dame-Tsuna's classmate. He looked back on those times with distaste now and he certainly wasn't proud of it but Takeshi had been popular and outgoing while Tsuna had been reticent and shy and everyone had picked on the brunet. Takeshi hadn't wanted to be the only one not to, shameful as that was.
And then Dame-Tsuna of all people managed to talk him back from the edge of a fifty-foot drop and became just Tsuna instead. Takeshi found a new friend – a real friend – and someone he was willing to follow ten, twenty, thirty years down the road and would continue following until the day he died.
It was a regular Saturday in the Sawada household two years after Takeshi first befriended Tsuna that he spotted several toy cars lined up in a shadowy corner of a bookshelf that struck him as familiar. They were fairly old and Takeshi guessed that Tsuna had played with them a lot when he was small but he couldn't help the nagging impression that he had seen them before. Or something like them anyway.
The cars ranged from red to purple, probably sold as a collection. Maybe not the complete set though, Takeshi realized after a moment when he couldn't find a blue car.
He tried to put it out of his mind – it wasn't very important anyway; just toy cars – but his thoughts always drifted back to the missing blue car, the car that might not even exist, the car that-
That very same day, Takeshi went home and tore his room apart, much to his dad's bewilderment, but several hours and quite a few upended drawers later, he found what he was looking for and the memory that came with it surfaced in his mind.
Takeshi had been five, just starting kindergarten, when his mother had died. Even back then, he had always made an effort to smile whether or not he felt like it because his mum had always said she loved it when he was smiling. The day after his mother's death had been no different and he had gone to school smiling because he hadn't known what else to do (and maybe a small part of him had been hoping that his mother would come back if he kept doing what she loved).
No one noticed, and if the teachers did – his father hadn't informed the school yet, too busy mourning and preparing for the funeral – they simply dismissed it as a bad day for Takeshi.
No one had said anything... except the small brown-haired boy who always sat by himself and did most everything wrong and had no friends. Tsuna – Dame-Tsuna back then, and Takeshi only hated himself more for even thinking something like that – had sidled up to him at lunch after Takeshi had hidden from his friends, not wanting their company, and while he hadn't cried or stopped smiling, the pain in his chest had felt like it would tear him apart.
And then Tsuna was there, sitting beside him in the deserted sandbox with hunched shoulders and a wobbly smile and a handful of-
Tsuna hadn't said anything at first, simply starting on a sand parking lot for the cars – orange, red, yellow, purple, green, dark blue (indigo), and blue – but before Takeshi knew it, he had joined in, the peaceful silence and lack of other kids trying to get his attention making him more comfortable. His smile had unconsciously dropped and he had glanced over at Tsuna several times to see if the other boy would say anything, but Tsuna never did.
And when the warning bell had rang, Takeshi had felt... not happy, not content, but... better. And he had wanted to ask why Tsuna had suddenly comforted him but he hadn't known how to ask without sounding stupid. And then Tsuna had patted his knee after they had dusted the sand from their hands and smiled that wobbly smile again.
"You looked sad," Tsuna had said simply. "Like my mommy does when my father calls and says he can't make it home. She always feels better if I keep her company for a while." A shy, almost brittle smile. "Do you feel better?"
Takeshi had nodded, mesmerized, and had blinked in confusion when the smaller boy had pressed a car – the blue car – into his hand.
"A present," Tsuna had explained as he had gathered up the rest of his cars. "Everyone likes presents. They cheer people up."
That was the last time Takeshi spoke with Tsuna for the next eight years. His dad had pulled him out of school the very next day and Takeshi was allowed to stay home for two weeks to say proper goodbyes to his mother. He had kept the car in his pocket during that time, clutching it with one hand and keeping himself anchored, but hadn't brought it to school when he finally returned, and by then, some of his friends had found out his mum had died and they had all swarmed him with childish condolences and wouldn't stop talking about it and distracted him with games of catch and-
And Takeshi had slowly forgotten about that small brown-haired boy who always sat by himself and did most everything wrong and had no friends.
Before Takeshi could even think about what he was doing, he had dragged himself out of the memory and was out the door before his father could ask where he was going. It took him a record-breaking five minutes to get to Tsuna's house and he was knocking on the door before he registered exactly what time it was – eight in the evening – and the fact that he had absolutely no idea what he was doing there.
Fortunately, or maybe not so fortunately, Tsuna answered to door, staring at him in complete bafflement as Takeshi tried to catch his breath.
Takeshi straightened after a few seconds, opened his mouth, closed it when nothing came out, and finally just thrust the blue car into Tsuna's face without a word.
Tsuna went a bit cross-eyed at first and it took a moment before recognition dawned on his face. And then a wry humourless smile tilted his lips and it was so un-Tsuna-like that Takeshi flinched a little. Of course, Takeshi knew people didn't want to smile all the time, weren't happy all the time, but Tsuna usually only smiled when he felt like it and didn't when he didn't so it wasn't exactly hard to figure out that that particular memory wasn't all that nice for Tsuna. Takeshi couldn't blame him.
But then Tsuna's mum was there, ushering him in and offering him a snack and Takeshi didn't know whether he was disappointed or relieved that they had been interrupted. He wanted to say something but he didn't know what to say anyway.
Takeshi couldn't stay long and Tsuna himself ushered him to the door – and for a brief, irrational, heart-stopping moment, Takeshi thought Tsuna was pushing him out of his life – but the brunet smiled at him again, a genuine one this time, and waved him out the door.
"It was eight years ago and we were kids," Tsuna reminded. "Don't worry about it; it's not that important. See you tomorrow, Takeshi."
But it had been important, to both of them. Even back then, Tsuna had kept him away from that dark pool of depression that he used to be so susceptible to and Takeshi was willing to bet that it was one of the few times Tsuna had reached out to someone else. And hadn't Tsuna mentioned his dad (what kind of a five-year-old called their own dad 'father' in this day and age?) and his mum being upset? Shouldn't Takeshi have picked up on that (granted he had been five-years-old as well, but still)?
Takeshi felt like an ass.
In the morning, Takeshi mentioned to Ryohei that Hayato seemed to have taken an interest in boxing (he would apologize later if Hayato found out) and got rid of the bomber for the day before dragging Tsuna off to the flower shop for a bouquet of flowers and then to the cemetery where his mother was buried. He introduced Tsuna as his best friend and grinned when the brunet flushed red, pleased and embarrassed at the same time.
Takeshi wouldn't mind apologizing but he had a feeling Tsuna didn't really want one anyway, wouldn't want their current friendship to be weighed down by leftover traces of guilt, so he did the next best thing instead. Takeshi had never brought anyone to visit his mother and had only ever accompanied his dad, but now there was one more person whom he could visit her grave with.
Ten, twenty, thirty years down the road, and Takeshi still kept the toy car with its fading blue paint and slightly rusty wheels with him.
Sometimes, Kyoko thought it rather odd to be engaged to someone she had known since kindergarten. Not that she minded; she couldn't be happier dating Tsuna and the day he proposed had made her cry (panicking her soon-to-be fiancé in the process), and while she couldn't say why it was odd, the feeling still occasionally crept up on her.
Kyoko had always liked fairy tales as a child and even as an adult, she was still rather partial to them, the 'happily ever afters' never failing to put a warm smile on her face. She liked them, but as she grew up, she thought real life was better. Fairy tales never ended up with the girl married to a mafia boss after all and she was perfectly happy with her lot in life.
But still, it was a little odd to remember the clumsy boy her fiancé had been, and more than once, she marveled at the man Tsuna had become, straight-backed and resolute, voice filled with quiet strength and confidence as he talked to his Guardians.
It was also a little odd to remember that the first words she had ever said to Tsuna had been may I borrow your crayon please.
Not exactly what every girl dreamed of saying to the person they would fall in love with ten years in the future.
Kyoko smiled down at the shoebox that held her old school things. She was moving to Italy in a few days and was going through all her things, trying to decide what to bring. The yellow crayon she had forgotten to return all those years ago when she had used it to colour a sun was promptly packed away with other knickknacks and tucked away into her luggage. She had borrowed it for ten years; Tsu-kun wouldn't mind if she kept it for another ten, and maybe another ten after that, and for however long Kyoko would remain at the brunet's side.
Keeping that in mind, perhaps she wouldn't return it after all.
Personally, Tsuna didn't like balls. Dodge balls hurt because he could never catch them right and soccer balls made him trip. Basketballs never remained under his hand and footballs weren't even worth mentioning.
Baseballs were no different. They gave him bruises and even a mild concussion once and he was just so damn clumsy that the other kids quickly learned not to throw to him.
And then one Yamamoto Takeshi came into his life and while Tsuna didn't share his friend's love of baseball, he certainly caught the small flash of disappointment in Yamamoto's eyes when Tsuna sat out for most of the baseball game he had been invited to.
So he went home and practiced, if only so he wouldn't upset Yamamoto again. It took him two months and Reborn's gruelling training (once his tutor had noticed what Tsuna was trying to do, he had stepped in with a smirk and 'helped') before Tsuna was at a satisfying level of competence. Accompanying his new skill set were an array of bruises, scrapes, and another mild concussion.
But the bright smile on Yamamoto's face when Tsuna managed to hit a homerun was well worth the pain.
As a kid, Tsuna rode bikes about as well as he swam, which was to say badly to not at all. Tricycles were okay, though Tsuna still had trouble with those, but it was usually fathers who taught their children how to ride and Tsuna didn't have a father, not really. His mother didn't know how.
So, when Gokudera and Yamamoto (or just Yamamoto; Gokudera was perfectly happy doing anything Tsuna wanted) suggested a bike ride one hot summer day as they lounged in the Sawada sitting room, Tsuna had flushed with embarrassment and stammered out a declination, confessing that he didn't know how to ride a bike as no one had ever taught him how and he wasn't very good at teaching himself.
He raised his head in time to catch the look his two friends exchanged, rare in its lack of conflict and startling in its identical disapproval, none of it aimed at him, it seemed, when they both glanced at one of the photographs of sitting on the coffee table.
Tsuna liked to think he could read his friends fairly well, so while Gokudera was respectful to his father and Yamamoto was naturally friendly to everyone, he could tell that neither of them particularly liked Sawada Iemitsu. It was pretty sad that, by then, Tsuna didn't actually care enough about the man to mind.
The two turned back and Yamamoto smiled, carefree and cheerful as he slung an arm over Tsuna's shoulders. Automatically, Gokudera bristled like a displeased cat but stayed quiet for once.
"Well then," Yamamoto announced. "Now's the perfect time to learn. We'll teach you."
Tsuna blinked at him in confusion. "I- I'm really hopeless at riding a bike, Yamamoto. I don't think I'll be able to learn."
"Nonsense, Jyuudaime!" Gokudera proclaimed stoutly. "You can learn anything you put your mind to."
"Don't you know, Tsuna?" Yamamoto cut in lightly, his arm tightening reassuringly around Tsuna. "Anyone can learn how to ride a bike. All you need is someone behind you."
And that was how Tsuna found himself pedalling shakily down the road with Yamamoto holding his new bike steady from behind and Gokudera running on his right, shouting encouragement and praise.
A week and several new bruises later, Tsuna biked down to the ice-cream parlour on his own skill, with Gokudera on one side and Yamamoto on the other, all three laughing as they enjoyed the summer afternoon.
A journal wasn't really a toy but Tsuna had kept one when he was a child and had eventually left it at the bottom of a drawer, forgotten and collecting dust until a certain hitman found it when he was going through Tsuna's belongings one day.
It wasn't as if Reborn was looking for anything specific but as Dame-Tsuna's tutor, he had to know as much as he could about the brunet and a person's possessions were always telling, so when Tsuna was at school one day, only a month and a half after he had arrived at the Sawada household, Reborn began poking around Tsuna's room, finding some toy cars and robots, old pieces of homework with competent to dismal marks, and a journal.
Curiosity sparked inside him and he flipped it open to scan the childish scrawls inside. The handwriting was large and clumsy and there were more than a few spelling mistakes but it was what was written inside it that made Reborn read through the entire thing.
'Hi! I'm Tsuna. I'm seven yeers old and I live in Namimori with my mum. Kaa-san gave me this jurnal to rite in. She says it's a present frum my dad. My dad is a consterucshun worker, which is why he's not here. Kaa-san says he'll come home soon.' ...
... 'It's Tsuna again. I got fifty-two persent in my spelling test today. Kaa-san was so proud! And she says if I do even better, Tou-san will come home.' ...
... 'I didn't get a very good mark in math but Kaa-san says it's okay. The other kids say I'm no-good but Kaa-san says I just have to try harder next time so Tou-san will come home.' ...
And so it went on for several dozen pages and Reborn's frown only deepened with every entry. They didn't all mention Iemitsu but his student's kid self seemed to be under the impression that doing well in school would bring his father home. With every bad mark he received, Tsuna's words would become a little sadder and a little more desperate.
A failing on Nana's part, Reborn decided with a sudden rush of irritation. The woman was kind, there was no doubt about that, but she should never have told a child something as ridiculous as that, especially to someone as naively trusting as Tsuna.
He returned to the journal and his hand tightened around the page of the next entry.
'Kaa-san was sad today cuz tomorrow is her and Tou-san's aniversery and Tou-san called and said he couldn't come home. I didn't want Kaa-san to be sad so I studied reely hard and got a seventy on my science test. That's the highest mark I ever got but Kaa-san said Tou-san won't come home no matter what grades I get. She says it's okay tho cuz I can just be her no-good son. I don't want to be her no-good son. I thot she was proud of me but no one would be proud of someone no-good. Kaa-san lied.
It was the very last entry in the journal, smudged with tears and crumpled by disappointed hands, and Reborn found himself glaring at it without realizing. Nana meant well but promises weren't particularly reliable where Iemitsu was concerned. Reborn knew the woman wasn't as clueless as she pretended to be; she should know better.
His head snapped up when he heard the front door opening and, surprisingly, his first reaction was to hide the journal. But he had never cared what other people thought of his snooping and Tsuna should be used to it by now so he made no move to hurry his movements as he calmly snapped the journal shut and glanced up to meet his student's gaze when the bedroom door swung open.
Reborn had never seen Tsuna pale as quickly as when the teen's eyes landed on the journal in Reborn's hands. The paleness left soon enough though and a red flush rose in his cheeks as normally soft brown eyes sharpened into a momentary almost-glare. Reborn watched with interest, wondering if Tsuna would cry or shout or run.
The teen did none of the above though. Instead, without a word, his student simply strode forward and plucked the journal out of Reborn's grasp and stuffed it away again at the very back of the drawer. Reborn frowned inwardly but had no time to consider questioning Tsuna on it when Gokudera and Yamamoto appeared, one bickering and the other laughing as usual. But Tsuna hadn't lashed out as Reborn had thought he might and the incident was swept under the rug for the day.
The three weeks after that were excruciating. Tsuna didn't ignore Reborn or snap at him or bring up the hitman's prying tendencies at all. The brunet answered homework questions and shrieked when Reborn shot at him or set off explosives in his room and did whatever training the hitman forced on him with the customary lack of enthusiasm.
But there was no denying the distance Reborn suddenly found stretching between himself and his student. While Tsuna did everything Reborn told him to, the teen no longer complained as much (and while Reborn was looking forward to the day Tsuna stopped complaining, this was the wrong sort of not-complaining), he never spoke to Reborn unless absolutely necessary, and the occasional smiles he directed at the hitman were half-hearted at best. For someone Reborn was sure had never gotten truly angry at anyone before, Tsuna was astoundingly good at giving the silent treatment without actually being silent.
So three weeks later, during which Reborn had pretty much done almost everything humanly possible to get his student back to normal with no success, he finally admitted grudging defeat, allowed the flicker of guilt he had been suppressing to grow, temporarily tossed his pride aside, and goddamn apologized.
Honestly, Reborn had never even apologized to the Nono, not that he had ever actually done anything to the man that warranted an apology, but still, it was the principle of the matter.
But apparently, an apology was all Tsuna had been waiting for because the answering smile Reborn received was more real than the ones he had seen in the past few weeks and the distance between them wasn't so wide anymore. There was still a certain tentative caution to Tsuna's actions in the following days but it got better from that point on and Reborn was careful to respect his student's more private belongings in the future. He still snooped around and spied on his student when Tsuna interacted with other people but Reborn learned to draw the line at truly personal matters unless Tsuna gave his permission.
Neither of them ever mentioned the journal again but Reborn never forgot, and Iemitsu never did find out why the hitman had decided to use him for target practice the first day he came back to Namimori before the ring battles.
Five years later, when Tsuna graduated from high school with relatively good marks and not a single failed subject on his transcript, Reborn found his student on the couch in the living room with the same journal in hand and a slightly rueful but still amused smile on his face as he reread the entries.
The journal went out with the garbage the very next day.
Tsuna had always been more of a cat person. Maybe that was why most dogs hated him but cats were perfectly okay with him as long as Tsuna didn't pet them without their permission (cats were picky like that). Cats didn't bark for no discernible reason whatsoever and minded their own business so long as he minded his.
The very first stuffed animal Tsuna received was a cat. Well, it was technically a lion but a lion was a type of feline and, when he was little, he had always thought lions were grown-up cats, which was plain silly now that he thought about it. But that lion, with its fluffy mane and tawny fur, had been his constant companion as a child. He had brought it everywhere with him, to school, to the park, even to the dentist's. And when he turned six and the other kids laughed at him for carrying it around with him, Tsuna left the lion at home instead, but always chattered away to it in the privacy of his bedroom because the lion always listened, right up until he turned thirteen and Reborn invaded his sanctuary. Then the lion had to be hidden because Tsuna was fairly certain mafia bosses didn't talk to stuffed animals and Reborn would most likely take it away.
Several months down the road and nine years and ten months in the future, Tsuna received a box animal from his future self and named him Natsu. Even Reborn thought Tsuna had chosen the name for his battle partner's yellow fur and orange mane. They didn't know he had named the little lion after his stuffed animal.
Five years later, after he accepted the mantle of Vongola Decimo and moved to Italy, Tsuna only smiled when Reborn quirked a questioning eyebrow at the worn stuffed lion sitting on his top bookshelf.
Most video games had two main options: SOLOPLAYER and MULTIPLAYER. Unsurprisingly, Tsuna always chose SOLOPLAYER.
And then his first two friends marched into his life, making themselves comfortable beside him before Tsuna fully realized that they were there to stay. Neither of them quite understood why Tsuna had smiled so oddly the first time MULTIPLAYER was chosen and Tsuna never explained why.
But even years later, when they were adults and just wanted to do something childish, Tsuna still scrolled through the saved games in the MULTIPLAYER section with that same odd smile.
SOLOPLAYER was left untouched.
Next Chapter: Emotions