SE: I really do love you all, honestly. Next chapter may take a slight while, but not as long as this one.


Disclaimer: No.


VI: As a friend...

"I'm telling you, there's something weird about that baby, Nee-san."

Tsuna offers a bemused smile in response as the two turn a corner and past a sleeping Chihuahua, content on letting Takahiro vent out his inner frustrations.

"I mean," Takahiro slows his pace to a stroll and huffs, irritation splashed easily across his face. "Who does he think he is, saying he's a home tutor of all things?"

(Tsuna pretends to not notice when something solid lands firmly on his head).

"If you really want to know," A childish voice interrupts high above, "I'm actually a hitman."

"A hitman?" Takahiro whips his head to the left with confusion, but Tsuna simply dons on a face of pure serenity and ignores the piece of his soul withering away inside. "That is absolutely ridiculous – wait, when did you –?"

Looking at his brother's flabbergasted face, Tsuna wonders briefly if Reborn takes pleasure in blatantly revealing his profession to innocent civilians just for the sake of his own sadistic sense of humor.

His intuition (aka, his Reborn Sensor) tells him he is, unfortunately, completely correct and then goes on to tell him that Reborn is also, at the moment, feeling slightly smug and in the mood for an espresso.

"Hitman? Don't make me laugh, you're just a baby." Reborn shifts slightly from his place on Tsuna's head, forcing a fierce scowl to morph on Takahiro's face. "And where do you think you're sitting? Get off my sister's head!"

"Breathe, Taka-chan," Tsuna lightly calls, lifting Reborn gently off his head and holding the baby in his arms before any harm is done to his brother. "There's no reason to get riled up by a little baby."

Takahiro in return opens his mouth before pausing and nodding jerkily in reluctant agreement. Taking in a deep breath, the boy gives Reborn another intimidating glare and readjusts the bag on his shoulder.

(Tsuna pointedly ignores the invested curiosity exuding from Reborn, and fights the greatest urge to fling the Arcobaleno far across Namimori just to avoid the events that are to come).

"Ah, how cute!" A bright voice calls out cheerfully before they can continue walking, and it barely muffles the sound of someone collapsing on the floor.

Tsuna takes a moment to glance at the corner ahead, catching only a glimpse of Midori's school uniform, but it is enough to recognize the sight of an old, dear friend.

Huh. Speaking of which, didn't Haru have an extremely unhealthy obsession with babies when they first met each other? It certainly did tone down over the years, but Tsuna has a few fuzzy memories about the girl's fanatic actions to 'protect all babies.'

(Here, Tsuna shudders because even though Haru had been one of his closest friends, his famiglia, he still can't comprehend the workings of her brain, because he remembers all too well that their fated first meeting came to fruition because apparently, Reborn is, the horror, cute).

"Ciaossu." Kyoko beams brilliantly and Tsuna watches with faint amusement as Takahiro inches back in trepidation.

"Good morning!" The girl then looks up and waves cheerfully at the twins in greeting. "Good morning, Tsuna-chan, Sawada-kun!"

"… Good morning," Takahiro huffs after an awkward moment of silence and begrudgingly nods at Kyoko once Tsuna nudges the boy in the ribs a few times.

"Good morning to you as well, Kyoko-san," Tsuna offers a faint smile at Kyoko's pouting face – she, along with Hana, are both relentless in their pursuit to have Tsuna drop all formal suffixes with their names.

Tsuna deigns it not important to let them know that this actually gives him an easier time discerning that the people here are far different from his people there.

Thud. Pant. Pant. Thud.

"Is – " Pant. "Is this boy your little brother?"

He shares a look with Takahiro after an awkward pause and, in a moment of rare twin-telepathy, they both shake their heads simultaneously in response.

"No, miss," Tsuna smiles bemusedly as Haru colors slightly in embarrassment, realizing she is a stranger barging into a conversation. "I'm pretty sure he isn't related to us in the slightest."

"Little boy," Kyoko leans forward in interest and Reborn stays casually still, completely unperturbed by the amount of attention focused on him. "Why are you wearing a suit?"

"Because I'm in the Mafia," Reborn answers back without missing a beat and Tsuna can practically feel the capitalized 'm' Reborn is hinting at. The baby then shifts his weight in Tsuna's arms to a more comfortable place, blatantly ignoring Takahiro's scoffs and mutters.

(In a far less stable part of his mind, Tsuna likes to compare Reborn's composure to one of a high-class model; the Arcobaleno certainly has the attitude – and the high maintenance – needed for one).

"Wow, that's so cool!" Kyoko clasps her hands together in delight, and Tsuna refrains from telling her that no, being in the Mafia is not cool and certainly is not fun.

"Ah, Tsuna-chan, we need to get going or we'll be late for school!" Tsuna – along with Takahiro, despite his clear wariness towards Kyoko and her sparkles – nods grimly in acknowledgement at Kyoko's unknowing warning. He looks down at the hitman in his arms and places the baby on the high wall next to him.

"I don't think the school allows children in the school grounds without adult supervision and visitor passes…" Tsuna trails off and looks straight into Reborn's calculating eyes, adopting a thoughtful expression. "Do you mind waiting for us at home? I'm sure kaa-san won't mind looking after you for a couple of hours."

There is a sense of foolish relief when Reborn nods in acquiescence, even though Tsuna knows that Reborn is meticulous and hardly – no, that's not right – carefully chooses his random spurts of ridiculousness.

So it is with that relief (and stupid hope that maybe Reborn's just visiting for kicks) that Tsuna leaves for school, waving goodbye to a flustered Haru and clinging on like the softy he is to the last normal day of his life.

He also desperately tries to ignore Reborn's following presence hidden a few bushes away, but he knows better than to assume that Reborn will simply stay away just because a middle-school child asked him to.

o-o-o-o-o-

As awkward as it is walking with Kyoko when Takahiro's wariness is blatantly clear, the three eventually find themselves a niche to fit into their nice, little group.

"Now that I think about it, I think this is the first time I'm walking to school with you, Tsuna-chan," Kyoko smiles brilliantly, and the corners of Tsuna's mouth lift unbidden with ease.

Here, Takahiro grumbles in a good-natured way, muttering about a stupid prefect and a stupid committee, and yelps when Tsuna nudges him fondly in response. Kyoko takes a moment to giggle at their actions and tilts her head curiously. "But really, don't you usually have to go early to fulfill your duties in the morning for the Disciplinary Committee?"

A brief flash of Tsuna's less-than-savory-but-nonetheless-amusing memories of his first few meetings with the rest of the committee pass by, but Tsuna shakes them off with amusement and gives a cheerful grin.

"That is true," He admits with a bit of woe-is-me self-pity inflicted in his voice. "But I'm allowed to take a day off once a month for other responsibilities that need my attention."

Tsuna gives a brief thought of compassion for the poor souls who will have to deal with Kyouya's near-unmanageable temper in the morning. Hopefully, they'll take his advice and prepare a cup of warm green tea with a plate of Japanese crackers for their leader – Kyouya has always been less inclined to murder when something in his mouth.

Kyoko hums thoughtfully in consideration at Tsuna's words, but before any more is said, the captain of the kendo club slides by their small group.

"Yo," Tsuna's eyes furrow in confusion even as Kyoko hesitantly brightens and Takahiro's neutral gaze morphs into a familiar scowl.

"Mochida-senpai!" Kyoko exclaims in surprise, and Tsuna's intuition flares in recognition and warning.

Mochida, Mochida, Mochida – ah, he was the first opponent Tsuna had faced after meeting Reborn. An upperclassman with a penchant for dirty tricks, Tsuna remembers almost fondly. Compared to opponents like Byakuran and Enma (or hell, even Mukuro), Mochida is like a nostalgic, cute little puppy with a lot of bark and no bite.

" – and you're walking with the Sawada twins, too?" Tsuna comes back to reality and raises an eyebrow at the upperclassman's words. "I didn't know you were friends with them."

Next to him, Takahiro barely restrains a growl at Mochida's condescending but considering look, and Tsuna once again reminds himself to one day teach his brother some subtlety, if Reborn never gets around to it.

And without warning, Tsuna feels an arm link around his own in a familiar fashion, but he relaxes once he realizes that it is Kyoko and not an enemy assassin out to destroy the last heirs of the Vongola family.

"Mm!" Kyoko nods brilliantly to Mochida's probing statement and brings their arms closer together, forcing an annoyed huff out from Takahiro and a strained smile from Mochida. "Tsuna-chan and I are the best of friends."

To be perfectly honest, Tsuna doesn't really know how girls can become the best of friends in a short span of weeks; is there some kind of code that women share as a guideline?

…Then again, Kyoko and Haru had become best friends in a matter of hours, so time is clearly not an important factor.

Perhaps Tsuna has simply missed something that allows him to pick up on these signs when puberty attacked, because he certainly was not aware of his apparent new status as Kyoko's 'best friend.'

"… I see." Mochida's eyes narrow dangerously in warning and it takes more than a moment for Tsuna to interpret that glare with his rusty 'Man Code' knowledge as a territorial look.

Oh my god.

Tsuna doesn't know what exactly is worse: the fact that Mochida apparently sees Tsuna as competition for Kyoko's romantic affections (meaning that he sees Tsuna as a 'male,' despite the clear effeminate suffix Kyoko has given him – hell, Tsuna calls his own brother 'Taka-chan' and half the school is quite aware, much to his twin's mortification), or that Tsuna's own male mentality is now so tiny that it takes him a while to understand the basics all men are born to know.

He has half a mind to clear this misunderstanding (the last thing Tsuna needs is a self-proclaimed rival when he hasn't even considered Kyoko in that way for a while now) but stops when the arm around his own tightens further and when he glances down, Kyoko is still smiling brightly, without a hint of her inner tension showing on her face.

It only takes a blink for Tsuna to understand, and he inwardly takes a moment to admire Kyoko's strength.

Here, Tsuna realizes that there is always more to a woman than meets the eye.

In mere seconds, he makes up his mind.

"Ah," Tsuna blinks, fixing his face to look startled when he is given questioning glances at his widening eyes. He turns to his brother and says, "Taka-chan, I completely forgot: Kawahira-sensei wanted us to file out some reports to the Student Council because the class representative's out for a few days. He said that they're very important and that he only trusts us because we've been model students since the beginning of school."

"What." Takahiro squawks with little grace, his eyes travelling from side to side in confusion and worry, clearly not remembering such a thing, but trusting Tsuna's word. "We need to hurry then – class starts in ten minutes!"

But Tsuna does not move, forcing Takahiro to pause at Tsuna's expectant look and the boy barely catches Tsuna's head gesturing slightly to the girl on his right. Takahiro's eyes flash in some sort of understanding and, with grudging acceptance, grunts to Kyoko,

"Oi, Sasagawa, you probably need to come with us too – you're part of the Student Council as well, right?" Kyoko's eyes widen in surprise at Takahiro's offer (despite what many may think of Kyoko's apparent obliviousness, the girl isn't exactly blind and Takahiro isn't exactly subtle) but when her gaze travels to Tsuna's laughing smile, a bright grin flashes across her face before she fixes it into a more appropriate, concerned look.

"Yes, that's correct," Kyoko bites her lip to keep from laughing and puts on a more serious face. "Hopefully we all will be able to get it done before sensei starts class." She turns to the bewildered upperclassman with a bright grin. "I'm sorry, Mochida-senpai, but it looks like I'll have to go on ahead."

"Of course, Kyoko," Mochida easily replies, but his eyes flash towards Tsuna in irritation. "I'll see you later, yeah?"

Kyoko says nothing and smiles brightly instead, though the tightening around Tsuna's arm is all he needs to understand Kyoko's thoughts on that matter.

"Oi, let's go already," Takahiro calls from a few meters ahead, and with a giggle and a wave, Kyoko dashes away as well, with Tsuna running easily by her side. They swiftly run past the school gates with ease and cross a couple more meters before Tsuna eases his pace to a light jog, content on watching his brother run swiftly around the school.

Tsuna then takes a brief moment to wonder about his sudden urge to mess with Takahiro, and reasons that perhaps, after spending so much time with Reborn, Tsuna has also adopted some of the baby's sadistic whims and tendencies.

Immediately after the thought passes by, Tsuna shudders in horror and he shakes his head resolutely to clear his mind of any more terrifying theories and suggestions.

-o-o-o-o-o-

"Ah." Yamamoto Takeshi stares as Namimori's soccer club's ace dashes across the school grounds, shooting into the doors in a rush. "That guy's from my class…"

Surprisingly enough, Sawada is followed by the sight of the school's idol, Sasagawa Kyoko, running with laughter etched upon her face, clearly a part of whatever has the soccer player in comedic agitation. Takeshi blinks. "… She's from my class, too…"

Takeshi blinks again when he sees the other Sawada twin following after Sasagawa at a much more sedate pace, almost nearing at a lazy jog.

That guy's from my class as well…

In a few moments, Sawada Tsunayoshi nearly passes by Takeshi completely, his (or her? Takeshi doesn't pay much attention to rumors, but he knows there are massive bets going around about the kid's true gender) face turning briefly to lock eyes with Takeshi's own.

A flash of warmth and something else flies through Sawada's eyes before they turn away in a casual way that, by all means, should not leave Takeshi of all people slightly bothered and intrigued. But it does, and his classmate swiftly moves away a few more yards, nearing the school's entrance, and Takeshi almost lets him go.

He unconsciously moves a step forward.

"Oi, Sawada!" And there goes his traitorous mouth, leaving Takeshi (and probably Sawada as well) completely flabbergasted and confused. Sawada pauses at the entrance and turns, elegant low-ponytail shifting to the side as he tilts his head in curiosity, before walking quickly back and standing firmly in front of the baseball player.

"Yes?" His classmate casually leans on one foot and shifts his bag over his shoulder with opposite hand, and Takeshi takes a brief moment to admire how calm and collected Sawada seems at all times. "Do you need something?"

"Ahahaha," Takeshi grins good-naturedly, ears turning slightly pink in embarrassment. Sawada simply offers a polite, but genuine smile and Takeshi relaxes slightly at the sight of it. "I was just wondering about your brother over there – he was running pretty fast for someone heading to school."

A brief flare of surprise and, again, something else (he hesitates to call it nostalgia or fondness, because he definitely has never met Sawada properly until now) comes and goes past Sawada's eyes. The boy laughs quietly and grins in amusement, leaving Takeshi somewhat stunned but he is quick to recover and hear Sawada's next words.

"I guess it's kind of my fault," Sawada admits, completely unperturbed and leaving a glint in his eyes. "Maybe you could even call it a prank."

"Really?" Takeshi raises his eyebrows as his own amusement grows; despite any rumors of Sawada Tsunayoshi being a completely unapproachable, quiet guy, he seems like a pretty cool kid. "What kind of prank?"

Sawada shrugs and Takeshi feels impressed when his classmate makes this casual action look completely graceful.

"It's nothing much," Another glint passes through the boy's eyes, and Takeshi is then enlightened to an abbreviated version of a creepy upperclassman and an uncomfortable Sasagawa, which lead to a very problematic, and very made-up, situation for a very studious Takahiro.

A burst of laughter escapes his lips and Takeshi quickly covers his look of surprise with genuine amusement.

(Kami, it's been a while since he's last laughed so freely with someone other than his dad).

"Are you planning on letting him know anytime soon?" He asks, and the corners of Sawada's lips lift slightly in response to Takeshi's question before allowing a,

"Perhaps."

Takeshi lets another surprised laugh escape before he tilts his head in acknowledgement to the calls of a fellow baseball club member.

"Looks like I have to go," Takeshi almost regretfully says, and there is a brief awkward silence before he realizes he's never really introduced himself to his classmate before.

"Ah, in case you didn't know, I'm Yamamoto Takeshi," Well, there's nothing like moving forward in the present, as his dad always likes to say. "I'm also part of the baseball club."

Sawada eyes his baseball uniform critically in palpable amusement and notes,

"I can tell." Takeshi grins in return and it grows even wider when Sawada returns his introduction with his own, and with less politeness and more friendliness than before. "And if you didn't know as well, my name is Sawada Tsunayoshi, but you can just call me Tsuna."

"Tsuna it is then," There is a flicker again in Sawada – no, Tsuna's eyes, but Takeshi is growing used to it. "Then, I'll see you in class, yeah?"

Takeshi doesn't let the hint of hesitance show in his voice, but if Tsuna notices, he doesn't let it show, and instead nods comfortably to Takeshi's great relief.

"Of course, Yamamoto-san."

It is only fifteen minutes into practice that Takeshi realizes that he is growing somewhat fond of the brunette, despite their brief encounter, but shrugs and chalks it all up to Tsuna just being a really cool guy.

-o-o-o-o-o-

Meanwhile, at the teachers' office in Namimori Middle School…

SLAM!

"What the - ? Sawada! Please be careful when opening the door – "

"Sensei, please give me the files!"

"Eh? What files?"

"The files, sensei! The ones that you wanted me and my sibling to look through for you!"

"What nonsense are you – "

"The very important ones, sensei."

"Sawada! There are no important files. In fact, there aren't any files for anybody to go through. There is some sort of misunderstanding. Return to class before you are late to homeroom."

"…What?"

"Goodness, who told you that sort of information? Now, stop gaping at the door like a dying fish, and get back to class!"

"…"

"SAWADA."

"…What."

-o-o-o-o-o-

"I can't believe you would do this to me!"

"Taka-chan – "

"No! I refuse to look at your face filled with sibling love! Of all people to poke fun at me, I did not expect it from you of all people, Tsuna-nee-san!"

Here, a completely filled in Hana snickers in delight and whispers loudly into Kyoko's ear,

"Sister-complex."

Tsuna ignores their erupting giggles as best he can and tries his hardest to placate both his pitiful brother and his own growing, pitiful guilt.

" – and now, I can't even look at Kawahira-sensei in the eye without him staring at me with pity because he thinks I'm a victim of bullying – "

" – I'm truly sorry, Takahiro," Tsuna interrupts, cutting his brother off and looking straight into his brilliant eyes. "I know I've said it before and I will say it again as many times as you want, and I will be sincere every single time. Please understand that it was all because Kyoko-san was in a very uncomfortable position at that time; you know I would have done the same and more for you."

Tsuna grasps Takahiro's hands into his own and leans in closer with honest, pure eyes.

"I won't do it ever again, Taka-chan, I promise. Let me make it up to you."

Squeals and shrieks arise from the back of the classroom, much to the confusion of both twins, and Hana takes this moment to take a few pictures (?) and cover Kyoko's eyes. Takahiro considers this seriously.

"… I want sushi."

"Sushi it is then," Tsuna immediately agrees, relieved to see Takahiro revert back to his normal self; it's been a while since he's seen a hint of Takahiro's former personality, and he has worked far too hard to suddenly lose this precious relationship because of a misunderstanding. "I'll take you out this week."

"You're not making it yourself?" Takahiro asks in near disappointment and Tsuna smiles apologetically in response.

"We ran out of fish yesterday, and the sea market doesn't open till next Sunday."

Takahiro opens his mouth and closes it again with a considering click before scowling begrudgingly in agreement.

"Hey, Sawada!" Easily slipping away from each other's grip (much to the collective disappointment of a dozen girls), Tsuna raises an eyebrow while Takahiro sends a questioning glance.

Their classmate approaches Tsuna with slight confusion but relays his message.

"Apparently, Captain Mochida wants to fight you during afternoon break at the gym."

"Ah, I think I heard about that," Hana notes, when the classroom explodes into whispers and Takahiro into rage. She turns her head from Kyoko to Tsuna and raises a thin eyebrow. "Mochida-senpai says he's challenging you for Kyoko's honor or something like that."

"Um, what?" Tsuna eloquently replies back, a sense of déjà vu forcing a feeling of familiarity at the current scene. Hana rolls her eyes in irritation and worry, and Tsuna offers an apologetic but thankful smile in response; his friend has always been on top of everything going around in this school.

"It seems like Mochida thinks you and Kyoko are an item, Tsuna," Hana sends him a confused glance, because she is quite aware of Tsuna's true gender and his clear disinterest in anything romantically related. "And he thinks you're causing her pain, and blahblahblah, insert ridiculous samurai code stuff here."

"What?" Kyoko furrows her brow in confusion, because despite Tsuna's apparent unawareness of the sudden change in status, Tsuna and she – along with a slightly bemused Hana – are the best of friends.

"What?" The rest of class repeats, and whispers spread like fire at this new piece of gossip, with a few girls whistling at Kyoko's impressive catch.

"What!" Takahiro bristles and again, for the fourth time that day, repeats, torn between his anger at Mochida challenging his sister to a fight, or the idea that Tsuna is involved in a romantic relationship with anyone.

Amidst this chaos, Tsuna finds solace with the chalkboard next to him, proceeding to bang his head a few times in self-pity in hopes that if he hits hard enough, he'll pass out and wake up to find all of this one terrible, big dream.

-o-o-o-o-o-

Afternoon break arrives far too quickly for Tsuna's tastes, but he doesn't even consider the idea of running away, as he was wont to do before, and heads up to the Disciplinary Committee office instead.

"Sawada-san!" A few of the former yankees-now-turned-committee-members swivel their heads in surprise when Tsuna casually walks in, a purple-cloth covered bento in tow.

He takes a look around and glances in approval at the methodical way the members move about. A few are sitting at a desk with piles of papers on different issues separated neatly apart, while many others are travelling to and fro with files and cabinets, organizing each paper according to his instructions.

If there's one good thing Tsuna's learned from his time as a Mafia Boss, it's how to deal with paperwork efficiently and effectively all at once.

"Is Hibari-senpai not here?" Tsuna asks in confusion, pointedly ignoring the gaping faces of his fellow members.

"N-No, Sawada-san," One of the smaller members, Kazuto, stammers out. "He heard about your fight in the gym today – we all did, actually – and he went down himself to see the outcome."

"Really?" Tsuna raises an eyebrow in wonder and looks back down at the bento in his hands. "Well, I was planning on giving this to him before heading off… Do you mind if I leave this here?"

Oblivious to their opened mouths, Tsuna smiles quietly at their shaking heads with fondness and gently drops the bento on Kyouya's desk. Patting Kazuto's head casually with one hand and pinching a dozing off slacker on the face with the other, Tsuna leaves with a cheerful wave and (in their eyes) an elegant farewell.

There is a quiet moment of silence as Tsuna continues to travel down the hallways, and it becomes peaceful enough that when Reborn suddenly pops out of the nowhere, his startled jump is in no way faked.

"Ciaossu."

"Reborn-san!" Tsuna blinks in surprise before smiling wryly. "Have you been in school here this whole time?"

"Possibly." The baby enigmatically responds, espresso in one hand and Leon in another, ignoring Tsuna's mutter of,

"It's a miracle you haven't been caught by Hibari-senpai; he's a fanatic with security."

Instead, Reborn narrows his beady eyes at Tsuna, forcing memories of violent wake-up calls and missions to flash through his mind even as the baby asks, "Are you going to be fighting?"

"You heard about that?" Tsuna asks (and quite rhetorically as well; there's nothing in the world that could escape Reborn's notice).

"I'm a hitman. These kinds of things are easy to find out."

"Of course they are," Tsuna automatically responds, playing the 'indulging-the-child' card, when he knows all too well how serious Reborn is.

"So you're not going to run away?" There is a subtle challenge in Reborn's words, as if testing Tsuna's resolve and Tsuna, in a moment of simply existing, almost bursts into flames with his will.

"If there's one thing I dislike being called the most, Reborn-san," The temperature rises slightly in synchronization not to his Flames (they remain still and controlled even now), but to his resolve and to the promise he made to himself years ago. "It's being called a coward."

Tsuna is completely, and utterly, done with running away.

He always has been, and he always will.

-o-o-o-o-o-

When Tsuna opens the door to the gymnasium five minutes late, a hush flies through the entire mass of students before they begin to murmur once more. He walks with measured steps, silently appraising the huge crowd with a raised eyebrow, and acknowledges Takahiro's fretful stare that holds more than what words can convey.

If you don't want to, his twin's eyes are hesitant, but determined, I can take care of it for you.

There is a rush of overwhelming fondness for his brother (if there is one thing he is always thankful for since entering this world, it's Takahiro) but Tsuna simply smiles reassuringly and shakes his head.

No, it's fine. Don't worry.

Takahiro's shoulders slump forward in defeat, messy light hair covering his dark, blue eyes.

"So you've finally decided to come, Sawada." Mochida puffs out his chest and dons a superior look. Tsuna refrains from rolling his eyes more out of politeness than anything else. "It's time that you learn your place – heaven may forgive scum like you, but I cannot do the same! I've seen how uncomfortable and miserable Kyoko is around you; trash like you will be punished!"

"Huh." Tsuna blinks at Mochida's mini-rant and tries to remember if there had been a time where Kyoko felt uncomfortable or miserable in his presence. Like glass shattering in the wind, his carefully groomed Mafia Boss eloquence crumbles into pieces. "I…see…"

(Except he really doesn't).

"I won't accept any excuses!" Mochida raises his sword and holds it easily in his proud grasp. Tsuna holds back a sarcastic remark, as the upperclassman chatters on about the rules: since he is a beginner at kendo, Tsuna only has to hit one point on Mochida to win.

"The prize is, of course, Sasagawa Kyoko."

Whispers break out around the crowd even as Kyoko sputters in protest, and Tsuna takes a brief moment to consider the hot flash of anger that lashes from his chest, like a snake before its unsuspecting prey.

It's degrading, Tsuna notes with the inklings of belated irritation bleeding into his mind, calling Kyoko a 'prize,' like an object passed around without any consideration.

(Here, Tsuna also wonders at his quiet indignation and why he hadn't realized the not-so-hidden context behind Mochida's words the first time around).

"Let's go, Sawada!" Mochida raises his shinai high above his head, and Tsuna doesn't know if it's disrespect or idiocy from the upperclassman's part that has Mochida attacking before Tsuna can even get a hold of a weapon in his hands.

"Tsuna!" Takeshi calls from the sidelines, and Tsuna allows a moment of fondness towards the baseball player before smoothly catching the shinai thrown at him.

Giving a small prayer to the heavens above (pleasepleaseplease, let this be over quickly), Tsuna steadies his body to a familiar stance and holds his shinai with confidence that he doesn't really have.

(Honestly, Takeshi is the prodigious one with an aptitude for the sword, the Guardian with frightening skills that could cut through any bullet; Tsuna only knows enough because his countless spars with his Rain usually led to trading training tips and teaching the other from time to time).

With a bellow, Mochida attacks his head and starts with surprise when a firm defense blocks the blow straight on.

But then again, despite his lack of confidence, Tsuna knows he won't lose this fight (just like he knows he'll never lose his sense of self), and frankly speaking, Mochida's stance and attacks are quite appalling when compared to the level of Takeshi or, hell, even a completely drunk Squalo.

"To not even offer your opponent a weapon or the proper equipment necessary for a duel," Tsuna shakes his head and furrows his eyebrows in disapproval. "How unsightly."

"What – "

Tsuna does not give the upperclassman time to recover and ducks underneath his left flank to jab the boy's wrist firmly.

He refrains from breaking Mochida's wrist, and is even gracious enough to leave only a sore bruise that will appear the next morning.

"Well?" Tsuna raises an eyebrow at the shaking judge, and lets out a sigh when the kid's trembling hands do not move. Surprisingly, the kendo club seems to hold much loyalty towards its captain – though it hardly matters: Tsuna is nothing but stubborn.

Not even waiting for Mochida to recover and hold a better stance, Tsuna moves in at a moderate pace (no need to go crazy – he's just a child, and Reborn is watching) firmly hitting Mochida's shoulder, stomach, and finally, his other wrist, forcing the upperclassman to drop his shinai.

Tsuna lightly places a foot on the dropped shinai's handle and gives a pointed glance at the judge, who quickly obliges after realizing that Tsuna will continue to give Mochida bruises until a point is called.

"Point! Red wins!"

There is a quiet pause as the watching students look at each other in disbelief, but Tsuna cuts in before the crowd can make a single noise.

"I understand you made Kyoko the prize, but I want something else," Tsuna points his shinai at Mochida's vulnerable chest and ignores the defeated upperclassman's widening eyes. "I want an apology."

He continues on before anybody can interrupt.

"I demand that you apologize to Kyoko-san; the way you treated her just now – with no consideration of her feelings, and going off on assumptions based on your own biased views – is completely despicable.

Kyoko-san is a person just like you and I, and to belittle her to something as unimportant as a mere prize between two middle school students – have you no sense of shame?"

Tsuna's eyes blaze bright under the setting sun and the students watch, captivated by the orange glow that burns in them.

"You are to apologize, and you are going to continue to apologize, until you are utterly sincere and fully aware of your actions today. If not…"

Here, Tsuna tries to channel as much Reborn as possible, forcing his eyes to trail down meaningfully to the area between Mochida's legs, and smiles genially, the shinai in his hand jabbing Mochida once more.

The upperclassman lets out a tiny squeak at Tsuna's unspoken threat.

Taking a deep, almost shuddering breath, Tsuna tries his hardest not to look up and meet Reborn's eyes, because there is no way Reborn will ignore this display, so don't give him anymore incentives.

His shoulders sag in weariness almost imperceptivity at the implications of that thought.

He tosses the shinai to the fumbling judge and quietly (but not silently, Reborn is watching) walks out of the gym, offering apologetic smiles to both Kyoko and Hana. And Tsuna is not sure if it is a girl thing, or a friendship thing, or something completely different, but he is nevertheless relieved when both girls smile and wave him off in understanding at Tsuna's hidden tiredness.

Tsuna blinks but is not surprised when his brother's familiar presence fills the empty spot to his left, and if Takahiro is perhaps leaning in more closely than usual, Tsuna gives no sign outwardly of noticing.

(He just really, really, really wants to go home and sleep –

Tsuna blinks once more, but this time in utter surprise because he has failed completely to realize that if Reborn is here, then obviously, so is Hayato.

But, for the sake of appearances, he ignores the achingly familiar presence to his right and trudges on home – to Reborn, to the Mafia, and to a new future that he's not sure if he wants to know).

-o-o-o-o-o-

The moment the two Sawada siblings leave the building, whispers begin to travel across the mass of students, steadily growing into a thundering sound before everybody is forced to leave because of an irate prefect.

Reborn quickly takes note of any potential members for the Tenth's future Family (there is the near homicidal prefect to consider, and hell, even the defeated kendo captain might be a possible option, judging from the look on the upperclassman's face after his one-sided loss) and wastes no more time, punching through a few numbers on a secure line to Italy.

On top of his head, Leon shifts minutely, and Reborn uses the brief amount of time needed to contact Nono to pile every piece of information on the Sawada twins.

There's just something about the older twin, he rolls the thought around his head a few times because there isn't anything necessarily wrong about the kid. Not wrong, but certainly strange.

I've seen dozens of men plough through a similar kind of situation with not even half of the composure Tsunayoshi has.

And here lies his answer; with a performance like that, Reborn can almost painfully see how suited Sawada Tsunayoshi is as a future Mafia Boss. If he considers the younger twin's high, respectful deference to his sister, well, then –

His decision is made.

"Buongiorno, Reborn," A crackling, smooth voice greets Reborn's ears as Leon slithers silently across his shoulder. "I see you have finally come to decision?"

"Buongiorno, Nono," Reborn blandly replies back in Italian, and answers the man's question with a heavy stare. "I have decided that Sawada Tsunayoshi – the elder twin – has the most potential to become Vongola's next leader. She seems healthy and fit, with high intelligence and a composed mind – I believe you'll find her perfectly suitable."

Timoteo makes a noncommittal sound that is quickly drowned out by his CEDEF leader's loud protests.

"What?" Iemitsu squawks and Reborn silently scoffs at the man's lack of composure. "Reborn, you can't be serious! My Tsuna is just a – "

" – A mature, thirteen-year-old girl who is perfectly capable of taking care of herself." Reborn smoothly interjects, the only hint of his hidden irritation seen by a swift flick of Leon's tail. "I have observed both candidates for the entire day, and the answer is quite clear."

There is a somber silence as Iemitsu's protests slowly die down in response to Reborn's firm words, but Reborn knows that the blond still clearly disagrees.

"Perhaps," Timoteo starts again after a few slow moments of silence, hidden steel woven into his voice. "Reborn can focus on Tsunayoshi for the time being, but keep an eye on her twin for any other observations? There is a possibility that the younger one could be the one that has more to offer."

Here, Iemitsu steps back, accepting the hidden order in unsteady satisfaction, but the only thing that fills Reborn's mind is the image of young Tsunayoshi's eyes, filled to the brim with a quiet determination and steel not unlike Nono's own.

"Very well," Reborn reluctantly allows, not allowing any of his thoughts to leak into his voice because he knows exactly which twin has the most to offer–

The only problem, he realizes, is that he just doesn't know how much.

-o-o-o-o-o-

Tsuna looks with passive interest at the family tree presented even as Takahiro nearly passes out at Reborn's fateful words.

"Vongola? The Mafia? What the hell is going on?!"

"I was sent as a request by the current head of the Vongola Family, the Ninth, to train one of you into a fine mafia boss."

"You already said that before! I don't understand this at all!"

Ignoring Reborn's piercing looks again for-kami-knows-how-many-times, Tsuna wonders why the family tree is written out in English when (for all that Reborn knows) both twins are not fluent in it.

"Nono said that I could train whoever I thought would fit the role best," Reborn begins and slides his gaze from Takahiro's irate glower to Tsuna's perfectly blank face.

In a moment of rare Vongola Intuition, Takahiro senses the implications of Reborn's words and actions, and jumps up to his feet.

"What?! You can't be serious!" Tsuna sighs quietly in exasperation because yes, Reborn is completely serious, disregarding the baby's fluffy, white-polka-dotted pink pajamas.

"Sawada Tsunayoshi," Reborn nearly struts across the room like the model he is, and Tsuna tries his hardest not to break down and roll around the room, sobbing uncontrollably with his idiocy. "After studying you and your brother, it looks to me that you are the best fit as Vongola's tenth boss. I'll make you into an admirable Mafia boss."

Takahiro nearly flails in complete protest at the absolute ridiculousness of the situation, but stills when Reborn turns his head, completely missing Tsuna's resigned eyes narrowing in suspicion.

"Of course," Reborn casually adds, seemingly oblivious to Takahiro's frozen form and Tsuna's hidden, clenching fists. "The Ninth has also reconsidered the possibility of your eligibility as well, Hiro, so I'll be training you as well."

"And if I say no?" Reborn glances at the slight frown on Tsuna's face with sharp, appraising eyes and Tsuna forces his rapidly beating heart to calm down. "What if I refuse?"

"You can't." The Arcobaleno swiftly – and bluntly – replies. Takahiro sputters in protest but Tsuna glances once again at the family tree before tapping a finger over his own name.

"Why not?" Tsuna murmurs softly in faked confusion. "Why should I give up my future for an underground organization that I have no ties to, besides the tiny blood that Takahiro and I share from its boss centuries ago?"

Silence, but Tsuna continues to tap his finger on the family tree.

"If we are going by generation and this so-called 'Vongola Blood,'" Tsuna meticulously removes any sign of bitterness from his voice and looks straight into Reborn's blackblack eyes. "Please explain to me why people are considering two thirteen-year-old children as the head of a Mafia Family –"

Tsuna glides his finger over to his father's name.

"–And not their perfectly fit, young, adult father."

(Tsuna refuses to consider this petty revenge and instead chooses to see this as collateral payback for all those years of bullying and belittlement the little Tsunayoshi child must have had to deal with alone).

Almost wryly, Tsuna also adds,

"Otou-san is a construction worker – he is very strong."

Here, Takahiro gives him a look hidden behind his slightly frightened gaze, because both twins are perfectly aware that while their father is many things, he is certainly not a construction worker, despite all insistence.

There is a stifling silence as Reborn stares with calculating eyes, but the moment passes by when the baby simply smirks and climbs into Takahiro's bed with a,

"Don't worry; I'll train you to become a great Mafia Boss."

He's totally ignoring my question!

Takahiro squawks at the booby traps lying around his room.

"My bed!"

"If you interrupt my sleep, I'll kill you."

"You can't just - !"

" – It's sleepy time; I'll see you both tomorrow."

Tsuna rubs his temples at the oncoming familiar headache that always comes after a tiring interaction with Reborn.

(He also tries really hard to ignore how Reborn's words are pointed entirely at Tsuna, because in all honesty, he doesn't really want to think about all the events he'll have to deal with in the near future – oh, Kami, don't think about Xanxus, don't think about the Varia – and tries his hardest to look at the bright side instead.

The bright side is dim, and quite murky, but hey, at least Tsuna has experience dealing with the dark and dirty Mafia world.

… Out of the two, at least Takahiro won't have to see what really makes Vongola the most powerful mafia family in the whole world. Yet).

"Come on, Taka-chan," Tsuna musters a half-bidden smile and is rewarded with Takahiro's relaxing shoulders. "Just grab a futon and you can stake out in my room."

There is a pause when Takahiro stays still with an indiscernible look on his face.

"… Nee-san,"

"Hm?"

"If – if what that baby says is true…" Tsuna heaves the spare futon onto his side and pats Takahiro's soft hair reassuringly, trying hard to not ignore the hidden words behind them.

I don't want anything to with the Mafia.

"Don't think too hard about it," Takahiro shifts to the side and half-heartedly tries to push Tsuna's hand away. Tsuna's lips quirk into a quiet smile. "If what Reborn-san says is true…"

Tsuna pauses and falters for a moment, trying to take in the realization that he will have to practically do everything over again.

No, no, no, no –

Memories of death and blood and sins that not even Nono can erase seep in like trembling nightmares, but that hardly matters because there is a never-ending light that will always shine through.

Don't falter, don't stop. You are more than what the mafia will ever try to define you as.

Breathe.

"Nee-san?"

Tsuna starts and clenches his fist to keep his fingers from trembling.

"If what Reborn says is true," Tsuna begins again, and briefly thinks about a future that may have come true, had Sawada Tsunayoshi remained as she was. "Then we'll have to try our hardest to stay strong. Don't worry about anything - you just concentrate on being awesome at soccer, yeah?"

Something clears on Takahiro's face and Tsuna grins in relief.

A darker thought travels through his mind and whispers that the mafia will never let Takahiro go, but Tsuna pushes that away and focuses on what's important.

Protect the Family, protect the future, keep moving forward, and don't let the blood of the mafia ever change who you are.

Tsuna has no qualms about keeping this mantra, and adds to the ever-growing list a new promise as his thoughts flash to the ten-year-old girl who will never be able to grow into the amazing person Tsuna knows she could have become.

For you, he thinks to the girl who, in everything but perhaps gender, was essentially him, I'll create a future that will know your name – where you and I will be proud as Sawada Tsunayoshi.

I've done this before, and I can do it again, better and better, for you.

Something brushes gently through his hair as Tsuna lays out the futon, and a whisper passes by that leaves a soft smile on Tsuna's lips.

It's a promise of a lifetime. Forever.


FAQ:

-So, what about Octava?

Yes, yes, I actually do know about Vongola's Eight Boss (who, in my eyes, is a total badass). Of course, in this TD 'canon,' Octava is recognized as a great leader, but I was focusing more along the lines of the general mafia society belief that women are generally weaker. It's no surprise that the mafia is a mostly male-dominated field, and despite the few kickass females out, the whole 'men are better' mentality is still quite prominent even in today's time.

So, technically, I'm just making Tsuna a bit more cool than normal. Just a bit.

-Binding Breasts Is Unhealthy!

Ah, yeah, the BBIU issue - I'm actually quite aware of the issue, but it surprisingly did not cross my mind when writing this story, so thank you to all those who pointed it out to me!

To remedy this slight, I shall provide future scenes with lots and lots of awkward, 'I refuse to look at you in the face' undergarments shopping - ! ... Later.

- Byakuran, Byakuran, Byakuran!

Peace, children. He is coming.

- OMG, why is Tsuna still 'he?'

Because I said so - No, there is an actual reason. It's the reason why I wrote Tsuna as a girl and not as a boy because I wanted to give Tsuna struggles so that he could develop further into a person who will not falter from who he is, regardless of gender, age, or circumstance.

People do not immediately refer to themselves as the opposite gender, even if they suddenly wake up with the parts for it. There will be turmoil, self-identity issues, angst, philosophical questions, and a lot of awkward situations. So, as an author with a smack of common sense, these kinds of problems will be addressed. But at the base of everything, disregarding whatever kind of parts we have, we are all humans in the end, with beautiful hearts and emotions equal to all -

That's the kind of idea I wanted to present. (So, yeah, Tsuna will still be calling himself a 'he' for the time being).

- I need Hibari and Tsuna together, PLEASE.

...sigh... If you give me good, really good arguments as to why, I'll briefly consider it in the far, farrrr future. But for now, absolutely not.

Though, if you ask for more friendship/family fluff, I will gladly throw some more everywhere.

- Are you following the anime or the manga?

Both, actually. Like, I'll take parts and bits of both, because, like, why not? I absolutely despite the way they just took out Yamamoto's near suicide attempt in the anime because that is a serious issue and also a huge reason why Yamamoto followed Tsuna in the first place.

But then again, the anime has some hilarious scenes that I can actually use as plot points, so... both.

- Will anybody in this world find out about Tsuna's 'previous life.'

This I can answer safely - Yes. As to who and how many, I can't really say, but please do look forward to it.


SE: Okay, so not a lot of character interaction, beside Takahiro and Reborn. And Kyoko and Hana, cause they need their times to shine. Just hitting a lot of necessary plot and some more character development, y'know, the usual.

Next chapter will start the storm. The huge storm.

Next Chapter: Enter Gokudera Hayato, more Yamamoto Takeshi, some Nana development, more Kyoko/Hana interaction and development, a lot more Hibari Kyouya, and perhaps Sasagawa Ryohei/Lambo. Because I feel like it.

Thoughts? Comments? Concerns? Do tell, and I shall most likely address it in the next chapter's FAQ's.

Regards,

Searching. For. Enadi.