warning: mentions of and direct scenes about suicide.

VIII: As someone older




The Disciplinary Committee of Namimori Middle School, unironically enough, has a reach that extends far beyond its campus. As far as Tsuna can remember, during his own childhood, patrols of men had suddenly appeared one day, sporting ridiculous hairstyles and prowling the streets for any hint of felony.

("Shouldn't mess with them," his ten-year-old self had once muttered, warily creeping along the side of the street and avoiding any sort of eye contact.

Unsurprisingly, he had been right.

By the end of the day, either through word of mouth or other persuasive means, all of Namimori had been made aware that these men answered to Hibari Kyouya and Hibari Kyouya alone. The town's crime rate had then plummeted to a near non-existent percentile overnight).

Now intimately involved with the entire process, Tsuna is well aware that Kyouya had reigned over Namimori with an iron fist, and he would be a fool to think it'd be any different in other parallel dimensions.

"The northern sectors have been unusually quiet," Tetsuya begins one early morning, hours before school is set to start. In that near empty room, Tsuna listens carefully, Kyouya resting on a far away wall with folded arms.

Leaning forward, Tsuna evaluates the detailed map splayed out on the table.

"It might be a smokescreen," Tsuna says slowly, tracing a finger along the poorer parts of the town. "The people there usually know better than to start something."

Tetsuya's voice rumbles in consideration. "You think it's a diversion? For what?"

Tsuna shrugs, as not all the facts are present. "It's possible someone's trying to quiet down a place on purpose, to bring all the attention there."

"I would focus on this place instead," Tsuna brings his index finger down southeast to a more bustling sector. With a startled noise, Tetsuya moves closer to the map.

"There? But it's been relatively peaceful for almost two years now."

"Which is enough time to rebuild a decent amount of power," Tsuna answers pointedly before turning to Kyouya. "Didn't we clear out an old yakuza group there?"

It's a rhetorical question, of course, because Tsuna had been there. Had covered up his entire face and barricaded the place in, letting Kyouya do all the heavy work.

From its inception three years prior, the Disciplinary Committee has systematically uprooted any source of illegal activity within Namimori.

The leading force for those involuntary evictions had been Kyouya, naturally, but Tsuna had often found himself tagging along far too often for comfort.

"So you think they came back for revenge," Tetsuya falls back into his chair, sinking deeper into the mahogany fabric. His eyebrows furrow. "Yes, I could see that happening."

"It doesn't hurt to check," Tsuna says to both Tetsuya and Kyouya - who, unbelievably enough, is still waiting patiently in the corner of the room.

The prefect's eyes are closed and undisturbed, leaving Tsuna to the terrible, but very probable conclusion that Kyouya had tired of their logistical discussion and had fallen asleep right then and there.

But no, in the next moment, Kyouya opens his eyes to thin, narrow slants.

(Probably just woke up, Tsuna thinks uncharitably).

"We'll search the area later tonight," Kyouya says quietly, the harsh lines between his eyes relaying more than enough about his displeasure. Immediately understanding that when Kyouya says "we" he actually means "I", Tsuna abruptly coughs to hide his laugh.

"It might be better if you go in the early morning," Tsuna suggests, his words stopping Kyouya from jumping out of the window.

With a genial smile, Tsuna adds, "Lots of criminal syndicates like to get their activities done in the morning. It goes against a lot of stereotypical expectations."

Immediately, Kyouya sends a baleful glare and without another word, he disappears from view.

In the sudden silence, Tetsuya lets out a long sigh.

"I don't know how you do it, Sawada-san," he says with a deep chuckle. "You always seem to know the right thing to say."

"It comes with experience," Tsuna answers sympathetically, though whether the sympathy is directed towards himself or Tetsuya is a mystery. "In a few years, you'll be doing a far better job than I ever could."

Tetsuya shakes his head in disbelief and claps twice, signalling for the Disciplinary Committee members waiting outside the reception room to come in.

"You might want to send in a clean up crew," Tsuna tells the other prefect as a crowd of burly, rough-looking men walk into the room. "He's probably upset a resurgence might be happening right under our noses."

"I'll be sure to do that," Tetsuya glances at him wryly, as if bemused by the idea of Kyouya becoming upset over anything at all.

(Oh, how naive, Tsuna thinks morosely, wishing he could still have that mindset. At the age of seventeen, all of Tsuna's Guardians had quickly learned that Kyouya, on a particularly bad day, could throw a tantrum that rivalled Lambo's - or worse, Xanxus').

The other members of the committee take their places in an orderly fashion, their numbers quickly filling up the entire room.

Right before their debriefing is about to start, Tetsuya gives him a curious look. "So, how did you know the yakuza would be more active in the mornings?"

Tsuna blinks once, twice, and stops himself from telling the teen that that kind of information also comes with much experience. At the core, all crime syndicates are the same.

"I've heard rumors here and there," he says instead, before hurriedly starting the meeting, fearful of any more dangerous questions appearing out of nowhere.




He exits the debriefing with a yawn, stretching as he brings his hands together and pulls them over his head.

I need a break, he thinks, heading over to his classroom in a near shuffle.

The upcoming summer air is incredibly thick, almost suffocating even inside the school. One hand running through the ponytail tied behind his neck, Tsuna decides then and there that he's procrastinated enough - he's going to get that haircut before the humidity can strangle him to death.

He announces his decision during lunch.

"A haircut? Oh, but you're hair is so lovely," Kyoko sighs wistfully, chin resting on her splayed hands. With a giggle, she tugs a strand of her own hair. "But I can't say it's a terrible idea! I like my hair short too."

"It's been a while since you last cut it," Hana agrees, taking prim bites of her lunch. "I guess it's finally time."

A desk away, too far to be a part of the group, but close enough to easily listen in, Hayato snorts.

"Why you waste your time on trivial stuff like that, I'll never understand," he mutters, biting ferociously into his packaged bread. "Women, honestly."

Tsuna glances at Hayato, somewhat mystified. Was that directed towards him?

He waves off the comment regardless, because it's rather unlikely Hayato is even vaguely aware of Tsuna's registered gender.

And though he (and perhaps Kyoko) may not be eager for conflict, Tsuna fails to take into consideration the most dangerous person at the table.

Placing her chopsticks down with a clack, Hana rolls her eyes. "What a joke."

Oh no, Tsuna thinks, but by then, it's already too late.

"If you don't have anything productive to say," the girl continues flatly, her voice scathing and unimpressed. "Then don't say it. You're wasting your breath and worse, my time, you uncultured primeape."

Tsuna jumps into the conversation as Hayato bristles in his seat.

"Okaaay," he says slowly, placating hands swerving left and right. To the side, Kyoko places a warning hand on Hana's arm. "Let's settle down now."

Hana shrugs, but graciously picks up her chopsticks again. "Whatever. At least I'm not the one starting fights I can't finish."

Hayato rises to his feet with a snarl.

"You wanna try me?" he takes a threatening step forward, before stopping in his tracks.

Perhaps suddenly remembering his surroundings, he turns accusing eyes at Tsuna instead.

"You're surrounding yourself with idiots, " Hayato growls. "Why bother choosing these soft-hearted fools?"

Bemused, Tsuna answers, "It just happened that way. And I like them."

Then, with a considering thought, he adds nonchalantly, "Besides, I chose you, didn't I?"

At Hayato's chokes, Kyoko lets out a peal of laughter, mouth sealed tight to hide her giggles. Hana, in turn, raises her lunch to her face to hide the growing smirk.

I can handle this, Tsuna thinks, a smile on his lips as Hayato sits back down with a flushed face. This isn't so bad, actually.

(But oh, little does he know - he's jinxed his entire week in that single moment).




He walks home that day in the late afternoon, his brother by his side and the sun still barely above the horizon.

"Man, our coach has been driving us nuts with the upcoming tournament," Takahiro whines, rolling his shoulders as he lazily kicks around a soccer ball. "And then coming back home to have a baby order me to the ground? Just you wait. One day, I'm gonna snap and smother someone with my pillow."

Tsuna nods gravely at those words, understanding the sentiment a bit more than he really should. His lips quirk upwards at how pitiful the two of them must seem.

" - and this lady was following me in the morning too, can you believe it?"

Tsuna pauses, returning back to reality just in time to catch the end of Takahiro's sentence.

"Strange lady?" he asks out loud, faces flashing past his eyes as he considers who might fit that description. Several immediately come to mind.

"Yeah, she was creepy," Takahiro grimaces. "Like, pretty, but really weird."

"Pretty, but really weird… " Tsuna parrots back. The words roll off his tongue with a twinge of familiarity.

"She had long hair," Takahiro sends his soccer ball a little farther down the road. Off in the distance, there is a faint sound of turning gears. "And tattoos on her arm? I don't know, it just felt weird to - oh."

Slowing down to a stop, both Tsuna and his brother watch on as a young woman approaches rapidly on a bike.

("Oh," Tsuna repeats, finally realizing the perpetrator for today's daily serving of lunacy).

"Die! For love!" the woman declares. The words are muffled by the helmet, but the intentions are clear enough. Unidentifiable objects are then tossed their way.

Blank-faced, Tsuna deftly catches the soda can flying at him. Takahiro, in turn, snags the other from the air with one hand.

"What was that?" the boy asks appropriately after a long moment of silence, staring at the object with apprehension.

This complicates things, Tsuna thinks, before promptly grabbing his brother's soda can and hurling it at a nearby wall. The canister deflates with a pop! and immediately, an acrid stench permeates the vicinity.

"Holy shit," Takahiro says faintly as purple liquid oozes onto the wall, slowly melting through the cement. "What the actual fu - "

"It's a good thing you didn't take anything from her, Hiro," Tsuna says, patting Takahiro's shoulder solemnly, before dumping the other soda can in the nearest trash bin.

Next to him, Takahiro lets out a strange noise that seems awfully similar. Quite similar, in fact, to Tsuna's own favorite means of communication.

(At one point, his Guardians had learned to read his moods in accordance to his outcries.

Takahiro, he muses, sounds terribly like Tsuna when a mental breakdown is about to commence).

Yes, this definitely complicates things, he decides, dragging his unresponding brother down the road. Bianchi's appearance is really just the beginning of it all.




The poison specialist returns later that night when their mother is conveniently at her monthly book club meeting.

Takahiro looks up from his literature homework (his toughest subject to this day), scowling when the doorbell rings throughout the house. Reborn, pretending as if he had no hand in this, takes a casual sip of his coffee.

"Italian pizza delivery!" a woman's voice slyly calls out from the closed door. With a long suffering sigh, Tsuna turns off the water faucet and wipes his hands on a nearby towel.

"Pizza?" Takahiro mumbles incoherently under his breath as he underlines a sentence. "Who ordered pizza?"

Rolling his eyes, Tsuna marches up to the front door and mutters, "No one, that's who."

He opens the door to the sight of Bianchi, young and in her teens, with a pizza box in hand.

Luckily, he catches himself before his lips can slip upwards.

(Though Bianchi's appearance may be the harbinger of doom and destruction, Tsuna's heart isn't as frigid as Reborn may have wished it would be; though they had never been particularly close, Tsuna remembers well the countless number of times he's relied on Bianchi during his short tenure as a Mafia Boss).

"Can I help you?" he asks politely when the young woman briefly pauses.

"Thank you for waiting," Bianchi finally says, recovering admirably. She smiles with a full set of teeth, the white near blinding from his position. "Here's your delivery from Vongola Pizza."

"Vongola Pizza," Tsuna repeats flatly. The hitman slips on a gas mask, dutifully ignoring Tsuna's comment of - "Really? That's the best you could come up with?"

"Enjoy!" she cheerfully says, moving to open the pizza box.

A familiar foul smell hits his nose and, holding his breath, Tsuna moves through the toxic fumes.

"What - " Bianchi startles, already pulling back from Tsuna's outreached hands. But it is a moment too late, and abruptly, he snatches the box and tosses it out to the front yard.

Catching his breath, Tsuna coughs, waving his hand at the air.

"You," he wheezes, as Takahiro joins him at the front door, likely attracted by the commotion. "Are an absolute biological hazard."

He tries to recover as quickly as possible to send his most disapproving glare. His brother, meanwhile, gawks at the number of birds already falling dead to the floor, poisoned by whatever the hell is in that box.

"I hope you know how to clean this up," Tsuna gestures wildly to that area. "Because I sure as hell am not going to do it!"

"I - " Bianchi stumbles, her voice distorted through the mask. She shakes her head once, sharply. "That's not - "

She is saved by Reborn's untimely arrival.

"Ciaossu, Bianchi," he greets, appearing abruptly next to Tsuna. The baby's smile curls into a smirk.

"Reborn," a hint of relief taints the woman's voice. Removing the gas mask, Bianchi licks her lips, eyes moving to focus on anything but Tsuna. "Reborn, I'm here to bring you back. Let's do another job together."

"A peaceful life doesn't suit you," she continues, red flushing her previously pale cheeks. "You belong somewhere thrilling and dangerous."

("Yeah, please," Takahiro says under his breath. "Go ahead, take him. He's all yours.").

"I told you, Bianchi," Reborn says, unmoving with his words as he shoots Takahiro in the head with a rubber gun. He shrugs while the boy falls painfully to the ground. "I have a job to raise the next heir, so I can't."

Bianchi places a hand to her face, shadows covering her sorrow.

"Poor Reborn," Bianchi says morosely, tears springing in her eyes. She wipes them away like a maiden denied of her true love. "So unless the heirs die due to an accident or something, you won't be free again."

She then takes a step back, face full of sadness. "I suppose I'll have to go home for now, until - "

"What?" Tsuna bursts out, drowning whatever Bianchi had been about to say next. He strides up to the woman and, as if against her own will, Bianchi takes another step back.

Tsuna wrings his hands above his head. "You can't leave! Did you not hear what I just said?"

He points to the now completely melted pizza box, a circle of corpses surrounding the purple substance.

"Take responsibility," Tsuna orders with a hiss, waving his hand emphatically up and down. "Our mother is coming back in less than an hour and you're just going to leave without cleaning up?"

"Er," Bianchi says, glancing to the pile of poison, somewhat bemused because yes, that's usually what assassins do.

"You've been rude your whole stay here," Tsuna says pointedly, making it clear that Bianchi hadn't exactly been welcome in the first place. "This is the least you can do."

(Behind him, Reborn raises an eyebrow and, huffing at the show, Takahiro returns to the dining room without another word, rubbing the sore spot on his forehead).

Needless to say, the poison is cleared in a record time of fifteen minutes and, shoving a packed bento of leftovers into Bianchi's arms, Tsuna sends the woman off with a stern warning.

"See if I catch you again," he tells her as she stares down at the tupperware with a strange expression. "You'll regret it that much more."

With an uncertain purse of her lips, Bianchi tilts her head in acknowledgement, before disappearing into the night without another sound.

Rolling his shoulders in exhaustion, Tsuna heads back into the house, walking past Reborn on the porch, the baby's eyes hidden from view.

The hitman leaps onto his shoulders and briefly, Tsuna catches the slightest twitch of the Reborn's lips, curiously turning downwards.

"So nothing gets past you, huh?" Reborn comments blandly, nearly covering the faintest hints of sarcasm.

Tsuna returns to the pot of miso soup boiling on the stove and considers those words. There is a trap waiting for him, somewhere in that question, eager to catch him in some sort of act.

"Stop sulking, Reborn," he finally says, chopping up several carrots and not addressing the topic at hand. "It's not like you."

When stars begin circling his head, Tsuna supposes the kick to his head is well deserved.




That night, Reborn gives a short summary on the woman who had visited earlier in the evening.

"She's a freelance hitman called Poison Scorpion," he explains, shoving a cookie in his mouth. "Her special skill is to feed people her poison cooking."

"More like shoving her food into people's faces," Tsuna mutters under his breath as Takahiro nearly slams his head into the table.

"Another crazy Italian?" the boy hisses, almost frothing at the mouth. "Since when did we start growing those in our backyard?"

If only you knew, Hiro, Tsuna thinks mournfully. If only you knew.

"Where are they even coming from?" Takahiro runs a hand agitatedly through his blond hair. He points a condemning finger at Reborn, a hard set to his shoulders. "More like, she was only here for you!"

"Bianchi loves me," Reborn answers simply, reaching for another pastry. "We went out at some point."

Takahiro's jaw slackens. "Love? With you?"

"I'm very popular with women," Reborn continues. "Bianchi was my lover."

A beat of silence.

"Do you even know the meaning of the words you just said?" Takahiro roars, hands under the table as if he is about to flip it over. Meanwhile, Tsuna buries his head in his hands.

Reborn pulls out a handgun and cocks it at the both of them.

"I know enough to tell you that you two owe me fifty push ups," the hitman says with hidden glee and a certain glint in his eyes. "Each."

Already far too familiar with this routine, Tsuna lets out a groan, daring not to protest. He moves to a part of the room and starts his fifty, while Takahiro joins him a beat later, grumbling all the way.

They finish well into the night, following several other exercises under Reborn's orders. Rubbing his left shoulder from an aching soreness, Tsuna shakily reaches for his toothbrush as Takahiro stumbles into the bathroom after him.

(As bitter as he may be at times, Tsuna will not deny the startling effects of Reborn's harsh training. It's a resource he took for granted in his first world, and after struggling by himself here, he's grateful that the worries are now placed in someone else's hands).

"God, he'll kill us at this rate," Takahiro scowls, placing an excessive amount of toothpaste on his own toothbrush. "I don't know what I did in my past life to deserve this, but it must have been absolutely terrible."

Tsuna, who is well aware of what he's done in his past life, decides not to comment.

There is a quiet silence as they collectively brush their teeth. Rinsing his mouth with water, Tsuna rises to find Takahiro's reflection completely filled with something unreadable.

Tsuna spits out the remaining water and turns to face his brother.

"You okay?" he asks, wiping his face with a towel.

Takahiro pauses, opening his mouth before closing it again. He rinses his own mouth and drops his toothbrush into the glass cup.

"It's nothing," he finally says, drying his hands and joining Tsuna in the hallway. "I was just thinking."

"Well that's no small feat," Tsuna jokes, bumping into Takahiro as they walk to their respective rooms.

Takahiro snaps back, the action without heat and leaving Tsuna in a fit of laughter.

They stop right at Tsuna's room and, with a twinge in his chest, Tsuna notes that he has to look a little higher to meet Takahiro's eyes.

"Night, Tsuna," the boy mumbles with a yawn, stretching his arms above his head. He ambles on to his own room in a sedate shuffle.

Tsuna, a wistful smile playing on his lips at the sight, murmurs back, "Goodnight, Hiro."




He is finishing the necessary paperwork for that morning, wiping the sleep from his eyes, when a certain prefect enters the room without preamble.

"The southern sector has been dealt with," Kyouya announces, easily catching the bento box thrown his way. Apparently satisfied with his statement, the young teen falls onto the couch in the middle of the room, and promptly closes his eyes.

"...good to know, Hibari-senpai," Tsuna finally says, somewhat disappointed that he's inadvertently encouraged Kyouya's terrible reporting skills.

I swear, if I have to deal with Kyouya's poor paper management skills past middle school…

This time, if Kyouya does join Vongola, Tsuna will make sure to grab Tetsuya as well, far before his high school career, so that the same mistake will never be made again.

He leaves the reception room half an hour later, hands wrapping around his hair as he struggles to tie it even higher than he had before.

Hana had made it seem so easy, he thinks bitterly, barely succeeding in reaching a decent height. This weekend, no matter what, I'm going to -

"Oi, Sawada!"

Tsuna pauses, tugging at the newly made ponytail curiously, marvelling at the lifting oppression.

"Mochida-senpai," he says with mild surprise, eyes trailing after the approaching figure. "Can I help you?"

The older student reluctantly slows down before clearing his throat.

"Just apologizing," Mochida mutters, obviously discontent with the situation but unwilling to leave it be. "I misunderstood the situation back then. I'm many things, Sawada, but I know when to own up to my mistakes. So, sorry."

Silence reigns the hallway. Blinking slowly, Tsuna traces the harsh lines on the older teen's face and decides that for someone like Mochida, it must have felt like swallowing a thousand needles to take this course of action.

"Apology accepted," he then says, a slight smile forming when Mochida's shoulders relax a fraction. "And I appreciate it, even if it wasn't needed."

"Yeah, whatever," Mochida grimaces and shoves his hands into his uniform pockets. "You keep on telling yourself that."

Bemused, Tsuna waits till the upperclassman stalks off to the nearest stairway and, scratching the back of his head, heads to his classroom.

As per usual for the past few days, when Tsuna reaches the sliding doors, a lone teenager waits by the other side of the hall, slouching on the wall with folded arms.

"Good morning," Tsuna says, hiding a laugh when all Hayato does is grunt in response. "Did your morning go well?"

Hayato slowly straightens to a stand, letting his hair fall over his face, as he gruffly answers, "Well enough."

Struggling to hide his amusement, Tsuna continues. "Great! Then are you free tonight? My mom's been asking for you again."

Swiftly, Hayato opens his mouth to spit out a retort, only to pause and reevaluate his immediate response.

"Tonight is fine," the boy finally answers, several emotions waging war in his voice. They shutter away in the very next instant and, drawing into himself, he gives a deathly glare.

"And don't think for a moment I haven't caught on to what you're trying to do here," Hayato clenches his fists, towering over Tsuna's shorter height. "I know exactly what's going on and let me tell you, it's fucking creepy."

Tsuna, in turn, frowns minutely.

"I'm not trying to hide my intentions from you," he says frankly. Head tilting to the side, he asks, "Why? Is it not working?"

"That's - that's not what I - "

After a moment of contemplation, Tsuna drops all pretense and says, "If it really bothers you, I can dial it down."

A furious red runs across Hayato's cheeks, travelling down his neck and up to his ears.

"Shut up," he snaps, shaking his head furiously. "I - you know what? Just leave it."

(A twisted smile nearly forms along Tsuna's lips.

If his younger self could see him now - would he despise what he has become?

Forcing a young teenager's hand, bringing him into Tsuna's inevitable fate, pushing against these ties and tightening it further like a hanging noose around a neck - )

With a heavy sigh that doesn't escape Hayato's attention, Tsuna ushers them both into the classroom.

"Seven, tonight," he tells Hayato, the world pressing down on his shoulders. "And if you don't want to, you don't have to come."

He pauses before adding quietly, "But I'd like you to, if that means anything."

There is a sudden flash of confusion, hidden well behind furious eyes.

Unfortunately for Hayato, Tsuna has spent years with another version of him. A decade is more than enough time to understand those expressions, and mercifully, Tsuna decides not to comment any further.

And as Hayato moves warily to his seat, Tsuna mourns this simple dynamic. The one where Hayato, regardless of Tsuna's own thoughts on the matter, will find himself obligated to obey whatever suggestion sent his way.

Circumstance demands it, after all.




"And then he pulled out this huge bazooka and fired it without warning," his brother harshly whispers during break, for once leaving his group of friends and scrambling to Tsuna's side. "It brought back a version of himself from the future."

As it turns out, Takahiro is late to school for the first time in a long while, and the blame unfortunately falls on Lambo.

"From the future, huh?" Tsuna says with a near cackle. "That's unbelievable."

"But it's true!" Takahiro insists, before glancing suspiciously around him. In another corner, Hana watches with narrowed eyes. "Anyways, watch yourself. And tell okaa-san I'm coming late tonight. I have practice again."

"Will do, Hiro," Tsuna waves Takahiro off, waiting another moment before joining his own group of friends waiting for him.

"So what was that about?" Hana asks suspiciously. To Tsuna's right, Kyoko looks up from her lunch with bright, curious eyes.

"Nothing that important," he shrugs, bringing out his own packed lunch. "He's busy preparing for the upcoming tournament."

"Oh! I've heard about that too," Kyoko beams while Tsuna reveals a nicely made hamburger steak. If there's a single, terrible consequence to cooking for Kyouya, it is the sickening amount of hamburger steak he's made in the past few years. Frankly speaking, Tsuna has had enough to last him decades. "A lot of things are happening this weekend!"

"Speaking of this weekend," Hana interjects, eyes like a vulture circling over its dying prey. "You didn't forget, did you?"

Tsuna freezes. "Forget? About?"

"Shopping, Tsuna-chan!" Kyoko gives a face of betrayal so genuine, he nearly falls for it. "We decided last week, remember?"

If he hadn't remembered before, he certainly does now.

"Oh, yes," he says weakly, lowering the food in his hands. "Shopping. Right."

"This Sunday, don't you dare forget," Hana waves her chopsticks in an alarmingly dangerous way. "If not…"

"I won't forget!" Tsuna moves to hastily reassure. On his other side, Kyoko giggles behind curled fingers.

"Are you joining us to make cake today?" Kyoko then asks, scooping up a large spoonful of pudding. "The boys get a break and have to clean instead."

Pausing for a moment, Tsuna chews his lunch slowly, the pit of his stomach churning.

(In the midst of the chaos, he considers Kyoko's sincere eyes and wonders what they must see).

"I'll," he begins haltingly, "I'll probably stay."

"Okay!" Kyoko answers brightly, as if completely unaware of how Tsuna is slowly losing his footing. "I'll make a cake for you then!"

"I'd appreciate that," he tells her, finding a surprising amount of strength to smile.

(Hidden beneath narrowed eyes, Hana takes another careful bite of her lunch, and continues to watch).




Tsuna swiftly mops his assigned section of the floor, finishing his own part in record time. He picks up a bucket of water, intent on emptying it, when he catches Hayato's eye.

"How's it going here? You're doing pretty well," Tsuna says, flashing an appeasing smile at the boy's sneer.

Hayato scoffs as he shoves his mop forcefully against the floor. "I know what I'm doing. You don't need to check up on me."

Tsuna's smile relaxes a little further, and he answers, "I'm not doing this because I need to."

Hayato hesitates, a flash of uncertainty fluttering by, so quickly Tsuna nearly misses it.

Before anymore can be said, an arm wraps around Tsuna's shoulders and, for a split second, Tsuna nearly stiffens until his mind catches up with his instincts.

Hayato, meanwhile, bristles imperceptibly, one hand outreached to his side, fingers already searching for his stash of dynamite.

"Oh man, sorry! I didn't mean to startle you," Takeshi laughs sheepishly, sharp eyes speaking enough for how much he's already noticed. "I just wanted to stop by and say hi!"

It's already too late to hide the warmth in his eyes, and so Tsuna nods in turn.

"I hope you finished your own cleaning?" he prods. With a mutter, Hayato shoves his mop into a bucket and departs to finish his own part.

"Yup! My dad and I clean the house pretty frequently, so I'm used to it," Takeshi releases his grip around Tsuna's shoulders and stretches from side to side.

Tsuna's lips quirk upwards, glancing briefly at Hayato's hunched back.

"You dad must really like keeping the house spotless, Yamamoto-san," he then says, adding wryly, "My mom's the same way."

Takeshi slowly straightens to his full height.

"Pfft, it's cause he's a chef," he waves carelessly. Discerning eyes grow a shade darker when he pokes Tsuna's side, "Besides, I thought I told you to call me by my first name."

Tsuna hoists the bucket to his hip. "Well, have you been taking a break?"

Takeshi laughs and rubs the back of his neck.

"You've caught me on that," he admits with a low chuckle. A thoughtful look crosses his face, tapping a finger on his chin. "Have I disappointed you?"

Tsuna considers the question, turning the implications around his head.

In the growing twilight of Takeshi's mind, would he really hear anything Tsuna has to say?

"No, you haven't," he then tells the boy, returning the question with honesty. "It's your choice to listen to what other people have to say."

"But that doesn't stop people from worrying," Tsuna adds while Takeshi hums. "Just as you're free to do what you want, don't be surprised when people act as they like in return."

Takeshi clasps his hands behind his head and inhales, a tiny smile growing on his lips.

"Do as I like, huh?" he murmurs, staring off into a distance too far for anyone to see. He shakes his head and just as quickly, a playful grin emerges. "Man, you sound so cool when you say it! Here, let me help you with that."

And before Tsuna can protest, the bucket in his hands is taken away, leaving him to stare after Takeshi's retreating form.

"If you ask me," Hayato's voice interjects, interrupting whatever thoughts Takeshi's sudden exit may have created. "You may be weird, but he's on a whole other fucking level."

Yes, Tsuna thinks, thank you, Hayato, for the commentary. He turns around and raises an eyebrow at Hayato, leaning against a mop.

"Then I guess it's good we have you around to balance things out, huh?" he says offhandedly, all too aware of the irony in his words. Hayato, perhaps sensing the hidden mirth, turns to the side with a huff, nose high up in the air.

"Shut up," Hayato grumbles, grabbing his bucket and stomping away. As he leaves the classroom, he bumps past Takeshi, most likely returning from the nearest bathroom.

"Watch it, freak!" Hayato barks out, fuming even more when the other boy laughs and raises his hands in surrender.

To Tsuna's left, a familiar presence joins him in watching the pair at the doorway.

"Twenty-two students in our class and you hang out with the weirdest ones," Takahiro complains, tossing his dirty rags from one hand to the other. He shoots a subtle glare as Hayato storms out of the classroom, drops of murky water splattering onto the floor.

Tsuna, torn between pride that Reborn's lessons on subtlety have finally kicked in, and concern at the unnatural surliness directed at anyone who looks at Tsuna the wrong way, merely shrugs.

"I think it'll be worth it," he finally says, after a period of silence. "Things that take time and effort usually are."




Near the end of the day, when every desk and chair is pushed to the side and left to crowd under the windows, the classroom door slams open, revealing a crowd of students.

"Today, we'll give the cakes we made in Home Economics to the boys!" Hana announces, a smirk playing along her lips as the rest of the class roars in approval.

"They look delicious!"

"Oh, me, me! Give one to me!"

Tsuna, sitting on a nearby chair, rests his chin on an upraised hand, finding the eager energy in the room near infectious.

Like dominos falling one after the other, cakes are offered with shy smiles and honest laughter. To one side, several of his classmates swarm around Hayato, who stares blankly at the offered cakes, as if contemplating the merits of slapping each pastry onto the floor.

Meanwhile, Takahiro accepts a few desserts with as much grace as he can muster, rolling his eyes when his friends holler and slap his back.

Quietly, Tsuna relishes the surge of warmth that rushes through.

(It's been a while since he's seen such innocence. The sight is almost nostalgic.

There's just something utterly charming about adolescence - standing right at the cusp of adulthood, enjoying the taste of freedom, walking towards a world that seems limitless).

He turns his attention to the students lingering at the doorway, catching sight of Kyoko as she glances around the room. Their eyes meet not soon after and beaming, she walks forward with a spring in her step.

Tsuna moves to stand, already eyeing the cake. He's missed chocolate more than he honestly should, but no matter, he can appease his sweet tooth -

Abruptly, a shadow materializes behind Kyoko, one hand reaching for the dessert. With a devious smirk on her face, Bianchi glances up from her crouched position, green eyes meeting Tsuna's own by chance.

Lips crawling upwards, Tsuna smiles - a very sharp, rather dangerous smile.

I dare you, he thinks, eyes creasing to let the woman know that he sees her all too well. I haven't had cake since Reborn's arrival. If you ruin it, I'll make you regret the day you stepped foot into Namimori for years to come.

Bianchi, perhaps affected by Tsuna's unkind thoughts, hesitates for a fraction of a second, her fingers grazing the icing along Kyoko's cake.

Maintaining eye contact, Tsuna jabs two fingers right in front of his eyes before stabbing them forward at Bianchi.

I'm watching you, a voice in his head hisses, as he bares his teeth at the woman in a parody of a smile.

"Tsuna-chan?" Kyoko tilts her head. "What are you looking at?"

Dragging his eyes back to the girl, Tsuna lets his smile relax.

"Nothing important," he answers, peripherally following Bianchi's sulking departure.

(Needless to say, besides future Lambo's sudden interruption and unfortunate, consequent annihilation by means of Bianchi's unadulterated rage - the school day finishes quite smoothly, leaving Tsuna to praise Kyoko's chocolate cake with much gusto).




He returns home that afternoon alone, with Takahiro suffering at practice and Reborn who knows where.

"I'm back," he calls out, shrugging off his bag and dumping his shoes to the side.

"Oh, welcome back!" wiping her hands on her apron, Nana greets him with an open smile. "Where's Hiro-kun?"

"Soccer practice again. He'll be home late tonight," he graciously accepts the kiss to his cheek like the man he is, and adds, "And Gokudera-san might be joining us tonight."

Nana clasps her hands together in delight. "I'm glad to hear that! He seems so lonely, that boy."

Reaching the bottom of the stairway, Tsuna glances back at his mother. There is another brief flash of something near indiscernible and, before he can stop himself, he blurts out, "I can help with dinner tonight, if you want."

(It's an unusual change from normalcy. Often, Reborn is the one to send him to his mother or, even less likely, Nana herself requests his assistance).

But for some strange reason, as Tsuna studies his mother's enthusiastic agreement, eyes trailing after her cheerful demeanor, he finds himself somehow compelled. To what exactly, he isn't too sure of, but he can't seem to leave it be.

With a deep exhale, he climbs up the stairs and opens the door to his room -


"Lambo?" Tsuna rubs his eyes at the sight of a five-year-old ricocheting along the walls. Papers are strewn haphazardly across the floor, pens and pencils spilling off his desk, the jackets in his closet ripped off their hangers.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Tsuna stretches out his arm and plucks the boy straight from the air.

"Ahhh, no! Let go of me!" Lambo cries out, attempting to pull himself out of his prison.

Tsuna closes the door behind him and plops onto the floor, keeping a firm grip on the toddler.

"Lambo," he says wearily. "What are you doing in my room?"

Lambo stops his struggling for a pause, the eccentric curls on his head shaking rapidly when the petulant answer arrives.

"Lambo-san was bored."

Tsuna huffs at those words and turns the boy around, meeting wide, dark eyes.

"You can't go around destroying other people's rooms like that," he points out, firmly holding the toddler under the arms, raising him to eye-level. "That's a mean thing to do."

Lambo crosses his arms and turns away.

"I don't care," he sniffs.

"Well, I do," Tsuna says wryly. He releases one hand to gently pull on Lambo's cheeks. "Mean boys need to learn better. So you're going to clean up this room until it's back to normal."

"What?" Lambo whines, the idea of actual work giving him enough energy to try another escape attempt. "Nonono! I don't want to!"

(In the back of his mind, Tsuna sighs, uncomfortably aware of the years that's passed since he last had to deal with Lambo's temper tantrums).

"Lambo," he says, narrowing his eyes and dropping his voice several pitches lower. He sends a look that had never failed with the Lambo from his world.

Lambo, despite having never been on its receiving end, snaps his mouth shut.

Relaxing his features to something lighter, Tsuna gently puts the boy back down and ruffles the riot of hair.

"Come on," he tugs at the glum toddler. "I'll help you."

The following minutes are strangely quiet, with the occasional sniffle as Lambo slowly gathers the papers on the floor. Tsuna matches the set pace and collects the fallen utensils, dropping them back into a cup.

Together, they gather the clothes and, with a surprising amount of patience from both ends, Tsuna shows the younger boy the proper way to use hangers.

"Thank you, Lambo," Tsuna says finally, when everything else is put away and a pile of notebooks is placed hesitantly into his hands. He crouches down to his knees and solemnly adds, "I'm very proud of what you just did."

Tsuna isn't too sure of the reason behind Lambo's fidgeting, but he sends the toddler off anyways to keep his mother company. He waits till he hears the quick stomps of feet travelling down the stairs, accompanied by distant, boisterous laughter.

Sliding onto the bed, Tsuna trails a hand along the bright pink covers, staring contemplatively at the notebooks in his lap.

Tsu-chan's Diary! Don't look! Especially you, Hiro-kun! reads the book on top, entirely covered in cheap glitter.

He's lost count of how often he's read through these journals. At first, it had been for a last minute scramble to successfully integrate himself into this world.

Nowadays, it's for an entirely different reason.

(Am I doing the right thing? Am I doing enough?

Tsuna sits numbly in the empty room.

If you were here, what would you have done?).

With a heavy sigh, he collapses completely onto the bed, a myriad of difficult thoughts chasing after each other, composed of questions that will never be answered.




Dinner that night is a strange affair.

Sitting across from Lambo, who has somehow picked up the habit of staring dumbly at Tsuna at random intervals, and to the left of Hayato - who stumbles between answering Nana's questions and glaring suspiciously at the rest of the table - Tsuna eats his curry like he's the only one present.

This is entirely in response to Reborn, who sits with one leg over the other, a definite power move to reaffirm his position at the top of the food chain.

As luck would have it, Takahiro arrives not moments after, resetting the dynamics of the entire group.

"The table is multiplying," Takahiro whispers, horrified as Lambo tries to pick his nose with a fork.

Hayato, who had been relatively well-behaved till then, snaps at the five-year-old, slamming his fist onto the table. The food on top rattles in response, water sloshing from several cups, while Reborn raises his empty bowl and demands a refill.

Nana hums, accepting the proffered bowl right as Lambo pulls down his cheek and sticks his tongue out.

Taking no shit from anyone, not even a toddler a third his age, Hayato lunges for the throat.

They both crash onto the floor, Lambo screeching in terror and Takahiro, perhaps finally understanding the gravity of the situation, leaps into the fray.

Swallowing the last dredges of his curry, Tsuna stands up, walking past the mess of tangled limbs. He thanks his mother for the food, graciously accepting her compliments for the help, and slowly washes his dishes in the sink.

The noise escalates to a new height, while the actual fighting travels into the living room. Meanwhile, Nana sets down Reborn's new bowl and another plate for Takahiro.

Tsuna dries his hands and walks to the living room, decidedly ignoring the cup of fresh, hot coffee suddenly in Reborn's hands. Nevermind the fact that the coffee maker is unplugged and several meters away from Reborn's idle position.

He enters the room right as Lambo bites into Hayato's arm, who roars more in offense than actual pain, while Takahiro attempts to tear Lambo from Hayato's grasp, to no avail, his one foot digging into the Hayato's stomach.

Tsuna looks up at the gray ceiling for a moment, before rolling up his sleeves and invading the war zone.

In one swift motion, he grabs the back of Lambo's neck and squeezes, causing the boy to go helplessly limp for a moment. It had been a favored move when dealing with Natsu and at that thought, Tsuna's lips nearly twist in nostalgia.

"Ah," Lambo says, a sliver of drool landing on Hayato's shirt even as he is moved from the scene.

"Honestly, all three of you," Tsuna covers his eyes with a hand and slowly brings it down his face. "Dinner is a time to eat."

"H-He started it!" Lambo howls, self-preservation instincts serving him well tonight.

Hayato surges to his feet, with Takahiro joining not a moment after.

"Well, maybe if you weren't such a snot-faced brat," Hayato bites out, a feral glint in his eyes. "This wouldn't have been - "

"Hold on a second," Takahiro interjects, appearing a bit too eager to start Round Two. "Who's the one starting fights with a five-year-old - "

"I don't see you doing any better, you - "

"Okay!" Tsuna calls out, clapping his hands once. Lambo, a fast learner, plays dead in his arms. "That's enough. Hiro, go change. Gokudera-san, please return to your meal. We're going to give our dinner the respect it deserves."

And before anyone can move to protest, Tsuna gives a smile.

The same smile he sent Bianchi earlier that day, the smile he likes to use when he's on the very last threads of his patience, where he is one spiteful comment away from sending a few people early to heaven.

"Right now," he says, still with that smile.

The living room clears out in under ten seconds.




He walks Hayato out to the front gates an hour or so later, somewhat pleased with the night overall.

"That was pretty fun," Tsuna says out loud. "Let's do this again sometime soon."

As they reach the fence, Hayato turns back around, an incredulous look on his face.

"You thought that was fun?" he asks in a tone Tsuna would have used, a whole world away. The boy tightens his grip on the plastic tupperware in his hands. "I thought for sure I pissed you off."

This time, there is no anger, or heat, or anything ferocious in his gaze.

For once, Hayato seems like any other lost teenage boy.

"Well, I'd prefer less fighting next time," Tsuna tells him, not wanting to start a precedent for future meals. "But I like it when you're more comfortable with yourself."

Hayato's face twists into something harsh, like when he's discovered a puzzle he can't yet seem to solve, leaving him frustrated for days on end.

"I don't understand," Hayato says, glancing down at his leftovers with a scowl. It is perhaps, the most honest thing he has ever said to Tsuna. "If you want something from me, just say it. I don't have time to play mind games."

Tsuna blinks at that.

"I just think you're interesting," he answers, so plainly that Hayato nearly drops his tupperware. "And I think that in time, maybe we could be good friends. Is that really so strange?"

(For the very first time, Tsuna contemplates that perhaps, it may be so. It's an entirely strange thing, chasing after Hayato, knocking on those iron walls when, in his own world, everything had been handed to him on a silver platter.

Tsuna thinks it's rather exhausting work, but giving up would mean taking his own Hayato's hard efforts for granted.

And in this dimension, where he's built up his life on a dead girl and endless lies, Tsuna would like to keep at least some things consistent with himself).

Hayato takes a step backwards, knocking into the fence behind him.

"You," the boy says haltingly. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Actually," Tsuna pipes in with amusement. "I think I do."

"I - " Hayato stops. And Tsuna, for once, is reminded that for all intents and purposes, Hayato is still a thirteen-year-old boy.

"Like I said," he says dryly. "If it bothers you, I can dial it down."

Hayato rears his head at that, biting out. "Fuck that! I can handle it, you pansy!"

Handle what? Tsuna stares at the boy. My offered friendship? It's not a heavy burden you're being forced to bear!

Deciding to choose his battles wisely, he instead says, "If you say so."

With a snarl that sounds rather tame, Hayato stalks out to the street.

"See you tomorrow!" Tsuna calls out as the teen starts his walk down the road.

"Like hell you will!" Hayato roars back. "I'm not in town tomorrow!"

"Okay, cool! Thanks for letting me know!"

"Fuck off, you weirdo!"

Feeling lighter than ever, Tsuna strolls back into his house, pretending ignorance when a weight lands on his head.

Reborn tugs at his hair a few times, before saying, "You've been making an interesting Family, Tsuna."

Reborn's voice is flat, void of any inflections, forcing Tsuna's senses to rise in alarm.

But what could he possibly say? When it comes to Reborn, where every card is held close to the chest, meticulous plans running to create random events that serve a single purpose.

So instead, Tsuna chooses to ignore whatever implications there may be and answers, "I hope you wash your shoes regularly, Reborn. You know it's rude to leave dirt in people's hair."

(He's run ragged for the rest of the night, much to Takahiro's horror. Dragging himself into bed, Tsuna groans, feeling the ache of muscles he's never worked on before.

"Worth it," he mutters, one fist raised in victory, and takes the rubber bullet to his face with an enviable amount of grace).




He walks into class the next day with a strange amount of wariness.

Settling into his desk, Tsuna twirls a pen in his fingers, trying to pinpoint the anxiety. His stomach churns up and down, protesting even as he returns several greetings.

"You don't look so good, Tsuna-chan," Kyoko says, hovering over his desk, perceptive as ever. "Are you sick?"

Tsuna considers this before shaking his head.

"No, I don't think so," he sighs into his palm. Two rows away, Hana waits at her own desk, concerned enough to give her attention, but unwilling to move.

Kyoko hums, eyebrows furrowed as she glances at the clock. Class will start in ten minutes, which means Takahiro's coach must be running them to the ground for this tournament.

Kyoko taps a finger on her lips. "Maybe you should go see the - "

The sliding door opens with a resounding crack.

"Hey, everyone!" a classmate pants as he leans onto his knees. "Bad news! Yamamoto is about to jump the roof!"

In the following commotion, students murmuring fearfully, desks being pushed aside -

Sound tapers out and an ocean rises above his ears.

Oh, he thinks faintly, as fire courses through his veins, a golden amber so bright it nearly consumes his lungs.

"Tsuna... chan?"

Letting the flames climb higher and higher, Tsuna comes to a stand, facing Kyoko and, unsurprisingly, Hana.

"Alert the teachers, Kyoko," he says, but his voice is distant, so far away, muffled under the pressure of a thousand embers. "Hana, control the crowd on the roof."

He exits the room, not waiting another moment, already expecting his requests to be met. The way to the roof is a familiar one, and in a single blink, he's suddenly behind a crowd, all huddled near its entrance.

Fear is prevalent in the air and several voices call desperately out to a lone figure, standing right at the edge of the rooftop.

He squeezes through the mass of bodies, faintly hearing Hana's voice as she forces back any rash student before they can act.

He blinks again and there he is, standing on tiled floor, meters away from a single boy, with nothing but a fence in between.

Perhaps noticing the sudden quiet, Takeshi turns to face the crowd. And maybe he had been expecting something, or had hoped for a single outcome for this situation when, all there really is… is Tsuna.

"Tsuna," Takeshi starts, so violently so that he nearly takes a step back. He catches himself just in time, before shaking his head. "Of course you'd be here."

In the silence, he laughs self-deprecatingly.

"I guess now, you must be disappointed," Takeshi gestures to the cast in his arm. There's a dullness in his eyes that seems endless, as if he's drowning in obsidian. "But you probably wouldn't understand."

Takeshi faces the lowering sun once again. "You're a star pupil - you excel at whatever you do. There's no possible way you could understand. That feeling of wanting to die, rather than failing at everything."

The heat under Tsuna's skin is unbearable, boiling dangerously till a whistle rings in his ears.

"No, you're right," Tsuna finally says, voice still so removed he wonders if it's really his. "I don't really understand."

For Tsuna, who has already died once before, there is an acknowledgement that no, he probably would never really understand.

Exhaling deeply, he takes three steps forward and jumps over the frail fence, fingers barely grazing it for balance. Gasps and silent screams fill the air behind him.

He lands on the edge of the roof, a few steps away from Takeshi, facing that same sun.

(Towards the horizon, puffs of cotton float on a brilliant sky blue, rays of light brushing against trees of deep green.

At the sight of that stillness, Tsuna wonders if Takeshi has ever really seen the colors as they are now).

"What do you think you're doing?" To Tsuna's right, Takeshi shuffles, his voice cold and flat. "If you're trying to stop me, it's no use."

Pretending as if he hasn't heard a word, Tsuna crouches down and sits carefully on the ledge, leaving his feet to dangle in the open air.

The silence is stifling as the whole world collectively holds its breath. A single breeze brushes against his ankles. He crosses his legs, elbows resting on his knees, hands dragging along his face.

With an exhale that could shatter into pieces, Tsuna murmurs, "You never really know when to stop, do you, Takeshi?"

He glances to the right, to startled, hazel eyes, before turning back to the horizon.

His attention focuses on the surroundings around him, like lenses zooming in on anything and everything. There is a hyper awareness of every little detail, every shifting limb, every steady inhale taken from each individual.

Takeshi lets out a scoff.

"It must be nice," the boy says, nearly biting the words out. "Being so comfortable in telling other people what to do. Pointing out what they've done wrong."

He waves a theatrical hand, grand and mocking, "How young and naive we must seem to you, oh great Tsuna-sama."

At the pace of an aging crawl, Tsuna turns to the right once more.

(In this crystalized world, where every angle is too sharp and every color too bright, Takeshi is a jagged knife, shadows covering its edges as the blade reflects the sun).

"You're not wrong," Tsuna finally says, to the pool of obsidian. "It's very hard not to."

Takeshi's lips thin to an indecipherable line.

Molten lava flaring in his throat, Tsuna doesn't move his relentless gaze. In a voice that could bend steel, he asks, "And have I ever acted like that to you, Takeshi?"

Takeshi's eyes flare for a moment.

"Of course you - " he closes his mouth shut with a clack. Something very bitter crosses his face.

In one slow movement, Tsuna stands once again.

Even at his full height, Tsuna still has to strain his neck to look directly into Takeshi's eyes. But that's nothing different, in one world or another.

"I told you before that you're free to do as you liked," he says, taking a step forward. "And I stand by it."

The temperature spikes with every pulse in Tsuna's veins. He takes another step. "You want to practice till you break your arm? That's fine."

There is ash on his tongue, his every word burning through his teeth.

"You want to jump off a roof? That's fine too."

Takeshi takes a halting step back, achieving absolutely nothing in distancing himself.

"But I also told you," Tsuna leans into the obsidian and dares it to consume him. "That you shouldn't complain when people do as they want in return."

Another step.

This close, the freckles along the bridge of Takeshi's nose are as clear as day.

"And if you think I'm just going to let you do as you like," Tsuna's voice lowers, not entirely deep but altogether burning in something that can never be conquered. "Then you are sorely mistaken."

Under the morning light, at the very edge of a school rooftop, there is only Takeshi and Tsuna.

"You," Takeshi starts and stops. He swallows dryly. "Why would you - "

His voice cuts off again, the wind stealing his words.

"You barely even know me," he finally rasps. "And I don't even know you."

"I don't need years to know that you're drowning," Tsuna says, and when he blinks, he isn't too sure if he is speaking to the boy in front of him, or to the shadow of a twenty-six-year-old man, a sword on his back and mischief in his eyes. "And I don't need years to know that you're worth the effort."

"And how would you know that?" another blink, and it's fourteen-year-old Takeshi once more, eyes flashing in challenge.

"It's clear you have an idea of what I'm like," Tsuna answers, without hesitation. "But you still approached me."

Standing in front of what may be an insurmountably cold mountain, Tsuna finds himself untouched by its frigid lakes.

"I'm many things you probably won't understand," he breathes in a mouthful of warm, heavy air. "The same, I'm sure, goes for you. And yet, you still approached me."

Takeshi clutches the fence with his uninjured arm, eyes turned away.

"You wanted to give it a chance, give me a chance."

The obsidian crumbles, piece by piece.

"And I think," Tsuna says to the roaring, murky waves. "You wanted to give yourself a chance too."

Like droplets of rain, piercing through a thin layer of ice, Takeshi inhales, sharp and precise. In the yawning chasm of silence, he lets out a short bark of laughter.

"There you go again," Takeshi shakes his head incredulously. "Telling other people how they must feel."

The side of Tsuna's mouth quirks upwards.

"Like I said before," Tsuna says to the dying dusk. "It's hard not to."

Takeshi glances to the side, staring distantly into the clear sky ahead. At the fading obsidian, Tsuna wonders if the boy is perhaps seeing such a light blue for the first time in a while.

"I don't know if I can believe you," Takeshi finally murmurs after a long silence. His left arm still clutches the rusting fence like it's his last lifeline.

"That's okay," Tsuna says, as the saturated colors around him thin to a more manageable pallette. "You have the time."

Takeshi snorts, but it is a sound that is far lighter than anything he's made before.

"You're really something, aren't you?" he leans against the fence with a heavy sigh. The metal groans at the weight and instinctively, Tsuna moves forward.

"Takeshi - " he begins, only able to meet hazel eyes before the fence bends and snaps, forcing Takeshi to lose his footing, legs slipping underneath, desperately searching for solid ground, only to find complete emptiness -

Tsuna lunges.

His arm barely catches Takeshi's uninjured one, but the sudden weight leaves Tsuna slipping forward, and in no time at all, he finds himself following Takeshi to the ground.

Screams run through the air just as Tsuna slams his other hand onto the very edge of the rooftop, holding on with the very tips of his fingers.

"Tsuna," Takeshi's voice gasps out from underneath, panic distorting its vibrations. "Tsuna, let go! You can't hold on like this - "

Fingers still trembling, Tsuna looks abruptly down and sends his most dangerous glare.

"Are you kidding me?" he hisses, not really hysterical, but more furious at the sudden change of dynamics that leaves him feeling as if he's in a popular shoujo manga. "I go through all of that work and you're telling me to let go?"

Without waiting for a response, he pulls on his left arm, testing Takeshi's weight as he kicks sideways, forcing their bodies to swing slightly to the right.

His muscles scream at the motion, but Tsuna does not and will not stop. There are shouts from above, teachers rushing to the ledge, telling him to hold on, for just a moment longer.

But Tsuna is well too aware of this body and its limitations. He's thin and young, with lean muscles and an increasingly heavy boy weighing down on his fragile fingers.

Tsuna cannot wait just a moment longer.

With a final heave, aided by the growing momentum, Tsuna tosses Takeshi up to the ledge, the boy having good enough instincts to kick his legs out to slam his feet onto the tile.

Immediately, a middle-aged teacher grabs onto Takeshi's unsteady form and, just as another teacher reaches forward, Tsuna's fingers finally give out.

The wind rushes past his ears, the bodies on the rooftop suddenly far away. Resigned, Tsuna looks down, one arm covering his eyes from the stinging gusts, the neatly trimmed ground approaching much faster than he would have liked.

I can make this, he thinks rapidly, already adjusting his posture to brace himself. I might break a leg, especially if I don't use my -

Unsurprisingly, none of his decisions end up mattering in the end, because in the faint distance, while the wind shrieks in his ear, and trees fly past him, the sound of a single gunshot pierces through the air.

Oh n -




Five minutes later, Tsuna sits at the base of an oak tree, meters from the school building and clothes completely intact.

Head racing in alarming clarity over the past few events, he buries himself into his hands, the steady pound of running feet reaching his ears.


With a groan, he rises to his feet, strands of hair falling forward, loose and unmanageable after his hair tie had snapped during his descent.

Immediately, hands grab onto his shoulders in an ironclad grip.

"What the hell happened there?" Takahiro demands, shaking Tsuna frantically, searching up and down for possible injury. "I can't believe you! Of all people, to do such reckless, stupid - "

"Hiro, wait, please," Tsuna tries to say, quite futilely as his head rolls helplessly back and forth. "I'm okay! Reborn - "

"Shot you?" Takahiro interrupts, finally letting go with a scrunched nose. Tsuna gasps for breath, slightly dizzy from the assault. "But you still have your clothes on."

Yes, well, thank god for small mercies, Tsuna thinks, running a hand through his hair, already dreading what tomorrow might bring. Reborn had explained the Dying Will Bullets in exact detail several days prior, while directing an expectant look at Tsuna.

Just you wait, his beady little eyes had seemed to say. I'll get you eventually.

"I'm not too sure about that either," Tsuna says, lying to his grave and cursing Reborn's meddling hands.

Takahiro nearly swells in indignation. "Well, maybe we wouldn't have this problem if you had just - "

"Tsuna-chan!" a familiar voice cuts him short. Recognizing the sound, Takahiro closes his mouth with a hard, disapproving clack.

"Tsuna-chan!" Kyoko rushes in, near breathless and a flurry of fear drawn on her face. Behind her, Hana approaches carefully, eyes travelling along Tsuna's entire body. "Are you okay? Are you hurt?"

"I'm fine," Tsuna says, insistent even as Takahiro twitches warily. "Not a scratch on me."

"Oh, thank goodness!" Kyoko bursts out. She wrings her hands from one side to another, rambling, "We left as soon as Yamamoto-kun seemed okay, but no one else was moving to see you -"

"The teachers seem to think this was all a prank," Hana says, overriding whatever Kyoko had been about to say. She squints at her fingernails, impressively nonchalant despite the tension lining her shoulders. "Since you got up just fine."

Tsuna offers a weak smile, head still spinning and ears ringing.

Sensory overload, he acknowledges faintly. Going in and out of Hyper Dying Will Mode isn't good for this body.

"I'm just glad you're okay," Kyoko's voice claims his attention once more, her fingers tugging at his sleeve as she says, "You should probably go see the nurse anyways, just in case."

She sends a firm look when Tsuna moves to protest.

"Okay," he says, folding like a sheet of wet paper.

"Wuss," Hana mutters behind him, Takahiro pushing Tsuna forward with a disgusted grumble of his own.




He passes by Takeshi on his way to the nurse's office, in the middle of a quiet hallway, when the morning light still bleeds through the glass windows.

It seems almost surreal, standing in this parody of the hour previous; in such an aftermath, it shouldn't be too difficult to pretend it had never happened in the first place.

But facing Takeshi and his broken arm, who stumbles to an unsteady halt, Tsuna is uncomfortably aware that such a thought is impossible to achieve.

They stand a sole meter apart, and unsurprisingly, Tsuna falls short of the right thing to say.

It had been so easy last time, he thinks dimly. Back when he had been thirteen, tried and true - when they had brushed off Takeshi's stunt with a laugh, left to collect dust for years to come.

But years of retrospect has dug a crevice between the young children around him, and Tsuna cannot bring himself to turn away.

He bites the bullet, breaking the sudden silence, and quietly asks, "Are you okay?"

Takeshi starts, as if emerging from a lake for the first time in decades.

"Am I okay?" he repeats in disbelief. "Am I okay? Are you kidding me? Tsuna, I should be the one asking you that."

"Oh, well," Tsuna falters, the conversation heading in a completely different direction than expected. He tries to smile reassuringly. "I'm not hurt. At all, actually. The nurse is going to check up on me, just in case."

Wind escaping his lungs, Takeshi crouches down in defeat, one hand tangled in his dark hair.

"I really don't understand you at all," he says, like it's a dirty confession, more world-weary than any teenager should be.

At the sudden irony, Tsuna smothers the urge to snort.

"You'll have to get used to that," he tells Takeshi, as a single knot unravels in his chest, before he backtracks to hastily add, "But that's only if you want to, of course."

Takeshi lets out a bark of laughter, easily rising to a stand once again.

"You'll have to try harder if you want to get rid of me," he says, sounding only half-serious.

Tsuna raises his hands in protest, "Uh, actually, I didn't try anything - "

"And sorry for being stupid," Takeshi blurts out, over Tsuna's words.

He pauses, only to give a sheepish smile. "I want to do better. For my dad, but mostly for myself. So sorry, for all of that."

Tsuna slowly lowers his hands.

"You don't need to apologize," he says, words spilling out of his mouth before he can stop them. "Even if your actions were dumb, that doesn't mean your feelings at that time weren't valid."

Takeshi chuckles, the sound low and brittle. And when he gazes at the world outside, Tsuna hopes he'll notice how bright the green leaves are today.

"Yeah," Takeshi then says, distant, but still incredibly present. "Thanks for that."

A smile curls along his lips, as Tsuna finally finds himself in comfortable territory.

"Anytime," he says, so honestly so that Takeshi must have heard. He must have, because the returning grin is blinding enough, it almost leaves Tsuna forgetting his place in this world.




It doesn't last, of course.

The day finishes uneventfully, Takahiro far more calm than he had been in the morning, and their mother blissfully unaware. Tsuna safely changes into his pajamas, completes his nightly routine of brushing his teeth, and makes it to the door of his room, when he notices.

The door itself is slightly ajar, the sliver of space in between completely dark. Releasing a heavy sigh, Tsuna flicks on the light and enters his room.

"Ciaossu," Reborn waves a hand expectantly, a cup of steaming tea next to him on the low table. "You're late, Dame-Tsuna."

"Reborn," Tsuna says blankly, trying not to wonder about how long Reborn must have been sitting there, waiting, in the dark. "This is… unexpected."

The hitman shrugs before gesturing to the table.

Already aware there is no escape, Tsuna closes the door behind him and sits on the other side, crossing his legs on the floor. Meanwhile, Reborn hops onto the table and clasps his hands behind his back.

"You know, I was sent here to train the next heir of Vongola," Reborn begins, casually pacing from one end of the table to the other. "Twins are always a tricky subject, so I've been observing the two of you long before we had even met."

"I found you better suited for the position, in nearly every aspect," Reborn stops to take a long sip of his tea. Lowering the cup, he adds, "But, it seems you probably already knew that."

Dark, unreadable eyes are sent his way, but Tsuna remains silent.

"You have some interesting habits," Reborn continues, turning the cup in his hands. "Not to mention an unending list of strange mannerisms, and a level of composure that can't even be found in most Mafia Bosses today."

"I saw all of that, but I let it go," he drinks from his tea once more. "I've seen stranger."

Reborn puts down his tea with a deceivingly content sigh. He walks right up to where Tsuna sits, quiet and predatory.

"But a civilian teenager with weird tendencies," Reborn smiles, an emotionless expression. "Is very different from a civilian teenager who can enter Hyper Dying Will Mode, from her very first Dying Will Bullet."

From one heartbeat to another, a sleek, metal hole is pointed directly between Tsuna's eyes.

"So," Reborn says, gun in hand and Leon nowhere in sight. The click of a safety lock is more than telling of the gun's legitimacy, and carefully, Tsuna raises his hands in surrender. "Start talking."






take three guesses to which scene was the hardest to write, and the first two don't count.

some notes:

1) this chapter is almost a character study, of different people reacting to Tsuna, who isn't the most normal of teenagers. I really wanted to dig into Gokudera and Yamamoto's personalities, to establish a working ground for all three of these characters, regardless of how shaky it is at the moment.

2) there's no way Reborn would not have noticed Tsuna's strange behaviors, and I love how some people believe that not addressing it at one point suddenly makes it a "plothole."

3) there are a lot things left unsaid here! Especially since Tsuna is our narrator, so we don't really know what goes behind everyone's thoughts, so I hope it'll be fun for everyone to see it all gradually displayed in the future.

4) to the one reader who finds Tsuna's struggles with his gender identity disappointing and unrealistic: *insert some sort of ? meme here* I mean, if it really bothers you, you're more than welcome to read the countless other genderbend stories out there on this site. You comparing Tsuna to another genderbend anime with a sociopath protagonist, doesn't really help your case.

There seems to be quite a few people bothered by how Tsuna refers to himself and well, it's kind of telling when you give reasons such as "not wanting it to be gay." We could sit here all day and talk about the reasons behind Tsuna's conflicts and concerns, which go far beyond what lies between his legs, but I'd rather let the story speak for itself.

As always, I can't make promises about when every update will occur, but I hope it's been an enjoyable ride so far! Thank you again for the support, and I'd love to hear your thoughts!