MISSION 0: CROSSING NEW ROADS—Part 1
The crowd was in a tense silence. The brightly lit gym was stifling, the breath of the nearly beaten players steaming up every available window. Their heels dragged along the polished floor in squeaks and the thirsty players sucked at their water bottles to replace the moisture loss on their foreheads. Their coach nipped at his torn up fingernail, the tense seconds ticking away too painfully for him to handle.
Even the gold and red opposing team sat still in their benches, waiting for the drop.
Number 27 had the ball in his grasp. He had a clear shot. Yet he was stalling.
Beads of sweat ran down his head in rivulets, making his forehead shine under the court lights. Everyone could see the tire in his bones and the fire seeping out of his eyes. The blue and white Namimori High basketball uniform made him look paler than normal, making him look positively ill with fear and dread.
Or maybe some habits were just too hard to break.
He kept the ball trained in his stiff hands, running the clock out. It ticked away from twenty two seconds to eighteen in what seemed like hours. His auburn eyes were searching, scanning, thinking.
Finally, he seemed to make his decision.
He charged for the net.
The crowd rose to its feet, sucking in a breath instantly. Would it be to cheer? Or would it be to let out a breath of anger and curses at the lone basketball player?
27 continued to swerve through the oncoming crowd but he couldn't avoid clashing into various players through his rampage, even knocking into his teammate 69 at one point. The opposing team followed him, not close to his match in speed but with enough teamwork to have the lone player surrounded on all sides within a two point reach of the basket.
The crowd let out a groan. It was over.
But 27 only seemed amused by the situation. He stretched up and jumped.
The opposing team laughed at his foolishness, instantly rising to block.
And then the news hit.
27 wasn't even holding the ball anymore!
A girl called from the crowd in an excited yelp as another player made a beeline for the basket with no opposition in sight. Number 69 zoomed past the lone blocker who had managed to keep his position. The cocky, mop-haired teen grinned, almost floating past the confused teenager and made a last minute shot from the edge of the three point line as the clock in the gym buzzed a drawn-out zero.
The crowd let out a cheer as the ball flew into the basket with no resistance, instantly changing the dubious score from 66 to 69. The Namimori Lions had won the championship game.
Tsuna had been in the middle of shaking hands with the opposition when his friends swarmed him. Even Mukuro disguised as his fellow teammate Kai Yuuto looked bemused at the situation, standing aloof off a far distance away from the gushing crowd. It didn't stop some of the other Namimori players from offering the recluse their congratulations, pink staining his pale pokerface as they showered him with praise.
Tsuna confidently handed over the trophy to his beaming coach before allowing the hugs to continue. All his friends from over the years surrounded him on all sides, barely giving him a chance to breathe as they all took turns hugging the sheepish teenager. Gokudera actually seemed to be the one squeezing the hardest, which instantly made the brunet nervous and he gently pried the happy bomber's arms off his middle with a choked out laugh.
Ryohei was yelling right in his ear, talking about how extremely cool that last pass was and how Tsuna was so impressive for coming up with the strategy. Tsuna very gently pushed the senior back away from his bleeding ear before engrossing himself in the conversation that sparked a very annoyed groan from some of the surrounding group members (aka one sports-hating silver haired teenager).
Lambo and I-Pin danced around his ankles—who actually were tall enough now to grab his waist with a vice grip—which made Kurokawa shrink away in fear and disgust up against Haru, wearing a blue and white lion costume for the occasion and had been cheering the loudest throughout the last quarter. Yamamoto was at Tsuna's elbow, trying to calm the crowd down and had his hand on Tsuna's shoulder that helped the teen down from his adrenaline high.
But Tsuna kept one eye trained on Kyoko, wearing his team jacket with pride, the deep blue and white a great combination on her seemingly flawless skin. Her smile lifted Tsuna's spirits more than any of the other cheering group had, and he was only vaguely aware of someone speaking to him. Her eyes glittered with pride, and Tsuna felt weak at the knees. She looked every bit as beautiful as the day they first met, even with a small popcorn kernel stuck in her teeth that she had yet to notice.
A hand roughly tapped him on the shoulder, shaking him from his thoughts. Tsuna coughed and turned his attention back to his now glaring mother. "Um...I'm sorry Mom, what were you saying?"
Nana Sawada stood off to the side with willowy Bianchi (holding a fizzing water bottle that sounded eerily like acid that he quickly refused once offered) as she gruffly reiterated "I said let's go on home to celebrate! I am sure your father will be more than excited to hear the news!"
Tsuna's smile suddenly felt forced as he nodded in assent before his voice decided to betray him. The notion that his crazed and outlandish father had eaten his weight in food last night after another long stretch away from home and now was taking a power-nap in his underwear at the house seemed unappealing enough without dragging his friends back to see.
He could already imagine Iemitsu's reaction, with the older man grinning like an idiot while his voice spouted nonsense to the people he actually respected: "Oh! Tsuna! How did it go?! Oh, so you won the game! That's my boy ladies! I can still remember the first day he cried when I put a basketball near his face, sobbing and begging me to take it out of his mouth! Oh the dentist had a laughing fit when we told him what happened…!" Tsuna shuddered at the thought.
His friends pulled at his arms, dragging him away and out of his dangerous thoughts. "We've been planning all weekend!" A grown-up Fuuta urged, tugging on his hand. "C'mon! Nana Sawada's parties are rated Number One in Perfect for A Winning a Tournament Celebration!"
"Oh wait!" Tsuna called, making the crowd pause. He turned back around and scoured the thinning group of spectators until he saw the bobbing black head of the aloof Disciplinary Leader appear alongside the small cluster of people now gathered around Number 69. Tsuna quickly jogged up alongside, calling out to the wary teens. "Hey, we're going to go celebrate, you guys want to come?"
For a wild moment, the stern teenager and the grinning basketball player shot each other a hard glance. The two men hadn't quite yet resolved their differences, the flame of something akin to jealousy and hatred still burning in their narrowed eyes. It seemed very unlikely the two would ever grow up and suffer each other's presence.
But with Tsuna watching them as coldly as he was even with the same serene smile as usual on his face, the two men's stubbornness melted away at the promise those sharp eyes held.
Hibari gave a derisive sniff as Mukuro nodded his assent. Tsuna allowed himself a wider grin before turning to the badly disguised Ken, Chikusa, and Chrome seated in the front row bleachers looking up at the calmly ended scuffle in disbelief. "The invitation is extended to you guys as well, if you're interested. At my house, in a couple of hours. See you then." The teen grinned and spun on his heel and followed the familiar crowd through the gym doors.
Now it was gonna be a party.
Tsuna should have been prepared for the inevitable when he walked through the front door.
He expected his father to be noisily greeting them at the door, instantly swooping the girls (and an eager Gokudera) under his arm and telling embarrassing stories about him all night that would leave him red for weeks. He expected the man to sweep his mother into a grossly inappropriate kiss that would leave him sickened and slightly jealous for an hour and for the man to stick his burly finger into his cheek in a smarting, not to mention humiliating fashion that would ultimately end up in a purpling bruise.
What he hadn't expected was Timoteo, the gray haired boss of Vongola, and his father calmly lounging in the main sitting room sipping on sake and laughing loudly at whatever joke had passed through their alcohol soaked minds as the troupe marched through the front door.
Tsuna gaped with disbelief as the elderly boss slowly turned to the oncoming group with a knowing smile. "Ah, Tsunayoshi and friends, welcome back!" Timoteo sang with a sober laugh. "Congratulations on the win, we're all very impressed."
"What are you doing here?" The teen asked instantly, looking curiously from his smirking father back to the man.
Timoteo grinned as Iemitsu poured another round of alcohol. "I was in town and I thought I would drop by to see how you were. I was shocked to hear from Iemitsu and Reborn about all your many achievements over the years. The sports team, the teachers, running for Student President; I was especially impressed to hear about your sudden interest in political science and foreign affairs," Timoteo smiled proudly at the dumbstruck brunet. "You're developing very successfully."
Tsuna frowned at the sentiment. "'Successfully?'" He grumbled in confusion.
Timoteo swallowed another gulp of alcohol. "…I was just saying to Iemitsu how much you've grown since we first met. You've become a very fine young man Tsunayoshi." The old man turned to the surprised teen, his gentle smile making Tsuna nervous instead of calm as intended.
The brunet instinctively opened his mouth to refute the statement, but no words came out. An embarrassingly awkward moment passed with no sound echoing in the small room, save for the two men continuing to drink unbeknownst of the bewildered teen. Tsuna felt his head reeling, almost knowing what was bound to happen if this conversation continued. His face felt hot and instantly shy in front of his friends, whom he could feel turning to each other for explanations. He turned back to the blonde-haired girl behind him, silently begging for help.
Kyoko seemed to take the unspoken hint, turning to the onlookers. "Let's…leave them alone for a while everyone," She urged. "I think they need some privacy to talk about things that we don't know about." She ushered their friends away with a bruising grip.
Nana nodded and led the troupe into the other room. "Why don't you all help me with the decorations?" She cheerily added.
The room soon petered out, leaving the three men in silence. Finally, Tsuna recovered enough to speak again. "…Look, Ninth…I think we really need to talk about—" Tsuna yelped as he felt tiny heels suddenly land on his own feet hard enough to send him reeling into a world of pain in a matter of seconds.
The teen cried out again, sending both men at the floor table erupting into raucous laughter. Iemitsu pulled another extra-large bottle from seemingly nowhere and presented it to the older man. "'Nother round, Boss?!" He roared.
"Don't mind if I do!" Timoteo eagerly responded, holding up his glass for the blond to pour in.
Tsuna stood, watching them astounded as the men continued to drink as if they didn't notice him steaming in the corner. "Guys, I…" He sputtered as they continued to ignore his presence. "…I-I really want to…Guys I'm serious, I…Will you listen to me already?!" He snarled.
"Save it." Reborn interrupted, stomping on the teen's toes again for good measure. When the teen had stifled another scream, he continued. "They'll get to you when they're ready." His black eyes narrowed expectantly. "And you might do well to really consider what they're asking of you before you jump to any definite answers."
"Wh-What do you—"
"Use your soon-to-be-graduated high school brain. Why else do you think he'd be here?" Reborn quickly jumped away into the other room before Tsuna could question the baby further. He turned back to the intoxicated duo, wrinkling his nose as they began to sing a drunken version of "Baby One More Time".
The party started out like normal. Takeshi's dad was kind enough to serve as the caterer of the event, giving Nana a break from hosting and letting the entire group chow on sushi for no cost. The biggest pigs of the group took advantage of the treat, with Ken swallowing most of the yellow tail before a hungry, stubborn Lambo could get a hold of it. That started a scuffle that didn't end until the end of the night.
Dino had been a surprise visitor, bringing along a karaoke machine that left most of his men and Ryohei thoroughly entertained for most of the night. No amount of earplugs could cover up the disturbing sounds emitting from the speakers after the sun guardian began his two hour rendition of "We Are the Champions".
No one really tried again after that.
Tsuna couldn't bring himself to enjoy it as he normally could. He spent most of the night unwillingly glued to Reborn's, his father's, and the Ninth's side. The elderly leader's presence had Tsuna on edge, waiting nervously for whatever the boss had to discuss. Reborn himself had done nothing since, only petting Leon absently despite Bianchi's best efforts to get him to enjoy himself.
The brunet knew exactly what the elderly man had come for. It was the same thing that happened every time he did something in the name of Vongola. Tsuna would win, Ninth would encourage him to think about becoming the boss again, Tsuna would vehemently refuse until the next altercation.
It was something he had never given any definite thought about. The option was never an option. Tsuna had vowed he wouldn't be the boss of the Vongola, and that was that.
And yet, every action and decision he made seemed to point to the fact that Tsuna was becoming something he vowed never to be.
Tsuna simply waited, knowing the trio would eventually speak to him in their own time.
Finally, the Ninth gulped down another beer and turned to Tsuna. "Are you enjoying the last few days of your high school career Tsunayoshi?"
Tsuna shrugged stiffly at the question. "I suppose."
"Looking to go to University?"
"I don't know...I mean I've thought about it and everything, but I don't have any definite plans..." Tsuna's shoulders sagged. It sounded pathetic even to him. "I guess...I never really thought I'd make it this far. I've always thought I would quit after middle school. I had no friends, no real abilities, and I had the grades to prove it. I never thought about doing anything further."
"Until Reborn came along?" The Ninth questioned, sounding oddly sober.
Tsuna thought for a moment. "...Yeah, I suppose so. When he came around, I suddenly got friends and I got smarter. After all that I've done—Kokuyo, the Inheritance Battles, and all the fights in the future, going to High school seemed like a breeze. And it was, certainly."
"Then maybe it's time for you to take over," Reborn finally spoke, his face blank.
Tsuna froze. He had been dreading to hear those words from the elderly boss, but hearing it from his tutor only served to make him more panicky. He turned to his baby tutor, his face quickly turning white. "What...what do you mean Reborn?"
"I mean what I said idiot," Reborn growled back. "I mean maybe it's time for you to take over the Family. Or did you forget that was my purpose for 'coming around' as you called it?" He snapped in a voice that Tsuna had heard only directed at the scariest of opponents.
The Ninth and Iemitsu said or did nothing to stop Reborn, but they didn't help Tsuna either. They continued to gulp their drinks nonchalantly, pretending not to listen.
"I-I...!" The teen bumbled, sweating even more than he had during the game. "I-I just—"
"We don't have to decide anything right away Tsunayoshi," The Ninth finally said, breaking the tense moment between student and teacher. "I'm sure Reborn was just offering it as a suggestion. You have made incredible progress these past years, that much is certain but we have no need to decide this now; let's just drop the subject for a while and go back to celebrating your victory." The Ninth raised his mug with a gentle smile. "To Tsunayoshi."
"To Tsuna," Iemitsu repeated, raising his glass.
"To Tsuna!" Everyone chimed in, happy and blissfully unaware of the stiff atmosphere off in the corner.
Reborn didn't toast, nor did he look at Tsuna for the duration of the party.
It remained a cheery atmosphere even as the party dissipated sometime after midnight. One by one, everyone departed and stumbled down the street with the promise of coming together again. Ryohei had to be dragged back home by Dino's helpful men some hours before, and left Tsuna with the joyful task of escorting Kyoko back home.
She seemed to instantly catch that something was wrong the moment they left and despite Tsuna's best attempts, he somehow began telling her every part of the strained conversation earlier with her listening on attentively.
"It's just..." He sighed as they turned another corner. "Everyone seems to be expecting me to be this great boss and everything, but...I've just always not wanted to be. When I first met Reborn, all I did whenever someone would mention me becoming the boss was deny it, constantly. But...ever since, everything that I've done has always made me seem like...like I was slowly becoming what I hate..." Tsuna trailed off, stopping short in his tracks.
He looked beaten, dejected; certainly not the confident champion she had seen hours before. Kyoko gingerly touched a hand to his shoulder, making him look up.
"Tsuna...I may not have known about all this Mafia business for as long as you have, but let me tell you this," She encouraged, grabbing his face in her hands and staring confidently into auburn irises. "You have not changed.
"You may be taller, yes, and maybe not as scared of things. Your grades have improved, and your voice has deepened, but that same goofy, light-hearted boy I've known for so many years cannot easily disappear like that. You've matured, but you haven't changed so much that you wouldn't feel guilty about something like this.
"You can't change who you are Tsuna. And I know the real you; the real Tsuna who is so wonderful that he's more concerned about being someone he's not than wondering how to abuse the power that comes with it." Kyoko smiled warmly and released his face. "And that's worth more than any title or wealth in the world."
Tsuna found himself staring at Kyoko for a long minute, finding immediate comfort in her words. "...Yeah..." He murmured. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I haven't changed…that much I mean...oh, should I let you go?" Tsuna said, waving his hand toward the nameplate on the stucco wall that read SASAGAWA.
The brunette shook her head. "We can take another turn around the block...if you really need it...?" She whispered, looking playful.
Tsuna grinned and resumed walking. "I just...I just wish I knew what I could say to them. I can't give them a definite answer because—"
"Because neither option sounds great?" Kyoko joked, a light and airy laugh rolling over Tsuna's eardrums.
He laughed too. "Exactly. These are the kinda guys you can't really give a crappy answer like 'Oh, I dunno...whatever's cool I guess...'" Tsuna slurred playfully, earning another cute laugh from the girl beside him.
He grinned, knowing it had been a long time since finally becoming the girl's friend. She still was as beautiful and perfect as she had been the day he first saw her.
It seemed like only yesterday that he was cleaning up the gym after another bout of losing to the other class. He remembered pausing to lean heavily on the broom and contemplated another suicide possibility when he had happened to stare out the window and see the brunette out on the school swings.
She had been kicking up dust bunnies from the earth, and when he opened the creaky window, Tsuna heard the tune of some popular song of the day erupting from her pretty lips. Tsuna was so caught up in staring that he hadn't even noticed when she stopped. He nearly fell out the window in his haste, and laughed sheepishly.
She had laughed as well, waving to him lightly before hopping off the swing-set and walked off through the wire gate.
What she didn't notice was Tsuna blushing like a madman and anxiously awaiting the next day he would see her again. She had saved his life every day after that point, making it his single goal in life to see her daily.
But if it hadn't have been for Reborn, Tsuna was sure that the girl would have never acknowledged his presence outside of being schoolyard acquaintances. And throughout the years, she continued to be the one constant figure in his life that served to prove how far he'd come.
If he could go back to that day, he was more than certain there would be nothing he would change.
Said teen woke himself out of his reverie and turned back to Kyoko. "I'm sorry, what?"
She smiled toothily at him. "I said, you could just tell them the truth. That seems to be your thing, isn't it? Just tell them you can't make a decision right now and that you need time. It's not possible to make a decision like this so quickly after all."
"I've had about six years to think it over," Tsuna retorted. "At least, that's what Reborn is going to argue. I'd rather them take my decision and leave me alone."
"But you won't completely discredit the alternative either, will you?" Kyoko asked quizzically.
Tsuna turned to her. "What do you mean?"
Kyoko shrugged. "You've done a lot these past few years. You've managed to bring a lot of unlikely people together, and keep them together without killing each other. That's a talent not many people have."
"Well most of that was Reborn, not really me—"
"And you've put your nose to the stone and improved yourself to the point where you are a star player and your grades are great too."
"I guess, but again that was mostly Reborn—"
"You've protected me and Haru and Chrome many, many times and befriended many very unlikely people. You can't tell me that hasn't meant something to you."
"Well yes, but again that was Reborn—"
"No Tsuna, that was you." Kyoko announced with finality. "All Reborn did was push you to start. You did all of those incredible things on your own. You don't think all of that won't disappear once you make the decision to let it go? You say no, and all of those things that you have fought through and became stronger through will have been a waste. Not just for you, but for Reborn too. And Mr. Ninth."
Tsuna stood stumped on the sidewalk. He had never considered things that way. And while it did annoy him that he had more to think about and consider, Tsuna was ultimately impressed that the girl could see more good in him than he could himself. It stoked his ego a little more with the thought.
He grinned. "Well Kyoko, you are the first person to give me a decent piece of advice today. Advice that I will definitely have to take under consideration."
Kyoko brightened, and grasped the teen's hand. "Glad I could help!" She cheered, squeezing tightly and obliviously not noticing the large blush on the star basket-baller's face.
He walked the girl back to the stucco sign and sighed in relief. "...Thank you for that Kyoko. I really needed to hear it today."
She giggled. "Believe it or not, girls do have a different way of thinking. That's why we're always right."
Tsuna chuckled again before sobering and tentatively asking "...You...would you...like to...s-spend the day with me, soon?"
"Alone?" Kyoko teased. She giggled again when Tsuna nodded. "We'll see. I've got a big trip planned."
"That's right, you're going overseas to check out the American Universities," Tsuna murmured. "That sounds interesting."
"Yes. Just for fun, I also convinced my parents to let me visit one in Italy that Haru recommended. She's thinking about transferring there after a year here."
Tsuna smiled sadly. "Everyone knows what they're doing with their lives but me. I better get on it before I lose my chance."
Kyoko chuckled one final time and leaned back to the brunet. She kissed him so lightly on his cheek it felt almost like a feather tickling his skin. "See you at school Tsuna."
"Y-you too..." He murmured as she disappeared through her front gate and into the pitch dark house. When he was certain the chance was safe, he let out a huge whoop that made the tomcat in the alley snarl at him for waking him in the middle of his midnight nap.
Mukuro yawned widely, pointedly ignoring the three figures lumbering faithfully behind him. Ken was obviously sleepy, padding a little slower than usual but it was doubly in fault of the large boxes of sushi he had managed to pilfer away from the Vongola before they noticed. Still, he was yawning loudly as well, the effect of the already consumed dead fish taking its toll as it rested in his very full stomach.
Chikusa was plodding softly behind on his left, humming the last few lines of the enka song that had been playing as the group left. The yo-yoer actually had a pretty nice voice, though proud Mukuro would never admit it to anyone. He simply walked ahead, pretending not to bother to check if the two male teens and the purple headed girl were managing to keep up or not.
Chrome was, albeit at a more tentative speed than the three boys in front of her, carefully stepping around the various cobblestones and nicks in the pavement with her eye trained on all the boxes of gifts in her hands that Sawada's girlfriends had showered on her. Her face was a permanent shade of pink that Mukuro actually liked in comparison to the pale counterpart he normally dealt with.
The party had been enjoyable in its own right, Mukuro mused. The past few years getting to know the young Vongola heir were worthwhile as he slowly began to realize the genuine spirit the boy possessed. If Mukuro ever admitted anything, he would admit he was wrong about Tsunayoshi Sawada.
He liked the refreshingly honest attitude the boy possessed, and even if the boy did some strange things it was nice to at least accept that Rokudo Mukuro had an ally that would be sure to take care of him and his subordinates if the time ever came.
Which he really hoped it didn't, because how embarrassing it would be to admit he would need help?!
Mukuro stopped in his tracks, suddenly sensing something hidden in the dark street looming up ahead. The three subordinates behind him halted at the same time, instantly growing alert to every passing second.
Nothing seemed off in the slightest, the darkness creeping around their lone streetlamp in only a slightly sinister fashion. Still, Mukuro knew there was something lying behind the scope of his eye that set his teeth on edge. He could almost feel the bloodthirsty intent emanating from the unknown source. And it made him excited for a challenge.
"Show yourself," The man finally commanded, his usual smirk growing on his face. He could feel the adrenaline already pumping into his veins. He loved a good fight, especially when it involved trouncing an enemy into complete and utter defeat. And he doubted anyone could ever make him feel the same way.
The darkness refused to respond, making Mukuro irritated. The thrill of a new challenge was ebbing away, leaving only abhorrence with the situation. Kindness was probably rubbing off on him.
Mukuro shook off the thought and motioned to his men, who instantly drawing out their weapons. "Answer me," He continued to order, vehemence growing in pitch as the unknown enemy insisted on denying his orders. Some alarms began to ring off in the back of his mind, making him uneasy with his gut decision as it told him to run away.
"Listen to us, byon!" Ken continued to snarl behind him. "We'll tear you to shreds if you think about doing anything to Master Mukuro!" The teen could hear Ken drooling behind him and snorting as the blond transformed into a new Channel. He could also hear the whistling of the blue-haired boy's yo-yo as he prepared himself to strike.
They gathered around in a circle, back-to-back with their eyes trained on every part of the looming darkness. They waited patiently, uncertain of the unknown.
All was still, all was quiet.
Nothing and no one moved.
And then, Chrome screamed.
Mukuro whirled on the girl, instantly confounded when he realized the spot the girl had previously occupied was empty. Her bags of presents and the lone trident clattered to the ground, unused.
Suddenly, there was a noticeable grunt as Chikusa disappeared at his side, dragged into the darkness away from the lone streetlamp. A growl and a whimper later, and Ken was gone too.
Mukuro grew anxious and angry, never letting it show on his face as usual. He dove for the trident, but he was stopped an inch away from his weapon with a boot on his back and one on his precious weapon.
A group of white suited men came into his line of view, each holding a struggling member of his group. They looked down on him with darkened, narrowed eyes illuminated with the desire to kill. Each of his members struggled fruitlessly in their captor's arms, looking to their leader desperately for help.
He wouldn't let them down, he decided. A gloved hand dove for his right eye, instantly switching it from Six to Four in a matter of seconds.
Suddenly, a fist grabbed at the back of his head and yanked his hair as he was pulled upright. Before the purple-haired man could move to throw a punch, something struck him in the stomach. Mukuro let out a groan when he felt something give way and slumped against the figure clutching him.
A light and airy laugh floated from the darkness over to him. "Out with just a punch?" A bodiless voice sneered. "So the rumors were true; you are ineptly useless. I guess that's why you hang out with clowns like these. Get your kicks from being powerful over someone else, hm?"
Mukuro grunted, his eyes blurry.
"Well I suppose then it's no wonder why you lost to such a pathetic Mafioso."
"You..." Mukuro huffed. "...Are a Mafioso as well, are you not?"
"Hmm...I thought you were kicked out, Rokudo Mukuro." The voice continued to taunt, a smirk evident in his voice.
Mukuro harrumphed. "That…is undoubtedly true," He admitted. "But there is a reason for that…I was too dangerous for any Mafioso to handle. Including yourself."
The laugh returned. "You think I can't handle a few scrawny teenagers? Well, you're in for a treat Rokudo Mukuro. But before I divulge anything more…" A black clothed arm reached out, grabbing Mukuro's head in his palm. The fingers squeezed, and a searing pain erupted in the man's eye.
"Whoops, does that hurt?" The voice crooned in the same even tone over the screams bursting from his victim's mouth. "But then you won't be conscious enough to see what I do to your little comrades…Oh well," The voice joked.
The unknown attacker leaned in close to the gasping man's ear as he slipped into unconsciousness, his hot breath setting his hair on end. "…I invoke omertà."
The sound of Tsuna's chirping cellphone woke the lazy teen from his sleeping coma late the next morning. The teen yawned widely, grabbing the contraption and flipping it open with slight annoyance.
And then let out a shriek that shook awake even the two deeply slumbering child hitmen sleeping in the other room.
Tsuna grinned at the phone widely, looking creepier than normal. The message glowing on his phone was more than capable of turning the brunet into a star-struck Romeo:
Hope I didn't wake you. I hope you thought a lot about what we talked about last night. I know I did
Aaaaand...I thought about what you asked me…
Soooooo...I have the day free today, why don't we go out together? Meet me at my house at 2, k? <3
Tsuna gripped the device closer to his chest. He hummed like a moron as he leapt out of bed and danced circles around the piles of mess around his floor.
Panic soon set in and Tsuna dove for his closet, hunting for his freshest and best shirts amidst the mess. He soon ruled out everything he touched and began looting through every pile of laundry he could find.
Finally, he settled on an ensemble that was similar to the outfit Tsuna wore the first date he had ever had with Kyoko; their first alone trip together to the zoo. He then chased the chortling Lambo out of his room as soon as the baby-faced assassin caught the teen primping and practicing cheesy lines in the square mirror.
The teen soon bounced down the stairs, swooping into a twirl at the last step. He danced through the living room doorway to the smell of rice and eggs wafting from the tiny kitchen.
Tsuna pecked his surprised mother on the cheek and swept up a piece of toast with an airy "Good morning!" in her ear as he crunched into the bread with a flourish.
Nana laughed at her son's unusual behavior. "And it is!" She cheerily replied. "Did something good happen last night Tsu?"
"Sur' dit!" Was the jumbled reply around a mouthful of toast. "An' ris mornin' oo!"
She giggled again. "Well that's wonderful! I'm glad that you're so happy."
Tsuna swallowed. "You really think so?" He inquired.
"Absolutely." Nana replied, her hands busily scrubbing in elbow-deep suds. She sighed from the memories flooding back to her. "You used to be so quiet and reserved until Mr. Reborn came along. All the other children used to be so mean to you and so all you would do was just stay home in your room. I was worried that one day I'd find you in a heap in your mess, miserable for the rest of your life. I was worried pouting was all you'd ever do.
"Now you're always smiling and out with one or all of your friends and I couldn't be any happier. A mother only wishes for her child to find their niche in the world." The woman paused scrubbing long enough to give her stunned son a proud smile. "You're turning into a wonderful young man Tsu."
Tsuna felt his good mood plummeting as his mother turned back to her dishes. He harrumphed and slumped against the counter. "Why does everyone keep saying that?" He mumbled into his toast absently.
"Maybe you should start listening to them."
Tsuna sighed, six years of being with his tutor taking its toll with no surprise shown on his face. He spun around to meet the baby hitman, already nonchalantly tucking into his breakfast at the long table in the middle of the room. The teen grit his teeth anxiously, coming to sit beside stern-faced Reborn. "...Reborn, about last night—"
"Save your apologies," The tutor replied, sucking noisily on his coffee mug. "I know you well enough by now Stupid Tsuna." Before the teen could let out an airy laugh, Reborn continued. "Don't think you're off the hook though; they'll be back asking you again soon. And next time, you will need to give them a real answer."
The teen frowned further. "…About that Reborn, I've been thinking—"
"Tsuna, we don't have time to talk about that right now," His tutor interrupted again, putting down his mug and looking up from his half-eaten meal.
Tsuna immediately grew nervous. His tutor never stopped eating for anything, his philosophy 'eat or be eaten' always taken into account under any circumstance. The fact that food was still left on his plate left much to the imagination as he began speaking again. "There has been an incident." Reborn continued, oblivious to his student's worry.
"I got word that Daigoro and Ushio Ooyama, Kensuke Mochida, and Asato Yoriki, Kentaro Ota, and Tatsuya Moriyama had been brutally attacked this past weekend," Reborn reported, his face gruesomely somber. "They're in critical now."
"Wait," Tsuna frowned. "Mochida…Ooyama…why do they sound familiar?"
"Mochida. Graduated. Former captain of the Namimori Middle Kendo club. Ooyama. Graduated. Former captain of the Namimori Middle Karate club. Yoriki, Ota, and Moriyama were former seniors of Ryohei and subsequently were lifeguards after their middle school graduation," Reborn rested his head on his hands, looking straight into his student's eyes. "You fought them all when you were fifteen, remember?"
Tsuna blinked, the fuzzy memories of an enraged kendo senior, a determined karate senior, and the three thieves who stole his money at the beach floating to the top of his brain after a few moments of deliberation. His eyes flickered with the memories as their names finally clicked. "…You're right!" He murmured in astonishment. "I fought with them in middle school!"
Reborn nodded. "Along with Skull and the Carcassa Family—who attacked Mafia Land when we visited, Valensa and Toras—the hitmen who tried to kill you for Verde, and the Todd Family, who were after Fuuta for a time. Whoever these attackers are, they're coming after you for some reason."
"Why do you assume it's me they're af…wait, Reborn," The brunet's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "You're not telling me something. You're hiding something else from me, I can feel it. Tell me what's going on!"
Reborn sighed again, Leon curling around his finger comfortingly. His voice was unusually quiet and soft as he dutifully reported "…Kakimoto Chikusa, Joshima Ken, Chrome Dokuro, and Rokudo Mukuro were attacked on the street last night after they left the party here."
Tsuna turned almost chalk white as soon as Reborn finished and wavered threateningly in his seat. Leon leapt off his owner's finger and quickly shifted into a net-like web attached to the arm of his chair and the leg of the table that caught the teen before he went crashing to the floor.
Tsuna barely responded to the action, continuing to stare into space without saying anything. Nevertheless, Leon dutifully kept up the form until the brunet finally hefted himself from the net-contraption about five minutes later.
His eyes were glossed over, and was still a pale white but his voice was even when he opened his mouth. "…Where?"
"Off Block 62 and 23rd."
"No, I mean…where are they now?" Tsuna demanded.
Reborn locked eyes with his student, evenly answering back, "At Namimori Central. Dino's with them now."
"I'm going." Tsuna responded instantly, rising from the table.
"I figured you would," His tutor muttered, picking up his coffee in irritation. "I already let him know you were coming by."
"Thanks." Tsuna replied. With another kiss to his mother's cheek and sidestepping his sleepy father walking down the stairs, Tsuna was out the door and took off down the street in an instant.
Iemitsu winced as the front door slammed loudly in his wake, the effects of a hangover taking its toll on his lethargic brain.
Reborn shook his head disapprovingly when the blond man sat down beside him. "Honestly, he didn't even ask who it was?" He questioned the older man with a hint of anger lacing his words.
"…It would have bothered him even more to know that we don't know who's responsible." Iemitsu answered soberly. "Let's just have him settle his thoughts himself…"
Tsuna flew through the glass doors of the familiar hospital in a flurry. He nearly crashed into the information desk where a bored nurse flatly told him the floor he needed upon which he bounded off in the direction of the elevators. An achingly slow ride later and Tsuna was dashing through the halls again.
He nearly ran into a lanky blond in a dark green jacket positioned outside one of the doors, talking with two other men in rich black suits. "Dino!" Tsuna wheezed, relieved that his suspicions were correct as the man turned around at the sound of his name.
Dino's rich brown eyes looked flat and lifeless, but his smile was genuine when he looked at the teen slowing to a stop in front of him. "Yo, Tsuna," He slurred in his smooth tenor.
"How are they?!" Tsuna breathed, leaning against the wall for support.
Dino's smile fell, sighing and waving the other men off as the duo spoke. "...They're lucky to be alive," He finally announced, not looking the brunet in the eye.
Dino nodded. "Kakimoto Chikusa was injected with his own poison over and over repeatedly and then as he was right on the edge, they gave him the antidote, punching and kicking him all the while. Joshima Ken had skin ripped off his arms and back from what seem to be lashings from a metal whip. Most of his teeth are cracked or broken and his hands were broken horribly in several places. Dokuro Chrome was strangled repeatedly and they pulled off some of her fingernails. One of them also ran a knife down the length of her back too. We're just lucky it didn't hit the spinal cord. And as for Mukuro...well, he's more messed up mentally I think. They didn't do much to him physically except injure his eye, knock him out, and break a few ribs. They probably just made him watch instead of hurting him to the same extent."
Tsuna's face was sickly white once the blond boss had finished. He didn't say anything even as the young man attempted to cheer him by offering encouragement that simply went through one ear and out the other. He blindly moved closer to the window Dino was attempting to block.
The three patients Tsuna could see through the window were nearly unrecognizable through the tubes and IVs that were positioned all along their bodies. Even through the Plexiglas, Tsuna could hear the incessant beeping of the machines whirring and working to keep the teens alive.
Tsuna felt his breath catch at the sight of the open gouges on Ken's skin, exposing some of the damaged muscle and the slight hint of white bone even wrapped in milky white gauze. Chikusa still looked deathly pale and even Tsuna could see the remains of the spikes of poison peppering his arms and face. Chrome was barely moving, but he could still make out her hands shivering slightly in the white gauze bandages swaddling her fingers.
Tsuna shuddered and turned away. "Who would do this?" His voice breaking sullenly.
Dino shook his head. "I've never seen such vicious attacks like this before. It was like the person responsible wanted them to suffer their own personal hell, like they were being tortured—"
"Where's Mukuro?" Tsuna questioned, cutting the older man off. He felt sick to his stomach again.
Dino stuffed his hands into his pockets, thinking silently for a moment before nodding in assent. He spun around and led Tsuna down the blank hall with a trail of suited men following behind faithfully. They stopped in front of yet another room blocked off by more men in suits, the window covered up so no one could see in.
They inched away from the handle at Dino's silent command, giving their boss room to twist open the doorknob and usher Tsuna in.
Mukuro looked no better than his subordinates, reclined back against the plump pillows, and the breathing cuff covering his mouth and nose as his chest rose and fell with every breath. Tsuna could see the beginnings of bruises, already a pale yellow and black. His right eye was covered with tinged pink gauze that made the teen visibly shudder at the sight.
Off in the corner sat a brown-haired mousy-looking boy of seventeen, staring blankly at the figure in the bed and barely acknowledging the existence of someone else in the room. He made no movement to usher Tsuna further in, but he didn't force the boy away either.
The door snapped shut behind Tsuna, leaving the three of them alone. The boy's eyes never left Mukuro's form.
Tsuna sighed. "...I know it's hard but I want you to tell me what—"
"I don't know," The boy muttered angrily, not looking at the teen.
"C'mon," Tsuna urged. "Anything now would be helpful in the long run."
"I told you, I don't know."
"What about...physical features? Anything?"
"I told you I don't know!" The boy snapped, finally turning around to face the brunet. Tsuna remained unsurprised to see the Number Six floating in the middle of the boy's red iris, calming himself before speaking again.
"Well you had to know something; otherwise you wouldn't have been able to possess Kai again. You had to have been conscious enough to at least see what happened before you switched."
Yuuto's eyes rolled and he slumped back into his original position. "You don't think I don't know that? So believe me when I say I don't know anything already."
Tsuna frowned. "Really? There's nothing you can tell me about them?"
Mukuro frowned deeper, a scowl taking root. "...They invoked omertà against me."
"...What does that mean?" He questioned.
"Doesn't the Arcobaleno teach you anything? Omertà is a code among mafia members. Their rule is to never reveal family information to outside members, at penalty of death."
"But...why would that affect you?"
Mukuro grit his teeth. "He had the gall to remind me that I am not officially mafia anymore, despite my…involvement with the Vongola. Therefore, omertà applies to me. He attacked me and those three under omertà."
Tsuna stiffened. "...Then at least we know we're dealing with mafia."
Mukuro rolled his eyes.
"But why would they attack you? You haven't done anything I don't know about right?"
"Other than possess your teammate's body, I have had no reason to do anything."
Tsuna sighed. "So we know it's a bunch of mafia guys...and that's it. Some detectives we'd make," He grumbled, plopping into the spare seat beside Yuuto's form. The two boys remained silent for another moment, watching the purple haired man's unmoving form and listening to the beeping of the various machines.
"...There is something else," Mukuro finally murmured.
"The men who attacked us were wearing white. But the one who attacked me specifically was wearing black," Mukuro muttered, his eyes darkening at the memory. "I can't think of any other Mafioso who would do that."
"...Do what exactly?"
"One of the other most nauseating factors about the mafia that makes them so distinguishable is that they pride themselves on their individuality. They prefer to all share this individuality within themselves."
Tsuna stared at him blankly. "...So?"
Mukuro rolled his eyes. "This one was obviously important if he wasn't wearing white like the rest!" He snarled. "Who else would have the authority to reject common rules for thugs than someone with higher rank? Honestly, it is impossible talking with you sometimes."
"So what are you saying?" Tsuna pressed.
Mukuro curled back into his original position, looking abnormally insecure. "...I don't know," He confessed pathetically. "All I know is that whoever it is they're a force to be reckoned with if they can give off a greater lust for blood than anything I've ever seen..."
Tsuna took his time at the hospital, spending time with each of the patients at their bedside. He spent a few hours talking to Dino about anything they could, ignoring the pressing situation for the moment. He patiently sat with each one of the bedridden group as the minutes ticked by as he informed his friends of the startling news via phone. Mukuro he saved for last, when Kai's body couldn't keep the purple-haired man awake any longer and he spent a few peaceful hours asleep with the brunet keeping watch at his side.
By the time Tsuna dared to look at his wristwatch, it was nearly 7 at night and his date with Kyoko was long gone.
The girl was not quick to forgive him. However, when she learned of her purple-haired friend lying lame in the hospital, Kyoko rushed over and they both managed to spend a few hours together at her bedside. When she had seen how concerned Tsuna had been for their well-being, only then did the brunette agree to a do-over date for another day.
Tsuna couldn't bring himself to sleep after everything that had happened. While he was excited to finally be going out with the girl of his dreams (not to mention getting a break from answering the dreaded question of inheritance), something about the attack had spooked him. His instincts were on edge the entire night, making him toss and turn sleeping intermittently until his alarm rang out the next morning.
The class was quiet when he entered, news of Mochida and Ooyama gnawing at their nerves. Everyone Tsuna ran into gave him a cursory congratulations before spiraling back into their thoughts. Even the teachers seemed a bit off as they stumbled through their lessons. Tsuna was glad when the bell finally rang out, signaling the end of the school day and hurried to catch up with his friends. They too, were silent for once and quickly parted ways instead of making their usual trek back to the Sawada residence.
Tsuna pulled Kyoko back though, taking his chance to be alone with her as the golden opportunity. "S-Shall we?" He stuttered, attempting a smile on his face.
Kyoko looked back at him blankly. "Shall we what?"
Tsuna blanched, his inner self punching his gut repeatedly for his stupidity. "W-Well…shall we go on that…y'know…d-date?"
She giggled in turn. "I know Tsuna! I'm not a total idiot despite what other people seem to think. I just wanted to hear what you called it; a date!" She sang out, making the brunet cringe. "So cute."
"…Do…you not want it…to be?" He muttered sheepishly.
Instead of answering back, Kyoko grabbed his arm and laced her fingers with Tsuna's. She flashed him a heart-melting smile before taking off down the road, dragging the bewildered boy behind her.
She chatted about anything that crossed her mind, from her brother's fifth unsuccessful attempt to convince the high school to let him stay on as captain despite already graduating long before, to the story of her favorite flowers blooming in the shop window. She dragged Tsuna into her favorite clothing stores, pointed out her favorite series of novels on display in the book store, and took the teen down to the local music shop and played her favorite jazz song in his ears. Then Kyoko finally led him to her favorite ice cream shop, Sweet Surprise, and dragged him inside. Tsuna treated them both to heaping cones of strawberry and chocolate as they walked the path home.
As they nibbled away at their cones, Tsuna soon realized that they were passing by the tiny park they had frequented when they were younger. The old playground had seen better days, however, growing shabby with years of disuse and the site of many mafia attacks in its wake. It was now scheduled for demolition, the location closed off with official golden yellow caution tape.
Tsuna suddenly felt filled with the desire to rebel and quickly wolfed down his cone before stepping through the taped edges.
Kyoko sucked in a gasp. "What are you doing?" She breathed, half shocked and half intrigued.
Tsuna chuckled and held out his arm. "Wanna come?"
The girl looked wary so Tsuna pressed "Relax, no one'll come. What will they do? Kick us out of a public place?" He smiled. "C'mon, remember all the good times we've all had here?"
Kyoko allowed herself a tiny smile. "I remember."
"Well, let's have another one."
She chuckled and tossed her cone into the nearby trashcan. She wound her arm around Tsuna's strong one as he helped heft her across the taped path.
They walked the perimeter of the tiny enclosure, making remarks here and there and commenting on the changed trees for the season. They chased each other through the play tunnel and played pretend pirates on the clubhouse before quickly jumping off, fearing collapse. When Kyoko saw the swing-set, her eyes lit up excitedly.
"I'll push you," Tsuna offered, catching her sudden interest.
She whirled around, her face bright. "Really? Oh I love the swings! When I was little, Big Brother used to take me to this playground all the time! He would sit me on the swing and push me so hard I would go flying and touch the treetops!" She squeaked. The girl took off before Tsuna could say anymore and plopped herself promptly into the plastic seat. Her honey brown irises looked up expectantly, never leaving Tsuna's form. "C'mon, hurry Tsuna!" She urged, eagerly waving to him.
He chuckled and stepped behind her, slowly gliding his hands along her back. He could feel the warmth radiating from her skin through her clothes and he had to shake himself mentally before he could summon any energy to move.
Kyoko squealed happily when Tsuna finally made the push, sending her flying up high enough to nearly brush the branches of the overlying canopy with the tips of her feet. He continued pushing with all his might, relishing in her shrieking laughter and the way the wind pushed the smell of her light perfume back into his nose.
Once the novelty had worn off, Tsuna began lightly pushing her until the girl dragged her heels into the dirt to stop. He then took the opportunity to sit on the neighboring swing, lightly rocking back and forth. They sat in silence; the only sounds heard were the creaking of the chains on the swings and the rustling of the leaves as they showered around the two teens.
Finally, Kyoko turned to him. "Have you thought any about what you wanted to say to them?" She asked without any hurry.
Tsuna puffed a sigh, leaning back and staring up into space. "…Yes." He finally murmured.
"…And I'm still not going to do it."
Kyoko spun around to face him in bewilderment. "What?!" She asked, shocked. "Why not?!"
Tsuna sighed again. "Because it's my decision. I love our friends so much Kyoko; I hate to keep putting them into the same dangerous situations over and over like this." His eyes hardened. "And I'd hate to have to watch one of my friends die to protect me.
"I refuse to involve any more people in this. It's my turn to protect them. And if it means giving up everything I've done 'til now, then it's a small sacrifice. And Reborn…" Tsuna paused. "…I'm willing to do it for him too. There's no point in him hanging around if I've already made the decision that I won't."
Kyoko continued to stare at Tsuna, her expression unreadable on her pale face. Finally, her auburn eyes closed and she let out a breathy sigh. She stood up from the plastic seat and walked around to face the teen.
Her eyes slid open, her smile back in place but her eyes remained somber. "Oh Tsuna…" She barely whispered. "…I hate to say it, but…you're wrong. That isn't the way to protect anyone…Just yourself."
"She's right Tsu."
Tsuna and Kyoko spun around, facing the park entrance where the mysterious voice had originated from. Two sets of auburn eyes widened as they took in the sight of a wiry teenager dressed in ripped black skinny jeans with heavy steel-toed work boots covering his feet and a tight red shirt hugging his thin torso. Wavy, bleached blond hair curled around his ears and his cocoa brown irises in an apparently normal fashion.
But what terrified Tsuna the most about this person was not the long, chipped blade down at his side dripping onto the white pavement in a bloody red substance nor the cheerful yet leering grin on the stranger's face.
It was the torn red and gold badge peeking out of a black pocket that read 'Disciplinarian'.