The only superman I know is my dad.
To be honest, Iemitsu hadn't thought it would work from the beginning. But he had been so frustrated by his son, his sweet adorable Nana-like son, giving him the cold shoulder and listening to Reborn. The two of them had been chatting quite amiably while the rest of the Vongola inner circle enjoyed the fair, and Iemitsu hadn't managed one minute alone with his son the whole time because the hitman was always right there.
Sure on paper this celebration (the whole festival was set up by Vongola) was in honor of the arcobalenos regaining their old bodies, but Vongola didn't normally need an excuse to party. They partied because they worked hard and needed a break every once in a while. There was no reason for Tsuna to be sticking so close to his tutor-turned-advisor. None. But Tsuna hadn't stepped so much as five feet away from the man and vice versa. While any comment Iemitsu made fell on deaf ears, every word out of Reborn's mouth was treated as gold. It wasn't fair!
And then came the woman. The typical purple-with-stars sheet hung over her booth and gave it a shadowed mystic feel, and the woman herself looked to have come out of some fairy tale book, specifically one with witches in it. Her watery blue eyes caught his, and he looked away in continued annoyance, but her words stopped him.
"Having trouble with your child I see," said a crackily old voice. The woman had even sounded like a witch. Iemitsu immediately turned around and gave the woman a wide, lopsided smile. No one would benefit from a scowl at this point, except maybe Reborn.
"I'm afraid so. Did my wrinkly forehead give it away?" Iemitsu said as loudly and boisterously as he dared. He most definitely did not want to attract any attention, especially from those he might know. He wasn't in the mood to hear another lecture about how he should approach his son more carefully and less like a spoiled brat not getting his way. However, he also didn't want to give this strange woman the impression that he was truly upset because that wicked, evil hitman had stolen Iemitsu's Tuna-fish's heart away from Iemitsu.
"No. Your aura told me," said the woman cryptically.
"Ah. You can never lie with your aura," said Iemitsu, not allowing this woman to catch him off-balance. "But children are children, and mine tends to be headstrong. He'll come around eventually."
"Maybe in a hundred years," said the old crone. "Children are harder to change when they're grown. Once they're adults, they don't want to listen anymore. They forget the limitless love they had as children."
"Yes, they do," said Iemitsu. He allowed himself a sad glance at the boy—no, man being hit upside the head by the world's greatest hitman. A scowl automatically overtook his features as Tsuna laughed instead of growing angry over the abuse. If Iemitsu did that, his son would glare at him and move as far away as he could as fast as he could.
"For a child, there is no one as great as their father," said the old crone, the crackling fading from her voice and becoming smoother, more melodic. "For a little boy, his daddy is the most amazing man on earth."
For an instant, the scene before Iemitsu faded, and he saw large brown eyes attached to a tiny body stare at him in wonder and amazement. Iemitsu admitted he hadn't seen those eyes often, and not for a very long while, but he had loved those eyes. They were part of the little boy who screamed like a girl as Iemitsu tossed him in the air and clung tightly to Iemitsu's head to keep from falling off the tall man's shoulders. Those eyes were a part of the child who almost literally glowed whenever he caught sight of Iemitsu. Iemitsu wished he could have his little Tuna-fish back.
"You can," said the woman, her voice no longer matching her appearance. Iemitsu quickly turned to her.
"I can what?"
"You can have that little boy back. The one who thinks you're superman," said the woman. Iemitsu's wide hazel eyes caused her to chuckle. "It's easy for one such as I. Simply give him this."
The woman's wrinkled hands grabbed Iemitsu's calloused one and place a headband with feline ears in the man's hand.
"Once he puts that on, your son will return to his most adorable stage and latch onto you. After all, he'll be in a place he hasn't seen before surrounded by people he doesn't know, so he'll cling to his daddy for safety. You'll get to be his number one again."
"That sounds great!" said Iemitsu with an almost sincere smile. "But I really couldn't. My son has a very important job he has to get back to tomorrow, and I probably don't have the money to pay you."
"He'll return to his normal self the moment you take the headband off," said the woman cajolingly. "And money is not how things work in these sorts of deals. In fact, all you need to do is give me a promise."
"A promise?" said Iemitsu, his hand clenching around the headband and his tone sharpening.
"Yes, yes. I want you to promise me to tell others about my little business," said the old woman, the crackling returned to her voice. "Only good things of course. If you run into problems, come back here and I'll take care of them, but don't go spreading them around. Or else I'll never get this business up and running."
"Well, that's a promise I can make. If it works I'll definitely send more people your way," said Iemitsu with a more right-sided smile. "I'm sure I know one or two people who could make use of such a product."
"A promise it is then," said the old woman. "I hope you are a man who keeps his promises, because those who don't usually end up regretting it. Thank you for your business. Please come again!"
"No, thank you," said Iemitsu in his smoothest voice and suave-est bow. The old woman gave him a fairly toothless grin before the two went back to their separate businesses. Iemitsu stuck the headband partially in his pocket and resolved to throw it away first chance he got. He was not the CEDEF leader because no one else was available to do the job (whatever his son sometimes mumbled under his breath). He wasn't going to place anything on the current Vongola boss's head unless he knew exactly what it was. Besides, Iemitsu didn't think the thing would work like the woman said even if the object turned out to be benign. The risk was too large to consider the possibility of success.
Iemitsu continued to follow Reborn and Tsuna from a fair distance, watching as the hitman and boss interacted even when they weren't talking to each other. When the kids came to drag Tsuna to try a game, Reborn silently followed with a smirk. Bianchi came over and started to flirt with Reborn, and Tsuna stayed a respectful distance away talking to his own two girls (Iemitsu hoped the boy would finally choose his sun guardian's sister and let the other girl down easy).
On and on it went. Tsuna would be bombarded with requests and questions by his guardians and inner famiglia, and Reborn would either step back and leave Tsuna to the guardians' tender mercies or would say something that would rile up one or more of the requesters. An arcobaleno or older Mafioso would come to deal or discuss with Reborn, and Tsuna would either enter in the conversation semi-accidentally or deal with one of his many family members no more than three feet away. Since when were the two connected at the hip?
"Since Tsuna was thirteen and Nono sent Reborn to train Tsuna," said Oregano from beside Iemitsu, startling him. "You should know that."
"Just because he trained him doesn't mean that he gets exclusive rights to my little Tuna-fish," whined Iemitsu, not the least bit ashamed that someone had caught him in his stalking.
"He has every right," said Oregano without mercy. "He has trained Decimo from a snot-nosed brat into someone worthy of respect. Besides they're just being extremely clingy, or whatever passes for clingy for them, since they almost lost each other. Again."
"But he's my son," Iemistu continued to whine.
"Then get over there and celebrate instead of spending all of your time over here stalking him."
"Fine, fine. I guess I've had enough of watching my dear Tuna-fish from afar. It's time to get an up-close look," said Iemitsu, moving toward Tsuna and Reborn and away from the woman who would no doubt kick him in that direction anyway if he tried to stay where he was. His subordinates really needed to learn to respect their boss.
"So you've decided to come out from hiding," said Reborn as soon as Iemitsu had stepped within hearing range. The two had been having a rare moment as observers and not participants of the chaos, so none of the others were nearby. "Took you long enough."
"I was just admiring my darling Tuna-fish from afar," answered Iemitsu.
"Please don't say things like that. It's embarrassing," said Tsuna, giving his father an annoyed glance before returning his gaze to where his sun guardian was in a competition with his storm guardian. Iemistu's Tsuna was monitoring his guardians like a good boss should. Such a sight would bring a tear to Iemitsu's eye if not for the smug look located in Reborn's obsidian ones.
Later, Iemitsu didn't know if the smug look or the quick annoyed glance that broke his caution. Perhaps the combination of the two had pushed him into the realm of not-thinking. Several people would suggest that he wasn't that far from that realm anyway. Either way, Iemitsu pulled the feline-eared headband out of his pocket.
"Look what I got you," said Iemitsu. Tsuna took one look at the object before staring intently at Iemitsu's face.
"And what do you expect me to do with that?" asked Tsuna. The words echoed lowly, just short of how they were when he was in boss mode.
"Put them on, of course," said Iemitsu, still grinning like an idiot. He added, because he really believed the next words, "They looked like they'd suit you."
"He's not wrong, Dame-Tsuna," said Reborn with the same irritating smirk. "They look like they belong on a no-good boss."
"I can't believe you still say that sort of thing after all that's happened," said Tsuna. His tone was nowhere near echoing as low as it had with Iemitsu.
"I wouldn't say that if you hadn't nearly gotten yourself killed again," said Reborn. "I should really step up your training."
"Please don't say that in front of other people, Reborn," said Tsuna without even glancing at Iemitsu this time. As if Iemitsu was from a foreign famiglia or a random subordinate. "I don't think it should get out that the Vongola Decimo is still training under his tutor."
"Then don't be so dame," said Reborn. Tired of being ignored, Iemitsu grabbed his son in a headlock. Or at least the man tried. Tsuna quickly ducked the attempt.
"Come on. Let me put them on. I want to take a picture to show Nana," said Iemitsu. He didn't try for another headlock. He didn't have to. Tsuna froze at his mother's name.
"If I put them on, will you agree to take the picture and go show it to Mama in person?" asked Tsuna in a half-command. Iemitsu didn't allow his grin to grow as he nodded.
He knew his son often thought that the young boss was manipulating Iemitsu into spending more time with Nana, but usually the case was the other way around. The situation was win-win for Iemitsu. He would "have" to spend time with Nana, and Tsuna would do whatever Iemitsu asked at the time. Given the narrowed black eyes, Reborn understood what Iemitsu was doing, but the hitman could hardly stop the double manipulation. Nana's happiness was in the balance, and even the world's greatest hitman had a soft spot for Iemitsu's wife. She was that amazingly wonderful.
"Fine," Tsuna huffed and grabbed the cute feline-ears. Without further ceremony or so much as looking at them twice, Tsuna jammed them on his head. The effect was immediate and took place even as Tsuna's eyes widened in realization.
The first change morphed Tsuna's hair into a fluffier, softer, wilder shape, and then Tsuna melted into himself. Arms, legs, and head retreated into his thinning and shortening torso. Oddly enough, a new appendage stretched out behind him, and his hair's silhouette came out lopsided. The odd shrinking stopped as Tsuna's clothing suddenly ripped and twirled around the smaller figure. The cloth stitched itself back together into a smaller version of the sweatshirt and pant combo Tsuna had been wearing earlier. Despite being a mafia boss, Tsuna tended to dress quite casually outside of work. A habit that Iemitsu had been all too happy to note was most likely inherited from him. Reborn certainly never dressed in sweatshirts and cargo pants.
Many people had called Iemitsu biased when he claimed that his son the most adorable being on the planet (not normally to his face-people outside his famiglia and Vongola's inner circle actually respected him). But Iemitsu felt all his claims were justified when the so-called world's greatest hitman stared mesmerized a full thirty seconds at the shrunken Tsuna before pointing his classic Leon gun at Iemitsu's head.
"What did you do?" said the hitman dangerously low, but Iemitsu ignored him and reached out his arms to hug his once again tiny Tuna-fish.
"Don't worry, Tuna-fish. Daddy's here," Iemistu said no longer reducing the width of his grin. This Tuna-fish knew who truly was number one in his life. After all, who was more important to a boy but his father?
The adorably wide brown eyes (so much like Iemitsu's beloved Nana's) locked onto Iemitsu. The unevenness of his hair leveled out, and the extra appendage (was that a tail?) completely disappeared. The adorably wide eyes watered and quivered as Iemitsu's most adorable being on the planet squeaked and ran to hide behind Reborn's legs. Reborn's legs.
The entire scene took about one minute, but Iemitsu couldn't move for another three and only then because a bullet would have dug into his head otherwise. Iemitsu blinked. All he could see of his sweet, adorable Tuna-fish was a trembling hand gripping black pants and wild wisps of brown hair. Iemitsu rubbed his eyes. The tiny hand still clutched the hitman's black pants. His hands had formed fists before his mind formed thought, and both fists aimed straight for Reborn's face.
As expected, the first missed, but the second spun to the left and clipped the hitman as he slid backwards. One of Iemitsu's legs was already headed for the thieving hitman's solar plexus, but a suited arm blocked the kick and grabbed the leg. Iemitsu's mind finally caught up to his body as Iemitsu struggled for air devoid of the dirt that his face was pressed against. Cool metal touched his temple.
"If you attack me again, you will find yourself with no lungs with which to collect air, dirtless or not," whispered the son-stealer into Iemitsu's ear. "Now, I will let you stand, and you will tell me exactly what you have done to my student. Keep in mind that what is left of him is currently attached to my leg and that you nearly collided into him with the full force of your kick."
"I was aiming for you," Iemitsu gritted out.
"I noticed," said Reborn, pressing the metal gun harder against Iemitsu's skull. "However, Dame-Tsuna got in the way. You would have noticed that if you hadn't charged at me with all the grace of a bull."
"You stole my Tuna-fish," growled Iemitsu preparing to throw a punch towards the other man's face, gun or no. The next instant his body ceased to listen to his brain's commands.
"You must be under some sort of illusion if you have forgotten who I am," said Reborn. He removed his hand from its recent grasp of Iemitsu's shoulder and stood up straight. The gun had disappeared. "I am the world's greatest hitman. And no one will harm my student when he is under my protection without regretting it, even his own father. Now take him to interrogation and hold him there until the Decimo summons him."
A few men with pompadours appeared and grabbed Iemitsu and dragged him away. Iemitsu could do was stare sideways at the large, trembling eyes peeking around from Reborn's leg above the tiny, clutching hands until the sight disappeared behind walls of wandering bodies and cheap booths and flickering electric lights.
Having taken care of one problem, Reborn looked down at the other. Given Tsuna's current height and weight along with his natural small frame, Reborn's former student and current boss was about three years old. Three years old and sporting some of the most adorably huge brown eyes the universe had ever contained. Those eyes quickly looked away from him in order to gaze around the festival in fascination. The grip the tiny hands held on Reborn's pants hadn't loosened though, and de-aged or not, Reborn would not allow the current boss of Vongola and his former student to cling to him like some undignified barnacle.
"Let go, Dame-Tsuna," said Reborn, returning those impossibly adorable eyes to himself. They blinked, but otherwise the boy didn't move. Reborn's tone darkened and lowered to a decibel that had even the most serious version of Tsuna flinching to attention. "I said let go."
Slowly the tiny fingers unfurled themselves from the places they had dug in Reborn's suit pants. Said pants were now wrinkled beyond recognition, but the wrinkles would be the maid's problem. Reborn's problem now trembled worse than before and had large tears forming in those ridiculously round eyes that Reborn should not even be able to see since they were pointed towards the ground. Reborn prided himself his observational skills, but this once he wished he could turn them off. Letting out an annoyed sigh and promising himself that once Kyoya's Defense Committee got through interrogating Iemitsu he would have a turn, Reborn adjusted his stance to prepare for the oncoming impediment to his movement.
"Grab on gently, Dame-Tsuna. You have already given the maids enough extra work to iron these pants back to their regular condition. They will deserve a reward which you will provide them with when you are the proper size. And only use one hand. No mafia don should ever use a leg as a shield," said Reborn. The eyes shot back up to Reborn and then a smile slightly curved tiny lips as one hand returned carefully to its former place. The grip caused new wrinkles, but Reborn simply would make his former student pay for it when the minified brunet returned to his proper size. Speaking of which, he had to find Irie immediately.
"Hey, Mr. Hitman. Have you seen Tsuna?" asked Tsuna's oblivious-as-usual rain guardian. The wide grin would have irritated the hitman on anyone else, but luckily for Takeshi, Reborn had a soft spot for the young man as a fellow natural-born hitman.
"He stepped out for the moment," lied Reborn flawlessly. "He left me to ask something of Irie. Have you seen him?"
"Irie-kun? No. But isn't that Tsuna right there?" asked Takeshi pointing the tiny child clutching Reborn's leg. "Unless Tsuna's dad and mom gave him a little brother when we weren't looking."
"Tsuna's father will be fortunate to have eyes to see his wife let alone any of the parts necessary to make a child when Hibari's men are done with him," said Reborn darkly. He personally would make sure of it. Tsuna was apparently a fluke, a one in a million chance where Mamma's genes and Reborn's training managed to nullify any harmful traits inherited from the idiota. Reborn was taking no more chances that that man's idiocy would remain on this earth. He would go so far as to train any such tendencies out of Tsuna's children.
"Maa, maa, I'm sure whatever he did can be fixed, Reborn-san," said Takeshi with his most calming grin. Reborn's anger was too well-focused for Reborn to consider sparing some for the impudent child who was trying such a method on the world's greatest hitman. "But I guess that's a 'no' about this little guy being Tsuna's brother, huh? Hayato's not going to be happy about this."
"Who said anything about telling him?" said Reborn.
"Well, I mean, Gokudera's Tsuna's right hand man, and he'll probably come to check on him soon—"
"Like you came to do a minute ago," said Reborn knowingly. Takeshi rubbed the back of his head, and the rain guardian's grin turned sheepish. "Both of you need to keep a closer eye on your boss."
"Ah, but he was with you so we thought—"
"It is his guardians' job to guard Dame-Tsuna, not his advisor's," said Reborn ignoring the twinge in his chest. No one could have assumed that the stupido CEDEF leader would put an unknown object that would shrink the man's son, the current head of Vongola, to the size of a preschooler. The idiota would soon regret the day he was born if he wasn't already. "Make sure none of them lose control over this. The last thing Vongola needs is for people to find out that the Decimo is currently shorter than three feet tall."
"Got it," said Takeshi with his regular grin and a half-serious salute. "No telling anyone about Tsuna." The tall man leaned down and knelt to Tsuna's current level. "Is that okay with you, boss?"
Tsuna's grip on Reborn's leg tightened, and the tiny child took a step backward but didn't hide behind the black clad leg. Takeshi scratched the back of his head, and his eyes hid behind his grin.
"Do you remember me?" asked Takeshi. Tsuna stared at the tall rain guardian for almost a full minute before giving a tiny nod.
"You Take-nii," said a cutely quiet voice.
Takeshi's grin softened, and hazel eyes peeked back out. "Take-nii? I hadn't heard that one, but I guess it fits. Does that make you my Tsuna-nii?"
A soft giggle came from tiny lips, and the comparably large head nodded again, more vigorously.
"So that would make Hayato Haya-nii and Chrome Chrome-nee and I guess Oni-san would stay Oni-san. What about Kyoya? Is he Kyoya-nii?"
Tsuna shook his head.
"Kyoya Kyoya. He's too scary!" said the tiny child, a smile squirming onto his face and his free arm flapping wildly in some attempt at a gesture. Reborn didn't want to admit it, but one thing the idiota did not do was exaggerate when he had spoken about how adorable Tsuna had been at this age.
"That's true," chuckled Takeshi. "Then what about Mukuro?"
"He's too creepy!" chirped Tsuna.
"And Lambo? Lambo's not too creepy or scary," goaded Takeshi, enjoying the conversation a little too much.
"Lambo otouto," said Tsuna trying and failing to sound serious in his high pitched voice. "Like Fuuta. I-pin's imouto."
"Oh? That makes sense. What about Kyoko and Haru? Are they nee-chan's too?" asked Takeshi with a curvier than usual grin. Tsuna blushed and pushed himself against Reborn's leg though he was careful not to hide behind it. Reborn had to give Takeshi mental points. The guardians had been trying to wriggle that answer out of Tsuna for months. Reborn, of course, already knew, but he wondered what his student would answer in this state.
"Kyoko-nee's Oni-san's sister so she's Kyoko-nee," said Tsuna, his face aflame. His voice lowered to a whisper. "And Haru's Haru."
"Is that so?" asked Takeshi with a wider grin. "Haru would be happy to hear that."
Tsuna's cheeks puffed out, and the larger-than-normal brown eyes glared at the guardian with too much cuteness to be effective.
"Take-nii no tell Haru!"
"Okay, okay. I won't," said Takeshi sheepishly, and Reborn had to reevaluate the effectiveness of the cute glare. "But try to tell her by the end of the month. I would really like to get tickets to the World Series, and they'll be sold out next month."
Tsuna cocked his head (and Reborn wondered if he should go see Shamal to check if there was something wrong with his mind so that the only modifiers it could suddenly use was some version of*cute*). Takeshi chuckled again and then straightened.
"I'll make sure no one wonders why Tsuna's gone and leave the rest to you," said Takeshi. "You'll take care of Tsuna even if you're not a guardian, right?"
"You're a thousand years too early to lecture me, brat," said Reborn, his voice again dark and low. "Now get going."
"Aye, aye," said Takeshi. He gave Tsuna a small wave. "See you later. Hopefully you'll be bigger by then so we can talk about how you should tell Haru that she's Haru."
The pressure against Reborn's leg increased, and Tsuna's ears peeked out bright red from his brown mop of hair. None of his face was visible thanks to it nearly being pressed into the boy's arm in an attempt to hide his no-doubt blazing red blush. Takeshi gave Reborn one last grin and nod before wandering off to complete his task. Reborn gave the swordsman a return nod. For all his impudence, the swordsman had been of some use. The conversation had revealed that Tsuna was not switched with his past self or otherwise shrunk to the exact state he was when he was really three years old. He remembered his guardians and the people close to him, although he reacted to them as if he really was a child. But his reaction to Iemitsu…
"Dame-Tsuna," said Reborn. Large brown eyes looked up at him. "Why did you hide from Iemitsu?"
"He's bad-scary, not like Kyoya," whispered a horribly timid voice. Reborn frowned, which made the tiny child flinch. The timid voice continued though. "He mean and treat Mama bad. Tsu-kun no like him."
A smirk replaced the frown. Looks like maybe Reborn wouldn't have to do anything too physical to the idiota after all. He'd just let the idiota talk to his "little Tuna-fish." That conversation would leave the CEDEF leader in pieces no one could put back together. Of course, Reborn would make sure the man could not have more children first. No reason to let the idiota think he could fix the mistake by making another one. The second attempt would most definitely not turn out as well as the first.
A tug on his pants brought Reborn out of his thoughts and back to the world where two brown eyes were staring at him.
"I see Sho-kun there, Papà," said Tsuna. Reborn's gaze automatically followed the path that Tsuna's finger indicated and caught sight of the redheaded inventor before his mind registered all of what the tiny brunet had said.
"What did you call me?" asked Reborn. His tone was sharp enough to make the tiny child reel back. Those larger-than-life brown eyes trembled, but the tiny hand did not let go of the fabric of Reborn's pants.
"Papà?" said the tiny brunet in a childish Italian accent. For the first time in decades, Reborn's mind went entirely blank. Tears pinched at the corner of the quivering brown eyes. "Did Tsu-kun do something wrong? Papà no like Tsu-kun to say that?" The tiny voice quieted to almost inaudible levels. "Pa—Reborn no want Dame-Tsuna to call him Papà?"
A fist met Tsuna's overly large head hard enough to make the tiny child cry "Hiie!", but not hard enough to actually harm the child.
"First, don't put words in my mouth. I never said anything about you doing something wrong, Dame-Tsuna," said Reborn. "Second, that idiota, for better or worse, is your father, not me. I am your tutor. Don't get them confused so easily, Dame-Tsuna."
"No," said Tsuna, the chubbiness of cheeks increasing as he puffed them out again. "The bad-scary man no can be Papà! He mean to Mama and never help Tsu-kun! Pa-Reborn help Tsuna learn lots of things and make friends and take care of Tsu-kun's family. Reborn Papà! Tsu-kun know that P-Reborn no want Tsu-kun to call Reborn Papà because Tsu-kun Dame-Tsuna and Reborn Reborn, but Reborn still Tsu-kun's Papà."
"Oh," said Reborn, letting the one sound stretch between them. The tiny brunet immediately covered his head with both hands. "Is that so?"
Despite the trembling overtaking the tiny child, Tsuna nodded. The fist opened back into a hand, and large brown eyes quivered as they watched its approach. The hand landed gently (gently!) on the fluffy head.
"Then I guess it's fine for you to call me that then," said Reborn. A warm smile bloomed under the hand's slight ruffling. Reborn would have to force Shamal to check him over later for certain.
Grey-green eyes met large brown, and Shoichi wondered if it was too late to back out from this whole mafia business completely. Never mind that he had been involved since he was twelve and had had the memories of a future him implanted in his brain. Even before that, if he was entirely honest. But still, why was it that even during celebrations after near death battles they still never actually got a break?
"Did someone start playing with Lambo-kun's 10-year-bazooka again?" asked Shoichi more out of habit than actually believing that was what had occurred. The current Decimo was too small to be ten years younger, and he was clinging to the world's greatest hitman like he had known him all his life which Tsuna had definitely not ten years ago. And no way would any child suddenly cling to Reborn without serious intervention. Or a total lack of self-preservation skills. Then again Tsuna might…
"No. An idiota decided to convince Dame-Tsuna to place an unknown object on his head," explained Reborn with an explanation that wasn't an explanation at all. Given the mode of address though, Shoichi guessed the idiota was most likely Sawada Iemitsu. The hitman, for all his insults, reserved that particular unmodified insult for the leader of the CEDEF. "Seeing as you are Vongola's expert in strange inventions, you are the one responsible in finding out where the object went and what it did."
"Gianinni's Vongola's expert on strange inventions," Shoichi protested futilely. "I am Vongola's main inventor."
"Like I said, you are Vongola's expert on strange inventions," said Reborn, completely ignoring what Shoichi said. The hitman grabbed the back of the minified Tsuna's sweatshirt and lifted him up to Shoichi's eye level. Shoichi automatically held out his hands (why did he do that?) as the hitman dropped the child right into them, causing the tiny child to squeak. "Find out what happened and fix it. Also, no one is to know that that child is the Vongola Decimo. Ciao."
"Papà!" cried the tiny child, stretching out his hand and nearly falling out of Shoichi's arms. Shoichi had to lurch forward in order to keep a hold of the child and his balance. The redheaded inventor vaguely wondered if the child had caught sight of the CEDEF leader somewhere.
"Stop your whining, Dame-Tsuna," said the hitman, giving the child a glare over his shoulder. "I will be back after I find out what the idiota knows. Behave for Irie while I'm gone."
The child settled down in Shoichi's arms, though he continued to stare after the hitman as the man left.
"Wait," Shoichi said slowly before near panicking. "Papà?!"
Tsuna stared up at Shoichi confused, and the redhead inventor quickly glued a smile to his face. Shoichi had no idea what exactly had happened to his boss, but he determined to fix it.
"Hi, Tsu-chan!" came a chirping greeting from Shoichi's right side.
"Hi, Marshmallow!" Tsuna chirped back. A low chuckle caused Shoichi to turn and nearly smack his face into Byakuran's.
"Byakuran-san!" cried Shoichi, leaping backwards. He kept a firm grip on his boss though, knowing he'd have to answer to world's greatest hitman otherwise.
"Hello, Sho-chan. That's some precious cargo you're carrying," said Byakuran. He took a bite out of the white puff of cotton candy.
"Yes," said Shoichi, wrapping his arms tighter around his boss. Byakuran would not likely kidnap Shoichi's minified boss, but he would do any number of horrible, unspeakable things to Tsuna which would make the Vongola boss cringe every time the incident was mentioned. And Shoichi would too, due to being reminded of whatever a certain hitman would do to him for leaving the tiny child to Byakuran's tender mercies.
"I'm surprised," said Byakuran, taking another bite out of the white cotton. "I thought Sho-chan would be more worried that the boss of another famiglia found out that the Vongola boss is currently much tinier than usual. I'm sure the former sun arcobaleno will not be pleased about that at all."
Shoichi cringed and took another step away from the smiling albino. Seriously, why did his sometimes-best friend have to be the creepiest person on the planet who also always seemed to know what he shouldn't. Shoichi couldn't count how many times he had been called a traitor because Byakuran knew something he shouldn't. How the albino found things out, Shoichi had no clue, because Byakuran was supposed to not be able to look into other dimensions anymore. Thankfully, Tsuna understood Byakuran's creepiness and so usually silenced the accusations against Shoichi.
"Marshmallow no bother Sho-kun!" said Tsuna. Almost standing in Shoichi's arms, the tiny child wagged a finger in Byakuran's direction. "Sho-kun do his job good!"
"Oh, does he now?" said Byakuran. He leaned forward, and Shoichi froze under the violet snake eyes. The tiny child in Shoichi's arms merely glared back. "And who exactly is Marshmallow?"
"You," said the tiny child, pointing a finger right between the snake eyes. Soft white spun sugar bopped the small boy's head. Tsuna let out a cry and fell backwards into Shoichi's chest.
"Wao~. You are absolutely adorable like this, Tsu-chan," said Byakuran. The comment earned him a less-than-effective stare at Byakuran. The albino took another bite out of the cotton candy. "Yep. Very adorable."
A disgruntled child settled further into Shoichi's arms and looked away from the smug Gesso boss. Shoichi decided that for the sake of his health and the (mental) health of the little boy in his arms he should make a hasty exit.
"I'm sorry, Byakuran-san, but I—"
"Before you go, you need to go visit the booth with the purple sheet about three rows down," said Byakuran. Another bite paused the man's words, and he added a grin before saying the next words, "The hitman will probably find you there soon. Consider it a personal favor to you, Sho-chan, in honor of your little defender. Take him there, and he'll no longer be your problem."
Before Shoichi could ask (for the millionth time) how he knew that, the man was gone. Shoichi slumped with relief and disappointment. He looked down and saw large brown eyes looking up at him again.
"Do you think we should believe him?" asked Shoichi, feeling a little silly asking a child who looked to be no older than four what he should do. But this little boy was his boss for all the childish speech and general tininess. The tiny child cocked his head.
"Marshmallow no lie," said Tsuna without any doubt. "He like to pretend to be mean, but he still Tsu-kun and Sho-kun's friend."
"I-if you say so," said Shoichi, torn between wondering at his boss's insight or at the tiny child's mesmerizing adorableness. Byakuran was definitely not lying about Tsuna's current state of absolute cuteness. Shaking his head slightly to refocus his thoughts, Shoichi started down the way that Byakuran had indicated and soon saw the purple sheet over a mystic-looking booth, like that of a fake fortune-teller. An old woman sat inside it and gave Shoichi a toothless grin as he walked towards her.
"Do you need something young man?" asked the old woman in a scarily crackly voice. She sounded (and looked) like a fairy tale witch.
"U-um…do you know about…I mean, do you have any clue if…," Shoichi stammered. He had no idea how to ask the necessary question without giving anything away. Because how was he supposed to ask if she knew what happened to Tsuna without letting her know that something happened to the Vongola Decimo?
"Did bad-scary man come here?" asked Tsuna. The woman dropped her gaze from Shoichi's face to the little boy in his arms, and Shoichi automatically tightened his arms around Tsuna. Shoichi was no guardian, but he would defend Tsuna with his life.
"Bad-scary man? And who would that be?" asked the woman.
"He's really big," said Tsuna gesturing widely with his arms. "And he has stupid smile and yellow hair on his head that sometimes sticks to his lips too."
The woman cackled, and Shoichi's stomach churned. What kind of old woman actually cackled?
"I think I remember a man who looked like that," said the witc—woman. "He stood there almost pouting like a child because his son wouldn't pay attention to him."
"Did you give him something?" asked Shoichi eagerly. The description matched the leader of the CEDEF whenever he was at a famiglia-only social event.
"Yes, yes. I gave him something for his trouble. I assume it worked, and the result is currently in your arms. I must admit that I didn't think that man had such an adorable son," said the woman, sounding a little less like a witch. "Where is he, by the way? I didn't think he would leave his son's side once the object took effect."
"What was it supposed to do?" asked Shoichi. He wanted to get as much information as possible from the woman before Reborn appeared and demanded the impossible again. The impossible was easier to do if Shoichi had sufficient data.
"Are you interested in one of your own?" asked the woman. "You look a little young to have a child old enough to ignore you."
Shoichi blushed but pushed forward.
"I want to know what it has done to Ts—him," said Shoichi, remembering at the last minute that this woman might not know who exactly she had helped….shrink.
"Did the little one's father want to know? Did he send you?"
"N-no, his ad—former tutor wanted to know," said Shoichi, nearly kicking himself. Normal people didn't have advisors. They didn't have tutors normally either, but that was more normal, right?
"His former tutor? How interesting. The headband wasn't supposed to work like that," said the woman, staring intently at Tsuna. The tiny child seemed to wilt in his arms as he quivered and shrunk into himself under the woman's gaze. Shoichi wrapped his arms more securely around Tsuna, but the tiny child continued to tremble. The toothless grin reappeared. "He is quite the tough one, but no child feels absolutely safe unless their father is nearby."
"What are you talking about?" demanded Shoichi. He lifted an arm to hide Tsuna from view a little.
"His father asked you to look over the little one. And told him to behave for you. It's the only way such an adorable boy could hide how scared he has to be. It's the way the headband works," said the woman confidently and sounding nothing like an old woman at all. "A person puts it on, and then they in a way become their inner child. With an added dependence on their parents. Seeing as the man was by himself, I think it safe to assume the child's mother is elsewhere, so he would automatically attach himself to his father. Therefore he wouldn't be with someone who is not his father unless his father told him to be."
"A good deduction," said a voice that automatically sent chills up Shoichi's back and caused the tiny body in Shoichi's arms to shift. "Now the question is who are you and what business do you have in shrinking the Vongola Decimo?"
"Papà!" cried Tsuna, untangling himself from Shoichi's hold and leaping without hesitation into Reborn's arms. The hitman caught him seamlessly before placing Tsuna on the ground with surprising gentleness. A hand automatically gripped a wrinkled spot on Reborn's otherwise perfectly pressed pants.
"R-Reborn!" said the woman, her wrinkled old face paling. The hitman smirked.
"So you know who I am?" said the hitman, a green gun materializing in his hand. "Good. I don't have to introduce myself to get answers."
"Why are you here?" asked the woman breathless with panic. She looked more like a poor old lady than a witch at that moment, and Shoichi almost felt bad for her.
"I am the one asking questions, and you will answer them if you want to live," said Reborn in a tone so low and dark that Shoichi flinched and folded into himself slightly to protect his twisting stomach.
"I'm no one of importance, though I am known as Ophelia professionally," said the woman called Ophelia. "A client came and asked me to cause a distraction for the Vongola, to keep them from noticing her famiglia's actions. Honestly, I thought the job overkill since everyone knows the whole of Vongola is celebrating the final breaking of the Arcobaleno curse, but I took it because I couldn't refuse. However unlike my name's sake, I am not suicidal. Anyone who harms Vongola is lucky to escape with their lives let alone their sanity, so I chose a harmless prank perpetrated by the Vongola Decimo's father. At most, the Vongola Decimo would spend a few days as a munchkin and get a little forced father-son bonding time. Nothing too serious, but certainly distracting. Besides I was counting on the fact I would get caught. I mean, come on. You guys are the freaking Vongola."
"And why would you want to be caught?" asked Reborn.
"So that I can rat out my employers. Preferably after I got paid," said the woman with a scowl. "They acquired my services by less than honorable means."
"According to my sources, the lady Ophelia choses her own jobs," said the hitman, and Shoichi began to wonder what he was still doing there. He should leave before the hitman remembers him. The next words stopped Shoichi's escape.
"She tell truth," said Tsuna quietly, his eyes burning a beautifully familiar orange. Tsuna was Tsuna whatever his size. "They say they hurt her family."
"My best friend," the woman agreed. "She had just started a family, and they threatened to destroy it. Kill her new son and leave her to mourn. I couldn't let them do that."
"It okay," said Tsuna. A small hand reached out to pat the woman's knee. "You work for me now."
"What?" squawked the woman. Shoichi barely kept himself from joining her and drawing attention to himself, but his self-preservation instincts helped him to keep his reaction to a wordlessly dropped jaw.
"Papà no let me no make you family," said Tsuna. "You do good job."
"Your Papà won't let you not try to hire me?" the woman did her best to translate, apparently as baffled Shoichi still was. Tsuna shook his head firmly.
"No try. I make you family with my dying will," said Tsuna, the last words coming out like a small roar. Shoichi and the woman stiffened upon hearing a noise that most of the Mafia world thought impossible. Actually, they must have both misheard because the world's strongest hitman could not have chuckled.
"You heard Tsuna," said the hitman. The amusement in his tone giving proof to the idea of the impossible happening, but Shoichi still refused to believe it. Instead, the redhead decided to leave while he still could. "And you will be working under him."
The gun pointed at his head put an end to Shoichi's escape, and the threatened inventor gave his newest subordinate a shaky grin.
"I didn't agree," said the woman, and Shoichi stared at her in pity. Did she really think that she was going to escape the clutches of both the world's greatest hitman and the Vongola Decimo? Reborn's ruthless methods were well-known, but in all honesty, one could escape them if only in death. Once Tsuna set his sights on someone however unconsciously or harmlessly….well, no one ever escaped Tsuna's caring clutches. And the worst and best part of that truth lay in the fact that no one ever really wanted to.
"It wasn't a choice," said Reborn with a smirk. The gun shifted back to the familiar green chameleon in Reborn's hands, but Leon didn't stray far from Reborn's fingers. "Now tell me how to reverse it."
"I'm not sure it's working properly," said the woman. "Like I told that man—who is now apparently my boss—the headband brings out the person's inner child, while making the person also extremely dependent on their parent's presence. Honestly, the second part was an unintended side-effect, but I thought it would work well in this situation. Apparently however something went wrong. Because the headband taps into the person's most basic being and latches onto it. The person becomes utterly honest and unhindered in his or her reactions though the headband also increases their insecurity and fear leading them to lean on their most fundamental instinct. In other words, the headband should not make the young Decimo attach himself to anyone but who he knows in his deepest, most inner consciousness are his parents.
"I tried it out on several others from various different home situations, and no matter how estranged from their parents, they always latched onto those blood relations. For the young Decimo to latch onto you instead, Signore Reborn, when his father was no doubt standing nearby is rather bizarre. I would very much like to know why that happened."
"Because Papà's Papà," said Tsuna. His wide brown eyes seemed to want to drown the woman. "Tsu-kun knows that Tsu-kun was scared of Papà when Papà came, but then Papà became Papà."
"Really?" said Ophelia. "Because even those I tested with father-like figures still latched onto their blood parents. I mean, in the most core part of your being, you must know that this man is not your father. Your blood father is the CEDEF leader."
"Bad-scary man was never Papà."
Two feelings tore through Shoichi. One was a near complete pity for the blond CEDEF leader. If the man heard those words, he would most likely break. The other feeling consisted of an angry empathy. Shoichi's father had never felt much like a father either, having left their family when Shoichi was 7, and so Shoichi knew what it was like to barely know a man that one was supposed to call father. All in all, he could see why the tiny child clung to the man who had been supporting him near all his life over the man who only now had started to demand his son's attention.
"Hm. Perhaps I should look into how young the people are when they become estranged from their parent and how strong the bond is between the subject and their surrogate parent," the woman mumbled to herself.
"How do you reverse the effects?" asked Shoichi, ignoring the warring sensations in order to focus on the problem at hand. He understood the need to go over experimental data and adjust for new variables, but now was not the time. Not when the world's greatest hitman looked like he wanted to shoot something, probably the head where the data is being processed.
"By making the ears pop back out," said Ophelia, still staring at Tsuna as if he was the most interesting thing on earth. Shoichi's stomach turned in confusion.
"What ears?" he asked slowly, hoping to make sense of what the woman was saying.
"The headband had ears attached. When the inner child feels admiration for their parent, they pop back out along with a cute tail. They are my favorite feature," said the woman with a smirking smile.
"What do you mean by 'admiration'?" asked Reborn. Shoichi had a bad feeling that the hitman was considering scaring the ears or whatever out of Tsuna. But then the Vongola boss was likely used to that sort of treatment.
"The admiration that a child has for a parent. The one that makes them think for the longest time that their mother or father is the most amazing person in the world. The moment that makes a boy think that their father is superman," said Ophelia. Reborn snorted, probably in disgust. Even Shoichi had to agree that that description was unlikely to happen, especially in this case. Tsuna obviously respected Reborn, but the brunet would more likely equate the hitman with a devil instead of superman. "Believe what you like, but that's what it'll take. Otherwise, the headband is just going to stay hidden as part of the child or something like that. I never figured out exactly where it goes. But when the ears pop out, it reappears so it has never been a problem."
"You two will start immediately figuring out where the headband is currently and how to remove it," said Reborn. Leon in gun form pointed in their general direction. "You have 14 hours."
"14 hours!" screeched Shoichi. An echoing screech came from the woman, but Shoichi couldn't spare her much thought.
"Dame-Tsuna has a meeting with the boss of the Minori famiglia at 10 tomorrow morning. He will not miss it," said Reborn darkly. Neither of them had the courage to protest under that dangerous stare.
"Signora," said Tsuna, breaking the dark atmosphere slightly. "Can I see you?"
"What?" asked Ophelia in a slight stupor.
"Can I see you?" repeated Tsuna. "Tsu-kun wants know what Signora looks like. The scary witch face no let Tsu-kun see."
The woman stared at the tiny child before removing her face. A much younger face now smiled at Tsuna.
"What a clever little boy you are," said the woman, "to see through my disguise."
"As if such a pathetic disguise could fool my student," said Reborn with a proud smirk and sounding so unsurprised that Shoichi decided he must have mistaken that flash of confusion in the black eyes earlier. Tsuna blushed and ducked his head, but not before they all saw that beaming smile on his face.
"Well, I guess it's straight to work then, boss," said Ophelia, turning her much less wrinkly face to Shoichi. Shoichi nodded and grabbed his stomach. 14 hours to figure out a way to counter a probably malfunctioning unknown device. As Vongola's head technician, he guessed he'd better manage to do it. Or else he would die trying. Literally.
As the two inventors (the woman had to be one given her ability to come up with the device that caused the current problem) headed towards the lab, Reborn glanced down at his still-minified student. Given what the woman said, the student currently had him confused with some sort of father figure and the quickest way to fix his student would be to have the boy "admire" Reborn.
The only time any admiration in Tsuna's eyes had been directed towards the hitman was during the Arcobaleno battles when the boy had not even known who Reborn was. Usually, the boy looked at Reborn with a mix of anger, frustration, fear, and yes respect. But the one time Reborn had done his level best to confuse his student's senses into not knowing who he was, that was when the boy looked up to him in awe. Reborn had had to hit the boy for that reaction alone. However, confusing Tsuna's sense currently would only work against Reborn since Tsuna had to "admire" Reborn as Reborn. Shoichi and the woman should thank Reborn. Theirs was the easier task.
"Papà?" asked a quiet voice. The question jerked Reborn out of his thoughts and towards the tiny body clamped onto his pant leg. "Papà okay?"
Reborn mentally sighed before giving his minified student a mild glare and then a smirk he knew from experience infuriated his student.
"I don't think you should be worried about me, Dame-Tsuna," said Reborn. "We are going to experiment to see how to bring out those ears."
Tsuna's face paled satisfactorily. First thing first. The hitman pointed a gun straight at the boy. The tiny child quivered and gulped but didn't let go of Reborn's pant leg. Reborn's trigger finger twitched, but large, wide (trusting, unafraid) eyes merely stared down the barrel into Reborn's own obsidian, and several worst-case scenarios featuring the dying will bullet and the wretched headband having a horrible reaction to each other flooded Reborn's mind. Leon returned to his chameleon from.
"Come on, Dame-Tsuna," said Reborn deciding to go with a different if less practiced (less comfortable) idea. "Let's see if you remember anything from your lessons."
A questioning look filled the brown eyes, but Reborn ignored it as he dragged Tsuna to a remote booth. The attendant inside it gave them a smile before paling and nearly letting his lips fall into a frown, no doubt recognizing the hitman. Sweat glistened on the man's brow.
"Signore Reborn," said the man in pathetically-disguised desperate voice. "Did you come to give my humble booth a try?"
"No," said the hitman, his mood lifting at the man's badly hidden relief. Reborn changed his original plans and spoke the next words deliberately as to encourage the man's fledgling hope. "He wants to give it a try."
The man took in the tiny, wide-eyed boy Reborn placed on the booth's edge and grinned.
"Of course," said the man, completely oblivious to the child's similarities to Reborn's student thanks to Reborn's useful sense-confusing ability. Viper had often commented that Reborn would have made a powerful illusionist. "Which prize do you want to get, bambino?"
Tsuna looked at the wall of stuffed animals and zoomed in on a fedora and suit wearing white bear that was larger than the boy. The thing looked ridiculously cheap, but Tsuna pointed to it with eagerness.
"Ah, you have a good eye," said the man as he had likely said to every other child that came to his booth. He handed Tsuna a small, child-sized rifle and gestured to the targets on the wall opposite the counter where Tsuna stood. "You have to shoot three of them in the middle three circles to get that one. You have five tries."
Bobbing his head, Tsuna focused on the targets. His eyes narrowed, and the butt of the rifle sat against his shoulder securely. The headband's effects apparently had no bearing on Tsuna's memory of Reborn's lessons on firearms. For all Tsuna's reluctance to use them, the Vongola Decimo learned the lessons well.
The first shot went entirely left of the target, and the child's shoulders slumped and shrunk into his torso. A light whack to the back of the boy's head had his body back to the proper posture.
"You're smaller now, Inetto-Ruscello," said Reborn, quickly translating his words into a mixture of Japanese and Italian and twisting his student's normal nickname in a way that said student would still recognize. "Adjust for it."
Tsuna peeked up at the hitman, and the hitman nearly sighed at his student's hopelessness. He reached down and made the necessary, minute adjustments.
"Make sure you take into account that this isn't one of my rifles," whispered the hitman quietly into the child's, so that the owner of the booth wouldn't hear the instructions. A slight flicker in the brown eyes showed Reborn that the child was listening intently. "You should have been able to tell the instant the rifle was in your hand that it is purposefully unbalanced. Apparently, you have been slacking on your training."
The brown eyes quivered a bit, but otherwise the child showed no indication of the fear that no doubt tore through him in reaction to that statement. Reborn smirked. He had trained his student well. The hitman leaned back and his jaw loosened slightly before he could tighten it again. The ears and tails the woman mentioned were prominent features perking up from the child's head and sticking out from under the child's large sweatshirt. Three consecutive pops distracted the hitman from the important features.
"T-Three bull's eyes," the man said in utter amazement. Tsuna turned and gave Reborn a lopsided, but wide grin.
"Ruscello did good?" asked Tsuna, the tail flicking and puffing out at the end. A lion's tail. How appropriate. Reborn reached over to pluck the headband from Tsuna's head, but the ears disappeared as puzzlement and trepidation scrounged up the child's face. Biting back the curse, Reborn retracted his hand. The puzzled, unsure expression on Tsuna's face fell into one of despairing disappointment that had the hitman regretting his hesitation. Nevertheless, he had to make do.
"Not bad, Inetto-Ruscello," said Reborn, and the annoying depression falling over his student cleared in one wide, overly-pleased grin.
"H-here you go, bambino," said the man in a shaky voice, gazing at the small child with new, worried eyes. "You should go check out the fishing booth down that way. They have even more amazing prizes than here."
"Hm, what do you think, Inetto-Ruscello? Do you want anything else from here?" asked Reborn. His smirk was soon reflected on the tiny child's otherwise cherubic features.
Tears flowed from the man's eyes as the two walked away with every prize he had. Reborn's heart secretly swelled with pride at the fact that other than the original three holes, not one other new hole marked the targets. Tsuna had shot straight through the original ones he made without fail. Apparently the boy hadn't been shirking in his training despite the fact that Tsuna never used a gun. Between his guardians, gloves, and diplomatic ability, he didn't have to keep his gun skills sharp. Reborn hadn't kept Tsuna practicing his gun skills at gun point because the skills weren't necessary. To find that the boy had kept practicing anyway…
A yelp caught Reborn's attention. Tsuna lay face down on the dirt, the wagon holding all his prizes nearly rolled over him. Irritation bubbled up Reborn's throat, but he pushed the wagon back and held a Leon-transformed gun in his hand.
"Get up, Dame-Tsuna," said Reborn, reverting to the normal nickname now that they were far away from any of the booths. The tiny child gazed up at him and quickly scrambled back to his feet. "What happened?"
"Tsu-kun want to pick presents," said Tsuna. The large brown eyes did the almost impossible task of avoiding Reborn's.
"You know you would fall if you do that and walk at the same time," said Reborn, cuffing the boy's left ear fairly gently. No use harming his student dangerously in this form and having the damage carry over when the boy was his proper size. As Reborn knew from experience, toddler's bodies were extremely delicate.
A stuffed animal that had half fallen off the wagon caught Reborn's eye, and the hitman bent down to pick it up curiously. The stuffed toy was the white teddy bear that Tsuna had originally pointed at. The head was nearly coming of the body, and stuffing spilled out of its neck. Also, the threads holding the fedora onto the head of the bear were unraveling, and the fedora half hung off the teddy bear's head which teetered dangerously from its ripped neck. Part of Reborn scolded himself for not being aware of his student yanking at the toy while trying to keep up with the hitman and drag the wagon behind them. Reborn could not remember the last time he was so lost in thought that he had kept such a loose eye on his surroundings.
"What were you hoping to accomplish with this?" asked Reborn staring straight at his shrunken student and pinning down the shifting eyes. Tsuna shrunk into himself further at the question before clutching the bottom of his sweatshirt.
"Tsu-kun want hat," said Tsuna quietly. Reborn continued the stare before shifting it between the child and the bear.
"You wanted the hat," Reborn repeated slowly, and the child's head barely bobbed as his hand wrung his sweatshirt harder. When he didn't explain further, Reborn slipped one of his many guns into his hand and held the firearm casually. "I can interrogate you properly if you like."
The child's eyes shot back up from the floor to Reborn's. He shook his head vigorously.
"Tsu-kun want to wear it," said Tsuna quickly, the brown eyes slipping away from Reborn again. "It look like Papà's."
Reborn blinked and allowed himself a moment of weakness as he looked away from the child. Not like his student would notice the softness filling the hitman's obsidian eyes with the child's own eyes turned away. Rolling his shoulders back, Reborn scoffed.
"Then ask, Dame-Tsuna," said Reborn as he skillfully removed the fedora off the over-sized bear and putting it on the child's head. The potent smile that caused even the harshest hearts to warm curled up Tsuna's lips and showed the child's teeth, and the child straightened the hat on his head to copy Reborn's style. Reborn vaguely wondered whether these actions came from the headband's ability to make a person more childish or from removing the person's inhibitions. If it did the latter, Reborn had misread his student. The hitman hated being wrong. "Did you pick out which ones you wanted to give?"
Tsuna bobbed his head before straightening and giving a more firm nod.
"Bunnies for Lambo-outouto and imouto," said Tsuna pointing to each of the stuffed toys in turn. "Ocdobus for Sho-kun, fox for Spanne', whale for Fuuta-outouto, scary alien for Haya-nii, doggy for Take-nii, monkey for Onii-san, bear for Kyoko-nee, snakey for Bian-nee, kitty-cat for Chrome-nee, birdy for Kyoya, big monkey and tiger for Mukuro, big bear for Mama, lion for Haru."
"Interesting," said Reborn, smirking to hide the smile that threatened to surface at his student's wise choices. Like giving Mukuro two because he would simply turn around and give them to Chikusa and Ken, who would in turn keep them hidden from each other and secretly treasure the stuffed toys because they were from Mukuro (and refuse to acknowledge that they originally came from Tsuna). The 'birdy' or owl would make it simple for Kyoya to casually (in faux anger) toss it in the direction of Chrome, who would blush and put in a place of honor in her room along with the stuffed kitten. And as for the lion… "You know she already has one."
"Mama no has big bear," said Tsuna with puffed cheeks. "Bad-scary man no give her one."
"I'm not talking about that," said Reborn, deciding not to mention that the CEDEF leader had indeed won a prize like that (only a huge stuffed lion) and given it to Nana on their first date. Nana had finally thrown it away when Tsuna was sixteen in order to clear more space when various members of Tsuna's inner famiglia had come to live at the ever-filling Sawada house. His student could only fault himself if he hadn't noticed. "Haru already has a lion. She made it herself, and she nearly drowns it in kisses every night."
Tsuna's ears scalded red (the only part that Tsuna hadn't effectively hidden under a bent head and wild hair).
"Or she did until she moved to Italy a couple of weeks ago," said Reborn. The head popped back up and frantically glared in Reborn's direction.
"Why?" said Tsuna. If Tsuna was trying to sound commanding, he was failing since the tone was more of a mix of a whine and a plea.
"Who knows? Maybe she got tired of kissing a stuffed animal," said Reborn, knowing that Haru had simply been working herself so hard to prove her worth to Tsuna and collapsing into bed too exhausted to think of the stuffed lion on her bed. "Maybe someone gave her something better to kiss."
A high-pitched growl vibrated from the tiny child's throat cutely, about as threatening as a kitten's hiss. Reborn smirked. His student was as enjoyable to get a rise out of small as he was large.
"Haru Tsu-kun's," said Tsuna.
"Then you should stake a claim on her so that no one takes her away from you," said Reborn. Tsuna nodded, his face hardening (as much as the baby fat on it allowed him) with determination.
"Mo' prises?" said Tsuna, his tongue slipping on the until now fairly clear words.
"Want to clear out the rest of the booths?" asked Reborn, gaining a bright smile from his minified student and an eager nod. Tsuna took two steps and then slipped on thin air. The tiny child managed to fall straight into the dusty part of the path. Dirt smudged his cheeks as he righted himself and decorated his sweatshirt and pants, but Tsuna carefully fixed his hat and reached to grab the wagon's handle. Reborn grabbed it instead. "Dust yourself off, Dame-Tsuna. A mafia boss should look presentable at all times."
Small hands rubbed off the dirt clinging to the small sweatshirt and pants. Tiny clouds of dust floated away from the child and left him much less dirty. He still wasn't clean. The frown on the child's face showed the boy understood it would take more than his hands to clean the dust-coated clothes.
"Good enough," said Reborn gruffly. The large brown eyes looked up at him and cringed in a wince as if Reborn had struck him before narrowing (in a way that did not effectively make them threatening but did render them a firm determination). Reborn almost blinked as those larger than normal eyes overlapped with a memory of regularly narrowed eyes that refused to let Reborn accept his death. The small hands returned to their work, and more clouds of dust floated through the air as the child scraped with his nails and pounded hard on his chest. A new wince crossed the child's face, but he continued to attack the dirt decorating his clothes. Unable to allow Dame-Tsuna to damage himself further, Reborn grabbed the small hands. "I said good enough, Dame-Tsuna. The maids can clean the rest later. A mafia boss does not work himself up into an unnecessary frenzy."
"Tsu-kun want to be clean," said Tsuna, and the edges of his eyes gained a shining gleams. "Tsu-kun want to be like Papà. Papà clean all the time."
A smirk crossed Reborn's face. The hitman did rarely get dirty despite whatever his work entailed at the time. His suit was always impeccable, except for the few time he got red stains on it on his more dangerous missions. He cared greatly for his clothing and appearance. Reborn had attempted to impress on his student a similar standard of dress, but outside of dealing with famiglia business, Tsuna still tended to dress entirely too casually for the hitman's liking. But since the Vongola Decimo did look impeccable and fashionable when required, Reborn hadn't pushed the issue. The hitman had had plenty else to work on with his student. However, if the opportunity presented itself to further his agenda, Reborn was certainly not going to pass it up.
"If you wore a suit, it would be easier to dust off," said Reborn with a smirk as he took out a handkerchief from his coat pocket and wiped the boy's face roughly, earning the hitman another wince from the child but the dirt didn't remain on the boy's cheeks.
"But Tsu-kun fall," said the child as Reborn began to wipe at the child's clothes. "Tsu-kun fall all the time and get dirty, like bad scary man. Tsu-kun wanna be like Papà, not bad scary man, but Tsu-kun's Papà clothes too much money, and Tsuna get them dirty too fast."
The statement paused Reborn's wiping, and the hitman gazed at the child-sized (and child-minded) version of his student. For all his pretense of reading his student's mind, the boy still managed to surprise and puzzle him. The refusal to wear suits outside of necessary times (which included always except famiglia parties like this one or extremely-rare once-a-decade holidays) had never truly troubled Reborn since he had had to force the garment on his student since the beginning, but this child-like statement made too much sense.
Dame-Tsuna had more than once complained that the expensive suits would be near unwearable after two or three uses. If his famiglia were feeling especially energetic, they wouldn't survive even one use. Figures the boy would ridiculously return the guilt to himself and not to his rowdy famiglia. Even Reborn's suits barely lasted four or five uses when near the mansion and not on a mission. Not that the hitman let anyone know that since he used his quick-change ability to remain impeccable if necessary. Blood stains he might overlook, but dirt, burns, and indiscernible goo were another matter entirely.
"Then we'll get you new ones. You are the head of the most powerful famiglia, you should act like it," said Reborn giving the mini-version of his student a gentle (as in not brain-knocking) bonk on the head.
"Tsu-kun try," said the mini-Tsuna quietly. "Tsu-kun always try. But Tsu-kun still mess up a lot. And Tsu-kun no can mess up because people hurt." The clear brown eyes muddled slightly, salty tears barely kept from running down the child's cheek. "Tsu-kun no want people to hurt."
Reborn's heart gave an undignified extra painful thump. More than once, Reborn had considered forcing Shoichi or Verde to build a proper time machine, one that would send Reborn or a note or something back in the time of this dimension, so that the hitman could keep himself from ever meeting Tsuna. To find some way to keep one of the other heirs alive so that Tsuna would never have been dragged into this horrible world. Even a soul as darkened as his could see why such a rare kind soul should be left unburdened with the black stains of this world he had ended up training the boy for. Reborn's greatest triumph would probably always be the hitman's greatest regret.
"Papà," the tiny voice whispered, bringing Reborn's thoughts back to the boy in front of him. The hitman inwardly cursed himself for his lack of focus when the child put a hand on Reborn's cheek. "Tsu-kun sorry that Tsu-kun not strong like Papà, but Tsu-kun try harder. Tsu-kun promise."
Reborn allowed the expression closest to a smile onto his face, and if anyone were around to see it, the smirk would have almost passed for a true smile. A large hand cupped the mini hand on Reborn's cheek, and one more moment of weakness softened Reborn's eyes.
"Dame-Tsuna," Reborn said in an annoyed tone. "You are the strongest boss Vongola has ever had. You will never be as strong as me, so you might as well be happy with that."
Immediately, Tsuna shook his overly-large head.
"Tsu-kun no mean Tsu-kun fight better. Tsu-kun fight as good as Tsu-kun fight. No, Tsu-kun want to be strong like Papà when Tsu-kun need Papà to make Tsu-kun better or make famiglia bigger or more together. Tsu-kun want to be strong so can help Papà and make Papà happy like Papà do for Tsu-kun."
The tail and ears had returned, poking out from under sweatshirt and the fedora that sat precariously on the wild mane of brown hair. The two ears were the same shade of cream as Tsuna's skin and remained rounded if only more horizontal and like a lion's ears. Or a lion cub's. For an instant, Reborn understood the idiota's compulsion to put the headband on the Vongola Decimo's head. Those brown eyes filled with bright and admiring gleams were intoxicating. Fortunately, Reborn had worked too hard to bring his student to the level the young boss had finally achieved to allow this ridiculous farce to continue. He quickly snatched the headband off the child's head and watched as the boy's body once again began to glow.
As before, the shape of the hair changed first, the wild mane taming slightly if still barely manageable. The limbs lengthened and the torso grew, but not to their normal size. Reborn didn't blink despite the growing urge as the glowing lessened but did not cease when the boy's height reached about a foot under his current one. The glow eased into a background event as the boy's fourteen-year-old face came into focus. At that moment, Reborn noticed his hand was still cupping the boy's own.
"Since I was this size," said Tsuna. The hitman lets out an annoyed-sounding huff as he casually lets his hand slip from the boy's and shakes of the still-smaller hand of his face.
"Since that size, what? You considered me to be some sort of father," said Reborn straightening and pocketing his rebellious hand. "Not that I can blame you considering the idiota couldn't raise a pet rock let alone a son."
Tsuna's soft smile both irritated and warmed the hitman. Then the boy shuffled and awkwardly scratched his cheek.
"I realized it around the Arcobaleno Trials," Tsuna said, his thankfully less-large eyes focusing on something to Reborn's right. "That you were the closest I would have to a real father. Probably when the man who claimed he owned that title pummeled me to the ground. I mean, you always beat me to the ground, but you always made sure I learned something from them. But my supposed father pummeled me to the ground simply to show that he was strong. I'd been beaten enough times to know there were people stronger than me. Iemitsu simply wanted to show me he was one of them. And then you saved me again."
The words almost caused the hitman to cringe in surprise. The boy's eyes refused to meet Reborn's so that the hitman could verify what the truth. For better or worse, the next words confirmed enough.
"I remember thinking how cool you were and then getting embarrassed since my thoughts must have shown on my face, and so I pretended not to recognize you," whispered Tsuna. "I didn't want you to know that I…I thought you were cooler than my dad."
Reborn snorted, before allowing the boy to squirm for a few seconds.
"You think the stupid cow brat is cooler than the idiota," said the hitman ignoring the irritation that came from being fooled by his own student. He watched with amusement as the words caused Tsuna to relax. Reborn would remind his student of the consequences of lying to his teacher another time.
"Because Lambo is," said Tsuna, a brief scowl twisting his face before red redecorated the boy's cheeks. "But it was a different kind of cooler."
Reborn blinked and then stared at his student as he carefully worded his conclusion. "You thought I would have been a cooler father."
The blush didn't increase or recede as the brunet head nodded.
"Something like that."
"You were wrong, Dame-Tsuna," said Reborn. His fedora tilted down and hid his brown eyes in shadow. "I would have made a worse father."
"I know from experience that isn't true," said Tsuna with an infuriatingly sure smile. A twisting pain crossed his features briefly, and then brown eyes bore into shaded obsidian. "I can't keep this form much longer, but I wanted to do something I wasn't brave enough when I was originally in this body."
Taking a sudden step forward, Tsuna wrapped his arms around the slightly stunned hitman and tilted his head upward to whisper into the man's ear, "Thank you, Papà."
Taking advantage of Reborn's unwillingness (inability) to respond, Tsuna stepped back, and the glow slowly enveloped his body. An unconscious and fully grown brunet in a sweatshirt and cargo pants lay on the ground at Reborn's feet.
Reborn stared at the body for a full thirty seconds before grabbing the younger man's collar and hauling the brunet up to check his pulse. Seeing as the pulse was fairly strong, Reborn threw his unconscious student roughly over his shoulder and headed to where a drunk Shamal was most likely striking out with every available (and some unavailable) woman. If Reborn's student woke up with bruises and an irritated doctor complaining non-stop in his face, then those were the consequences that came from annoying (surprising) his tutor.
Mid-step, Reborn spun on his heel and grabbed something off the ground before returning on his way. After all, Tsuna had gone through a lot of trouble to win that fedora. It would be a waste to leave it lying on the ground.
Tsuna stared at the dirty fedora in his lap. He was confined to bed for the next few hours (probably as punishment from Shamal for interrupting his "flirting"), and then he would most likely have to go to sleep in order to be rested for the meeting in the morning. He hadn't been bored for very long before his family (save Takeshi, Shoichi, and Kyoya) had all barged in demanding to know where he had gone, what had happened, and who had done this to him. He had responded that he hadn't gone far, that an invention had malfunctioned, and that the person responsible was being taken care of. Kyoya had appeared after the main crowd had left (or rather Tsuna all but kicked them out) and informed Tsuna that those who had hired the woman were in Vindice custody and that the other "suspect" was being deported to Namimori. Tsuna nodded in agreement with the decision and didn't ask any more questions. He would deal with his so-called father later.
The word "father" caused Tsuna to drop his head into his hands and groan. He couldn't believe what he had done as that child-version of himself. He severely (and impossibly) hoped that those actions wouldn't come back to haunt him. Considering Tsuna had been clinging to the world's least forgetful man, Tsuna tried to resign himself to a few weeks (if not months) of backlash. He lifted his head out of his hand, glad that no one was around to see the redness on his face. As his fingers smoothed over the child-sized fedora's material, Tsuna decided he didn't regret most of it though. Except what he told Takeshi perhaps. By the look on the swordsman's face, Tsuna wasn't going to hear the last of the World Series comments.
"Um…excuse me," said a vaguely familiar female voice. Tsuna looked up from the silly child's hat and noticed that the woman from the booth (her name was Opal or Ontario or something…) standing at the door.
"You can come in if you want," said Tsuna, casually resting his head on his hand and his elbow on his knee. "Everyone else has."
"Not everyone. Signore Shoichi is still dealing with the examination of the headband," said the woman matter-of-factly. Tsuna made a mental note to make sure Shoichi didn't work himself to exhaustion again trying to figure that strange thing out. "Signore Vongola, I wanted to ask you some questions to help Signore Shoichi with his work. After that, you can throw me into whatever jail appropriate."
"I'm afraid, Signora, that you are not going to any jail," said Tsuna with a smile that was almost a smirk. "As I said before, you are part of my famiglia now."
"So you remember what you did as a child," said the woman, scribbling onto a pad that had appeared in her hands. Tsuna inwardly sighed. Apparently the woman who had seemed fairly rational was as crazy as any of his family. At least she would fit right in. "I heard that you were able to stall the retransformation process briefly. How were you able to do that? And why the infamous Reborn instead of your own equally famous 'Lion of Vongola' father? What was your earliest memory of your blood father? When did you cease to see him as your father? Was he ever your father at all? And when did Reborn.…"
Tsuna tuned her out and waited out the tsunami of questions. He had often used this technique when dealing with excitable scientist (Verde could talk quite fast when he wanted answers for an experiment and Giannini was little better), and eventually the questions stopped on their own. A silent and awaiting stare took their place.
"Before I answer your questions, I would like you to answer mine," said Tsuna as he quickly tried to recall exactly what questions she had asked. Surprisingly, she had asked less than twenty, so he should be able to answer her with little trouble. Reborn had prepared Tsuna for such situations, like the hitman had prepared the young boss for pretty much all the ones Tsuna had faced. Tsuna spared a glance at the quickly becoming faded fedora, and then returned his gaze to the woman. "What is your name?"
"As I told Signore Reborn, I am called Ophe—"
"I didn't ask for your code name," said Tsuna. "In my famiglia, no one goes by codenames except for on reports. I like to know who exactly is in my employ. And like I said before, you are part of my famiglia now."
"Oh, I haven't used my real name in so long, I'm not used to giving it. Even my best friend calls me by a nickname, for security purposes. My parents named me Saggeza. My full name-wow, it's been a long time since I said this-is Sagezza Peurile. Or Peurile Sagezza if you say it the Japanese way. Fairly appropriate, no?"
"Yes, it is," said Tsuna, his smile (smirk) growing. "In answer to your questions: I used my flames, I guess. I just wanted and determined to stop the transformation, and I did. Reborn was more of a father to me than the man named Iemitsu ever could imagine to be. The earliest memory of Sawada Iemitsu is a blurry blond man forcing me to jump and not catching me when I fell. I never saw him as a father, so I guess that answers the next question. As for why Reborn—"
"Do you have an eidetic memory?" the woman-Sagezza interrupted.
"No, I have Reborn-trained memory," Tsuna answered, not attempting to clarify further. Vague images of various kinds of explosions were all he wanted to remember of that particular training. "Like I was saying about why Reborn…."
The conversation continued like that for several moments until Sagezza had run out of questions. Despite their curiosity, Tsuna had learned that scientist did eventually run out of questions. Sure, they would have new ones later, but at least for the time being they would be satisfied.
"I hope that helps your and Shoichi's project," said Tsuna as the woman fit the notebook into her fanny pack that Tsuna hadn't noticed until halfway through the conversation. It seemed to disappear and reappear at will, hinting that the woman most likely had mist flames.
"It does. The revolution this device can do for the mental rehabilitation industry is simply mind-boggling if I can simply get it to work right," she said with a mixture of an excited smile and frustrated scowl. "But thanks to you and Signore Shoichi, I should get it working quite soon. Would you like to be the first test subject of the perfected device?"
"I wouldn't be a test subject if it was perfected," said Tsuna, leaning back against the bed's headboard. "And I would appreciate if you kept the 'device' far away from me. I have had enough of its effects."
"But you were such a cute child," Sagezza muttered quietly before sighing. Tsuna suddenly became very thankful that he hadn't met any of the girls in that form. He doubted he would be able to avoid returning to that form again. "Thank you again, Signore Vongola."
"Tsuna," he quickly corrected, startling the woman. "Only my enemies call me Signore Vongola."
"You are as strange a boss as they said, Signore Tsuna," said Sagezza with a small, shy smile. Tsuna grinned a true smile back, unable to do anything else when his intuition pointed out the brightness that enlightened the woman's light brown eyes. "I look forward to working for you."
Tsuna continued to smile as Sagezza moved to leave. At least something good came out of Iemitsu's stupidity. His finger stroked the small fedora's rim, and Tsuna adjust his thoughts. Two good things, even if he would pay dearly for the other.
"Signore Tsuna," Sagezza's voice quietly interrupted his thoughts. He returned his attention to her. She was half-turned towards him, and her eyes didn't seem to want to find his. "I do have one more question."
"Ask then," said Tsuna reassuringly.
"What…What made the headband come out?" she asked, still not meeting his gaze, which made it easier for him to hear the question she still didn't dare ask. "I have heard a lot about the man named Reborn. I have heard how he had the best kill record in the entire mafia and applies to the most ruthless methods to get things done. So why…what allowed the headband to reappear? Did Signore Reborn show you his skill?"
"No," said Tsuna still reassuringly. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the headboard. "I have never been interested in how to kill people. Or how to shoot a gun or how to fight. I have grown to appreciate those skills, especially when they come into defense of my family. But I have never grown to like them."
"Then what could the world's greatest hitman do to make you admire him?"
Tsuna took a deep breath and reopened his eyes at the finally forthright question. Sagezza had turned to face him fully, eyes wide and listening intently. But Tsuna's intuition made it clear she was not the only one.
"He believed in me and made me believe in myself," Tsuna answered, and he didn't realize that his smile had frozen the woman in place. All he could think is that he hoped their eavesdropper heard the message loud and clear. And considering the world's greatest hitman had super-human senses, he definitely had. "And if he hadn't come into my life, no one else would have."
After a few minutes, the woman regained her sense and nodded before quickly exiting the room. Tsuna watched her go and then looked down at the quickly becoming worn fedora. He hoped he would survive the hellish training that would undoubtedly start tomorrow. But then he knew it was already worth it.
Three days later, Tsuna returned to his office arms aching and legs wobbling. He had already delegated (dumped) most of his paperwork load onto his ever loyal Storm Guardian (though that loyalty barely survived the gigantic pile of paper work), so Tsuna collapsed into his chair to finalize the forms that would officially reassign the former CEDEF leader to Japan as Nana's bodyguard for an indeterminate amount of time (for the rest of the man's life which was thankfully not shortened by that sudden infection). Basil was preforming excellently as acting CEDEF head for the time being and would surely get assigned the post permanently soon, but that decision was technically out of Tsuna's hands since the CEDEF was an outside Vongola advisory group. As was the fate of the Minori Famiglia who had been captured and were awaiting trial in mafia court for attempting to burglarize the Vongola Mansion and blackmailing the fairly well-known Ophelia.
A plain black box sat almost innocently on the top of the large desk, and Tsuna considered the danger of opening it. Anyone who made it past security to put the box on his desk would be extremely dangerous. But that danger also made it imperative that he open the box and not one of his staff. He could already hear his Pa-tutor's brief scolding punctuated with bullets and emphasized with horrifying torture sessions, but Tsuna opened the box anyway.
An impeccable fedora lay inside the orange velvet lining. A sunset-orange band, the color of most of Tsuna's dress shirts, wrapped around the hat right above the rim. A card sat on the hat's front rim.
"If you insist on having one of these, it should be the right size."
The grin that stretched across Tsuna's face hurt his cheeks. The aching grin disappeared as he flipped the card over.
"And for opening an uninspected box, you owe me a full day training session."
Tsuna's Papà…Tsuna paused. He scanned his surroundings and then decided that if he had already admitted that title out-loud (mind you as an uninhibited miniature version of himself), he could definitely think it in the privacy of his head. As long as Reborn was not nearby. Tsuna could also admit that his Papà found the strangest (and most painful) ways to spent time with him. Still, even if Tsuna wouldn't ever admit it out loud, he wouldn't trade his Papà for the world.
Pure pain shot through Tsuna's body and reminded the young boss of his latest training session. Glaring at the card and still in pain, Tsuna almost took the former thought back. He huffed audibly and accepted that somewhere along the line he had become some sort of masochist. Carefully, Tsuna took the fedora out of the box and placed it on his head. The Vongola Decimo checked his reflection in a window before nodding and returning to legally stripping the former CEDEF leader known as Iemitsu Sawada of his power.
From behind some well-placed wooden paneling, Reborn smirked. He covertly took a picture of his student as the young man frowned at the paperwork in front of him. The hitman would definitely send the picture to Mamma who would undoubtedly show it to a certain idiota who had only begun recovering from that horribly ill-fated infection that left him unable to breed further. Shamal had been angered and stressed by the interruption to his flirting and the need to restore his boss's precarious flames and had been eager to try out Reborn's suggested form of stress relief. The CEDEF leader made all too fun (and satisfying) a target.
Reborn's smirk remained on his face as he started planning his day of "quality" time with his overly attached student. Some of it would certainly be dedicated to keeping oneself impeccably clean, and the other should deal with sharpening his boy's gun skills. If Tsuna wanted Reborn to be a father-figure, then Reborn would teach the boy exactly how wrong that perception was. Until then, Reborn would allow his student to think that ridiculous title for the world's greatest hitman.
My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person: he believed in me.
― Jim Valvano