Morishiba Atsuko grew up with death.

As a child, she was lulled to sleep by the wails of mourners and the silence of vigils.

As an adolescent, she learned to smile and reassure the criers that their loved ones were in better, happier places. That they would be given the best send off they could possibly have- that their love would last far longer than their lives.

She had a pretty smile, they said.

Atsuko didn't think so.

The family funeral home taught her many things. The most important of which being that she can never escape death.

Not even in her second life.

She hadn't always known that she had died once before. At first it was dreams, a child's dreams of a strange, mundane life, of going to school and of sleepless nights, of watching anime and reading manga and crying over friends and foes alike.

It had been a weak life, but a simple one. Atsuko hated those dreams.

It took a long time- for it to click, you see. She hadn't known that this girl, this sad girl, had once been her. Until one day she did and things weren't the same anymore.

Atsuko didn't know how she had died the first time.

She didn't want to know.

After all, she already knew death far more intimately than any other her age could claim.

Why let her mind dance to death's tune any more?

Fifteen year old Atsuko wonders why her best friend is so damn insane and why they're best friends in the first place.

"Do you ever shut up?" she complained, brushing black strands out of her eyes, a book settled in her lap as she sat on the floor of Nami-chuu's nicer, smaller gym.

"Never!" Sasagawa Ryohei answered in his usual, ridiculously loud voice. "I have to train for the tournament to the extreme!"

"Everyone else already went home," Atsuko whined shamelessly. "Why can't we go home? I want to go home."

"Everyone else was-" and there goes that punching bag "-tired to the extreme, but I'm not so-"

"Oh my god Ryohei, you're never tired! In all the years I've known you you've always been this, this thing! This stupid, hyperactive, thing that drags me around everywhere and keeps me from sleeping and-"

"-and makes sure you actually have a life?" Ryohei finished with a grin, looking over the remains of the poor, poor punching bag that did absolutely nothing wrong in its life. It didn't deserve this.

And neither did the boxing club's funds, to be frank. As its unwilling manager (that annoying ball of muscles and sunshine's puppy dog eyes were a force to be reckoned with), Atsuko was often forced to balance the budget and they most certainly could not afford their captain's mere existence.

Atsuko huffed in annoyance.

"Hey Atsu, I think we need another-"

"Pay for it yourself, dick," Atsuko retorted, glaring at Ryohei. Excuse him. "And go die in a hole while you're at it."

"You don't mean that," he laughed loudly at her. "You'd bring me back just to avoid the funeral paperwork!"

"You know me too well," Atsuko lamented. "I should just kill you and ship the body off somewhere so that the paperwork ends up being someone else's problem."

Ryohei sat down next to her and Atsuko didn't hesitate to lean on him, sweaty or not. They were both going to be taking showers in a bit anyhow. "But then you wouldn't have an extreme pillow for when you're reading."

Atsuko frowned thoughtfully. "That's true, your muscles do make for a surprisingly good headrest…"

"You'd die from vitamin D deficiency in about a week if you did it too," Ryohei pointed out. "You're such a shut-in, Atsu. It's extremely unhealthy!"

Atsuko nodded cheerfully. "It would be a good death," she sighed blissfully. "A death brought on by the beauty of books and Korean dramas stealing me away from the disgustingly bright light. And then we'd be together in death too, best friends forever and all that, Ryo."

"You're daydreaming about death again," Ryohei said disapprovingly. "Do we need to have another talk?"

"No," Atsuko shuddered. She did not need another lecture about how special life is to the extreme.

Atsuko didn't actually desire death- not really. She didn't know how she died the first time around and she didn't really want to die a second time either. But there was just something about that concept, about that lie of eternal peace and darkness that was so enchanting…

However, her fear of Ryohei's hour long lectures by far outweighed her admiration of death, thank you very much.

When Atsuko had been younger, she was always alone. She just couldn't connect to other children on any real level, they were too young, too immature.

Then Ryohei came along in the second grade and declared that she needed a friend to the extreme and just wouldn't leave her alone. Ever.

He still hasn't left her alone, not after what, eight years? Which is good, since she doesn't really want him to leave her alone anymore. While he hadn't been her first choice for an anime bestie, he was certainly the greatest she could have asked for. Loud brashness, boxing obsession and dispassion for all things school and all.

Though, he is surprisingly good at science. The dude really did have a mind for biology and could easily be one of the top students in the class, if he actually cared enough to bother with middle school academics. While he was slow to get concepts, the moment he got them he really got them. But he didn't care, so it was a moot point.

Oh yeah, speaking of which... Atsuko lives in an anime.

An anime.

Katekyo Hitman Reborn, of all anime. As in, the mafia anime. With crazy fire powers and guns and illusions and all that good stuff.

Except, it isn't actually good stuff. It's scary stuff. Who the hell would actually want to live in this anime? That's just asking to die for a second time.

Or a sixth, if you wanted to be like Mukuro. Poor Mukuro, she really could relate to him on the whole reincarnation thing. It sucked; she was going to hug him at earliest convenience. He needs a hug. If she didn't think he would kill her for trying, that is.

"Good!" Ryohei beamed. "So, extremely extreme manager of ours, about that punching bag…"

"Why are you like this?!"

"Hey Ryo," Atsuko began, chewing on a pencil as she looked over the schedules that her parents had given her to sort for the family business. "Can you do my chem homework for me? You know how to forge my handwriting."

They had been very, very bored last summer when a devilish heat wave that even stopped Ryohei in his tracks (after about three heat strokes, the stubborn asshat) struck Namimori and stranded them inside, much to Atsuko's immense pleasure and Ryohei's annoyance. But since he refused to leave her alone to her books for the entirety of the heat wave, she was forced to actually do things, one of which somehow ended up being teaching the other to forge her handwriting for laziness purposes.

(They also learnt origami, the art of ice cream making and that Atsuko is much better than Ryohei at video games, ha.)

Ryohei gave her a look. "That isn't very extreme. Just because I can doesn't mean I should."

"Screw morals," Atsuko dismissed. "Just because you're the very definition of 'honorable' doesn't mean I have to be."

"It wouldn't be honorable of me if I helped you be dishonorable," he pointed out.

"You'd be doing it out of love for me," Atsuko retorted. "Everything is honorable when it's done out of love."

Ryohei considered that. "You can still do it yourself," he decided. "Organic isn't that hard. It's easier than algebra."

"That's just because you're you." She rolled her eyes. "I have to fix up this week's schedule for the funeral home and then I need to write up a request to the king of the school for expanding the boxing club's budget because someone can't control his punches."

"Hibari isn't that scary," he said, a grin lighting up his face. "He's an extremely worthy opponent."

"Adrenaline junkie," Atsuko accused. "You're you and I'm me and therefore I am terrified of Hibari Kyoya."

"That made no sense."

"Yes it did, shut up."

As the boxing club's manager, Atsuko also had to act as the liaison between the Disciplinary Committee and the club. Which also meant that she had to speak with Hibari Kyoya on multiple occasions.

She swears that both of her lives flash before her eyes each time he opens his mouth.

Yes, he is that intimidating. The fanfiction exaggerated nothing aside from his ability to communicate.

Contrary to fandom beliefs, Hibari did not actually insert animal references into every conversation and nor was his committee just a bunch of random thugs. He was eloquent and charismatic when he spoke, capturing the attention of any listener with simple, blunt words. He had this air about him that told bystanders that they would probably die if they didn't listen- yes, he was that scary.

His committee was also more than the anime made them out to be- they were organized and efficient, doing much more than the school administrations to run both Namimori Middle and Namimori High, which was located about a block away from the middle school. He just liked the office in the middle school better.

Living in Namimori also cleared up many questions that Atsuko had had about its residents. For example, canonically Hibari was the age of a high school freshman, which didn't add up with his constant presence at the middle school.

He clearly wasn't stupid, so he couldn't have been left back. So what was it then?

In truth, the bastard is some kind of a lazy (if a bit violent) genius, if rumors were to be believed. He went to his classes as he pleased, wowed the teachers with his ability to know everything they taught without actually attending most lectures, aced tests and left whenever he felt like it.

He was rich, so there's always the chance that he had private tutors, but no one could actually confirm anything so most people just went with the first theory.

It's not like anyone actually had the guts to ask, of course.

Ryohei patted her head consolingly. "I guess I can do your homework, since you are going to be facing your fears tomorrow."

Going to the committee room was just asking for an unintentional meeting with the demon prefect, after all.

"I'd say thank you but this is all your fault to be perfectly honest," Atsuko deadpanned. "I hate your guts."

"I think the fear's getting to you," her best friend told her, amusement coloring his rough voice. "You're starting to lie to yourself."

"I'm always lying to myself," she confided. "Like when I tell myself that we'll actually get home at a normal hour everyday- it's never going to happen because you're such a nut, but I keep hoping…"

"I don't think that's very healthy," he teased back. Ryohei, also contrary to fandom beliefs, did not in fact use his favorite phrase in every sentence and actually was capable of being a normal human being. Sometimes. "Doesn't lying to yourself too often do bad things to your head?"

"Excuse you, it's perfectly healthy," Atsuko informed him. "But you know what isn't healthy? Wanting to fight Hibari. That is so not healthy."

"It's extremely healthy," Ryohei countered. "It means I like to challenge myself and become better by fighting great opponents!"

"No, it just means you like death more than I do," she told him bluntly. "I highly doubt Kyoko would be okay with you fighting Hibari."

Ryohei paled just a bit at that thought. "Probably not. But I still kinda wanna do it?"

Most people are under this strange misconception that Sasagawa Kyoko is some sweet, defenseless, innocent little creature. Two of those words are true. One is not.

Kyoko is the very opposite of defenseless.

After the whole incident with a bunch of high schoolers a few years back that lead to Ryohei's scar, Kyoko decided she didn't want to be a damsel in distress and learned kickboxing. That woman could probably snap Atsuko in half like a toothpick and regularly sparred with Ryohei.

And won.

(About ten percent of the time, but that still said something.)

However, it should also be noted that Kyoko was actually a very anxious person. Sure, most people would never be able to guess that, but truthfully she was very prone to worrying over every little thing when it came to her loved ones to the point of unhealthiness- especially since she knew how trouble-prone her brother was.

Atsuko's guess about Kyoko's role in the anime was that it stemmed from Ryohei and possibly Tsuna's attempts at avoiding aggravating her anxiety with their dangerous activities, but Kyoko wasn't stupid.

The poor girl had probably been dying on the inside the whole time- being forced to remain uninformed while being entirely aware that something was going on, then pretending to be okay to keep others from worrying about her.

Stupid, self-sacrificing Kyoko. Both Sasagawas were far too good for this world.

"That just means you're still kinda an idiot," Atsuko informed him, standing up. "I'm going to go ahead and grab some drinks, want anything?"

"Yeah, some orange juice- the extremely pulpy kind."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. By the way, if you really are so insistent on fighting Hibari," she said, a smirk playing on her lips, "- then you should just go ahead and kill him for me. I bet he'd look much more approachable if he was dead."


Atsuko couldn't stop laughing all the way to the kitchen.


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