Phantom Thief Decimo
Notes: Posting this and the epilogue as a "one year anniversary." Be sure you checked out the epilogue too!
Bonus: Incident report ~ The Valentino Family affair
18 June, Namimori Middle School first year student Sawada Tsunayoshi is involved in an altercation with foreign criminal elements, later identified to be part of the Valentino crime family. Their intent for entering Namimori remains unclear, but is believed to involve a prior grudge against the Vongola Family's Consulenza Esterna Della Famiglia (CEDEF).
There was a certain art to ditching school, if you were a Namimori Middle School student. If involved skill, careful observation and not a bit of luck and revolved around making sure a certain demon perfect did not catch you in the act.
Despite what some students and even teachers thought, Hibari was not omniscient, and Tsuna had only needed a few weeks to figure out Hibari's patrol schedule. Two months into his first year at the school, Tsuna had already determined the ideal time and route for skiving off in the second half of the day.
That was good, because he didn't think he would have been able to stand staying in class for hours longer, until school finally let out — and even then, he wouldn't have been able to just go home, first needing to run the gauntlet of bullies on his way out of class and home.
No, it was much better like this. So Tsuna missed a few classes. What did it matter? He didn't understand anything the teachers were droning on about anyway. And it wasn't like anyone would miss him either. Half the time, his mother didn't even notice anyway, and she had long since stopped putting more than a token effort into chiding him.
Thus, Tsuna ditched school in the first class after lunch and began to trudge home. However, his escape was interrupted by a surprising sight — three men, all clearly foreigners, in dark suits and sunglasses, waiting just a few blocks away from the school, right on his usual path home.
The sight was so odd that Tsuna could only stare dumbly at first. Organized crime was almost non-existent in Namimori, thanks to Hibari's efforts, and even what criminal elements remained didn't dare venture near the school. But, he supposed, these men were foreigners, after all.
No, the odd thing was that they had clearly not expected him either. Two of them had been chewing listlessly on pastries from the cake shop down the street, and the third was caught in mid-yawn.
Just as Tsuna had frozen in surprise, so had the men, and they stood for a long moment in that paralyzed panorama.
The Valentino agents had carefully scouted Tsuna's daily routine, searching for some hint of hidden bodyguards, but after a few days, they had turned up nothing. So thinking themselves in for an easy job, they had staked out his route home and prepared to nab the kid as he headed out after school. Incidentally, those days were all when Tsuna had managed to remain in school until the final bell, so they had not expected him early.
Tsuna reacted first. Spinning on his heel, he ran.
Unfortunately, Tsuna was the least athletic of his year, including in sprints. He had barely taken two steps before the men caught up with him. Strong arms lifted him off the ground, and a large hand covered his mouth before he could scream.
The man holding Tsuna barked something to his comrades, but Tsuna couldn't even tell what language they were speaking — something European. French? Spanish?
That didn't matter! Tsuna snapped at himself. He needed to get away!
In desperation, he forced his mouth open and bit the man's hand. Startled, the kidnapper loosened his grip enough to Tsuna to kick him in the knee and elbow him in the ribs. Finding himself suddenly released, Tsuna fell to the ground and, quickly scrambling onto all fours, took off again.
He should have probably yelled, but all Tsuna could think of was getting back to the school. Hibari would be passing by the back gate at around this time. If Tsuna could just make it there…
One of the men tackled him, the large and heavy body hitting him from behind and sending him to the ground again. Pinned under his weight, for a few dark, dizzying moments, Tsuna couldn't even breathe.
He didn't feel the man above him stiffen in surprise, or hear the yelling of the man's comrades. He didn't notice the the sounds of metal hitting flesh, cries of pain, or sudden silence that followed. The only thing Tsuna was aware of was the weight pinning him down disappearing. He gasped for breath, and it wasn't until the spot finally vanished from in front of his eyes that Tsuna noticed a very familiar, dreaded figure watching him with narrowed eyes.
"Herbivore, what is the meaning of this disturbance?" Hibari Kyoya growled, twirling his bloodied tonfa menacingly.
Slowly, Tsuna looked at three downed men, unconscious or groaning in pain, then at the Hibari. The full weight of the situation came rushing back as adrenaline faded.
He passed out.
Tsuna barely slept that night.
Once he had come to, Hibari had interrogated him ruthlessly. However, he quickly realized that Tsuna honestly had no idea who the men where or why they had attacked him. Hibari could be cruel, but even he saw no point in blaming someone as helplessly herbivorous as Tsuna.
Unfortunately, Hibari's questioning of the foreign men had turned up nothing as well, in part because they didn't seem to speak more than "tourist guidebook" Japanese. Even after several hours, all Hibari and his Disciplinary Committee had been able to determine was that they didn't speak French or German, the only two Romance languages Namimori students knew.
Frustrated, Hibari had finally relinquished the three men into police custody.
Thus, Tsuna had found himself dismissed and sent home late in the afternoon, shaken, scraped in a few places, dirty and more than a little uneasy. His hand had been trembling terribly when he tried to grasp the doorknob to let himself inside the house, and he had tripped on the stairs an extra three times before he finally made it to his room.
Nana had been out, which was probably for the best. Tsuna couldn't begin to imagine what he would have told her. How would she even react if he said, "Mom, some foreign men attacked me today."
No, it was better not to bother her. It was better to just forget this ever happened. Tomorrow… tomorrow he would just go back to his normal, peaceful life, as if this had never even occurred.
But as he curled up on his bed, pulling the covers over his head, Tsuna couldn't forget it. He didn't answer even when Nana knocked on his door for dinner, but that was nothing new, and she left with only a sigh of exasperation. Tsuna listened to her moving around downstairs, in the kitchen, in the living room, and then in the master bedroom, until the house finally grew silent.
In the silence, he thought he could hear someone sneaking around outside. It was just his imagination. It had to be. But Tsuna still found himself completely unable to sleep, tense and scared all through the night.
He forced himself out of bed just after sunrise. Even his mother was still asleep, but Tsuna couldn't stay at the house any longer. Glancing around furtively, he ran down the familiar, yet somehow terrifying streets. The sight of the school gates brought the first sense of relief he'd felt since the day before.
There were a few athletic clubs that had training early in the morning, so Tsuna was able to slip inside the school grounds. He considered heading to the classroom, instead, without conscious thought, he found himself standing in front of the Disciplinary Committee room.
The door was unlocked, and Tsuna let himself in. Seeing no one inside — all out on morning patrols — he settled gingerly on one of the plush couches. It was soft. Very soft.
Tsuna only realized that he had drifted off when he startled awake. For a moment, he wondered what had woken him — the bell? — only to finally notice the dark, murderous figure in front of him.
"Herbivore, you are late for class," Hibari announced. "And trespassing."
The subsequent punishment, or rather Tsuna's attempts to avoid it, made him even more late for class and sporting several new bruises.
That didn't stop Tsuna from seeking out Hibari after school and following him as he patrolled the town. Hibari wasn't pleased, but even his glares were less terrifying than the thought of being caught alone, for Tsuna. As a fortunate side effect, the entire experience left Tsuna exhausted enough to drop off as soon as his head hit the pillow.
However, his sleep was restless, and he woke early again, baselessly certain that someone was breaking in through the porch door.
25 June, further agents of the Valentino Family arrive in Namimori; due to his continued involvement, Sawada is judged to be their target.
After a week, Tsuna's fears had faded enough that, when Hibari barked at him to get lost, Tsuna reluctantly let the prefect continue on his patrol alone. He morosely watched Hibari stalk off, until he disappeared around the corner, before finally sighing and preparing to head home alone.
Alone… Suddenly, Tsuna's throat felt painfully dry.
He thought he heard the scuff of a shoe behind him, but Tsuna told himself it was just his imagination. He'd been jumping at shadows for the past week, without any sign of further attacks. It was nothing…
"Don't move," a deep, heavily accented voice growled behind him.
Tsuna turned stiffly, his entire being rebelling against the action. Another foreign man — and his comrades — stood just a few feet away, in the shadow of the neighboring building. They looked so much like the previous group that Tsuna almost thought they had escaped from prison to come after him again. But this time their number was higher — five in all.
And they had a gun.
The pistol was leveled at Tsuna, not wavering in the slightest. The sight of the weapon made Tsuna instinctively freeze in fear, though this was his first time seeing a gun in person. Taking advantage of his paralyzing fear, the man advanced, his comrades beginning to circle around them to cut off any possible escape route.
Tsuna couldn't run anyway, not while a gun was pointed at him.
…Pointed at him.
Suddenly, Tsuna had a terrible, stupid idea, but it was also his only one. Trembling, he watched the man with the gun approach and slowly edged closer as well. Confident in his superiority, the man didn't seem to notice, and soon the gun was within reach.
Tsuna darted forward, forcing the man's arm up, the gun now pointing into the air. In his surprise, the foreigner pulled the trigger, the sound of the gunshot echoing through the empty streets. Tsuna's small fingers closed over his hand, slipping over the trigger, and another gunshot went off, and another.
One of the men at the edge of the group yelled something, and Tsuna glanced back. The man he had been struggling with took the opening, hitting him hard across the temple. But before his vision burst into disorienting light and color from the impact, Tsuna saw the dark, ominous figure of the school prefect, sharply turning the corner, weapons already in hand.
9 July, the head of the Valentino combat forces, Gabriella, arrives in Japan.
"You were sent to capture one boy," a tall woman with dark hair reprimanded the men who stood in front of her. "One civilian boy! And you haven't even managed that after almost a month! I have half a mind to kick you out of the Valentino Family right now."
The men in front of her trembled as she sneered. Reaching into her long white coat, she pulled out a pistol and cocked the hammer.
"I have half a mind to just shoot you right now," she added. "having to come to this little backwater in person is a personal insult to me as the head of Valentino Family's combat forces."
"Our deepest apologies, Signora Gabriella!" one of the men broke down almost sobbing in fear. "The boy has a bodyguard who's like a demon!"
"A bodyguard?" Gabriella repeated, her eyes narrowing. Her glasses flashed ominously. "That's not what our intelligence indicated."
"He's a local," another man reported. "It looks like he's got his own group, but they're all young. They must be just starting out, and that's why we haven't heard of them."
"The target is always with them," someone else added. "We haven't been able to get him alone. We've lost three more groups trying!"
A sharp gesture from Gabriella made them fall silent. The Valentino Family's temporary base in Japan fell into uneasy silence as she considered what she had been told.
"Very well," Gabriella decided. "Prepare a full report. We failed in our first attempts because of a lack of information, so we will thoroughly investigate these bodyguards before we make our next move. I want to know everything about this group — their numbers, their members, their protocols, their habits. Then, we'll take them out and seize our target. The CEDEF won't be allowed to get away with making fools of us."
The men bowed deeply.
"Signora Gabriella," one of them ventured. "What about the others?"
"We'll get them back, of course," Gabriella said, snorting quietly. "We're the Valentino Family, after all. We never leave anyone behind. …But a little time behind bars, to reflect on their mistakes, will do them good."
12 July, change observed in Sawada's daily routine; believed to be tutoring to raise his poor academic performance.
"So how did your studying go?" Nana asked cheerfully, as her son finally stumbled into the house late in the afternoon.
Tsuna felt a little guilty for lying to her, but he hadn't been able to think of a better excuse for why he was staying out so late. If he told her he'd joined a club, she'd want to come their meetings. If he told her he had friends, she'd want him to bring them over. Better to just say he went to the library and studied.
Of course, anything beat the truth — he followed the Disciplinary Committee around so that if he got attacked again, someone would be there to help. The pompadoured members had gotten so used to him they even made a special pass by his house to drop him off.
"Tsu-kun, I have a surprise for you!" Nana continued brightly. "Since Tsu-kun has been working so hard on his grades, I thought I'd help him out… so I hired you a tutor!"
It took a moment for her words to filter through his tired brain.
"A-a tutor?" Tsuna stammered. "Mom, I don't need a tutor! I'm, I'm fine on my own, really!"
Unfortunately, Nana did not agree. "Oh, but I already hired her," she said, "and she's even been waiting for you!"
A girl Tsuna's age, in the private girls' school uniform, emerged from the living room, smiling determinedly. "I'm Miura Haru! Nice to meet you, Tsuna-san!" she greeted him. "Don't worry! I'll have you at the top of the class in no time!"
"Look," Tsuna said, finally losing his patience after an hour of Haru trying push study schedules and meet up times on him. "I don't want tutoring. And Mom's not going to notice the difference anyway. So let's just say you tutored me and not actually do it, okay? I'll back up anything you tell her, so it'll be fine."
"Hahi! And lie to Nana-san?" Haru exclaimed, her eyes widening before they narrowed in indignation. "Haru could never do that!"
Tsuna sighed. 'I'm trying to protect you, and me,' he thought, biting the inside of his cheek.
"Why do you even care? You're still going to get paid," he grumbled under his breath.
Unfortunately, Haru still heard him, and her glare sharpened. "It's true that I need to make some money, but that doesn't mean I'm going to… to steal from Nana-san," she snapped. "Haru's not a liar! Unlike you!"
Flinching under her anger and cutting but true remarks, Tsuna hunched and looked away.
If they were at the library together, then it would probably be safe, right? And the Disciplinary Committee patrol passed by there pretty late in the afternoon, so Tsuna could head home with them.
"…Okay," he said quietly. "For the schedule, how about this…"
Under Haru's enthusiastic and unrelenting tutoring, Tsuna spent the rest of the first term bent over books and homework assignments. His grades improved only marginally, but at least his end of term exam scores were not as pathetic as they might have been otherwise.
Nana prepared a veritable feast for them in celebration. For the first time in a long while, there were more than just two people at the table.
"S-so, about summer break…" Tsuna ventured, as he and Haru helped Nana with the after dinner clean up.
"Haru is sorry, but she won't be able to to tutor Tsuna-san as much," the girl said, smiling sheepishly. "I'll help you with your homework, of course, but I've got some other part-time jobs too, so I'll be really busy. I'll call you so we can set up the schedule."
"Part-time jobs, huh?" Tsuna muttered. "You're really working hard, Haru. Are you… trying to buy something?"
"Um, not exactly," Haru said. She stuck out her tongue a little, smiling cutely. "Haru needs funds! I'm going to put on a play, for kids. But costumes and props… they cost lots of money, and my parents said I shouldn't waste my time on things like that. But it's not a waste! Haru loves kids and wants to make them smile!"
Her speech became more and more passionate as she went on, and her dedication to the future play and to making children smile was obvious. Tsuna smiled, a little lopsided. 'It must be nice having something you care so much about,' he thought. He'd never felt that way about anything, always just putting in the minimal effort possible and letting everything pass him by.
"Hey, Haru," he said slowly, "would you… would you need any help with those part time jobs?"
"Hahi?" Haru glanced at him in surprise, her eyes wide. "Tsuna-san wants to help?"
He scratched his cheek awkwardly. "Mm, and in return you can help me study a bit more. I've been thinking… I want to learn Italian."
Eventually, they had figured out that the language those men spoke was Italian, though the men stubbornly refused to talk. A few of them even had criminal records back in Italy. So maybe this would be the first step to finding out what they wanted and why they were after him.
And really, it wasn't like Tsuna wanted to spend all of summer break alone. At least at Haru's part time work, there would always be other people around.
"Hahi! How adorable! You look great!" Haru enthused as she placed a cat-eared headband over Kyoko's hair.
"Really?" Kyoko asked, reaching up to touch one fuzzy ear. "What do you think, Tsuna-kun?"
"C-cute," Tsuna stammered, nodding jerkily. The sight of Kyoko in her adorable goldfish-print yukata and now with cat ears was almost too much for him.
Helping Haru was the best decision he had ever made, Tsuna thought. It had been exhausting — Haru had scheduled her jobs back to back, with no breaks — but first he got to see Kyoko in a cute sundress at the beach where they were selling shaved ice, then in a swimsuit at the pool where they were teaching kids to swim (Tsuna had needed lessons as well), and now he got to see her in her full festival splendor.
Haru on a mission was a sight to see. She had managed to get herself a permit for a stand, set up that stand, and even provide merchandize for it — face painting, colorful masks and animal ear headbands. They had been doing brisk business all day, without so much a break.
Even Haru was starting to feel the strain. She sighed, mopping sweat from her brow.
"Why don't you take a break?" Tsuna offered, without thinking. "I mean, it seems like it's slowing down, and I can manage the stand for a bit. Why don't you and Kyoko-chan get a chocolate banana or something?"
"Really? Thank you, Tsuna-san!" Haru beamed in relief. A friendly girl like her suffered much more from missing the festival than Tsuna, who would have just been locked up in his room anyway. "We'll bring you something too!"
"Thank you, Tsuna-kun. It's very kind of you," Kyoko added more quietly. Her proud, approving smile warmed Tsuna's heart.
Waving after the two of them, Tsuna sighed, then shrugged. Despite their rough start, he had come to like Haru, and he was happy to make her happy. And he'd even been praised by Kyoko-chan! At times like these, Tsuna could even forget all his worries and the source of the changes in his life, and with every week that passed without further attacks from strange foreign men, he felt a little safer.
Still, Tsuna couldn't help but tense, feeling a rush of cold dread, at the sound of a commotion just a few stalls down.
It was nothing, he told himself. Just some visitors being too energetic. That wasn't a crash or a shout of alarm. That wasn't the sound of a stall being destroyed.
Except that it was, Tsuna confirmed, peeking out of one eye. But spotting the familiar pompadour silhouettes and the red armbands, he sighed in relief. It was just the Disciplinary Committee. …Why were the Disciplinary Committee destroying stalls?
The answer became clear all too soon, when Hibari and his minions advanced to Haru's lot. They stood before Tsuna and the stall exactly like a gang would, which was scarily close to the truth, in some ways.
"We are collecting fees," Hibari explained. On cue, the head underling stepped forward, large hand extended expectantly.
"I-I think we already payed for the permit?" Tsuna ventured.
"This isn't the festival fee," Hibari said. "This is for the Disciplinary Committee's operating expenses. We've been especially busy these last few months, due to certain incidents, so we require additional funds."
"So pay up, or your stall's gonna be takin' some damage," another pompadoured underling sneered, in his best gangster intonation.
"Oh, I see," Tsuna blurted out, "you're racketeering!"
Hibari looked entirely unaffected and unashamed. They really were just a gang — the strongest gang — with some slightly eccentric tendencies. That had worked out in Tsuna's favor, and he was uncomfortably aware that the extra expenses were likely because of the incidents with the foreign men who attacked him. The fact that Hibari made it sound like they were still ongoing…
Still, Tsuna shook his head sharply.
"I-I'll give you my wages, b-but I can't let you have Haru's money," Tsuna said, his voice shaking, but with a steel thread at the core. "She worked hard t-to earn, to fulfill her dream!"
Hibari raised one eyebrow, and his underlings sneered, moving toward their stand.
'What do I do?!' Tsuna panicked. He couldn't pay them, but he couldn't let the stand be destroyed either. Instinctively, he took a step back as the Disciplinary Committee took a step forward. He wanted to run, he needed to. But… His eyes darted to the money box.
And suddenly, Tsuna had a terrible idea.
Darting forward before the Committee could react, he grabbed the small, locked money box. Then, he turned tail and ran.
Behind him, Tsuna could hear shouting and the sounds of pursuit, but that just made him run faster. Taking advantage of his smaller side, he ducked between stalls and around startled festival goers. Someone yelped as Tsuna bumped into them and made them drop their prize. Someone else cursed at him loudly.
Tsuna's heart was pounding and he was completely out of breath by the time he stumbled to a stop at the edge of the festival grounds. He'd gotten so turned around he didn't even know where he was anymore, but he seemed to have also escaped from the Disciplinary Committee, so that was good.
Now, he just needed to get back to the stall before Haru returned and give her back the money box…
A large, heavy hand landed on his shoulder.
"Hiiiiieeee!" Tsuna screeched. His newly developed reflexes kicked in and he kicked the man the way he had seen in the self-defense books Haru helped him look up.
The policeman — Tsuna could see the uniform now — groaned and toppled over. His partner looked unamused.
It turned out that some of the festival visitors had reported the commotion — and seeing a boy running around with a money box in his hands, chased by the Disciplinary Committee. They had come to the obvious conclusion, that he was a thief.
All of Tsuna's attempts to explain had been met with complete failure, and he could do nothing but stew miserably at the police box, while the policemen called up Haru to return her "stolen" property. Groaning, he buried his face in his knees. He could just imagine her disappointed look, and after he had finally gotten her to trust him a little. Worse, what if Kyoko was still with her?
He didn't think he could live with that.
"Tsuna-san!" And there was Haru, bursting into the police box, her yukata and hair ornaments askew from having run all the way. "Tsuna-san, what happened? Where's the thief?"
"Miss, he's the thief," one of the policemen told her. "We caught him escaping with your money box."
"Tsuna-san, is that true?" Haru exclaimed, her eyes wide with disbelief and betrayal.
"It's not! Please believe me, Haru!" Tsuna blurted out. "It's just that Hibari was there, and he wanted a fee, and I couldn't let him have all your savings! You-you were working so hard, and the play! But he would've broken the stall, so I ran away and, and…"
His words trailed off, and Tsuna found himself sniffling pathetically. It was all just too much. This was the real reason he had never told anyone about the foreign men targeting him — he had been certain they would never believe him. They wouldn't even believe him about something like the Disciplinary Committee being the Disciplinary Committee. Anything about those men would definitely be dismissed as paranoia on his part.
The policemen were already shaking their heads and rolling their eyes in exasperation, while Haru blinked at Tsuna uncertainly. "…Haru doesn't understand," she admitted. However, an uncertain smile tugged at her lips. "But Haru believes Tsuna-san. He's been working just as hard as Haru all summer, and he's a very kind person."
"Miss," one of the policemen began, but Haru shook her head, her features shifting into determination, now that she had made up her mind.
"If Tsuna-san says he wasn't stealing, then he wasn't. It's Haru's stand, and Haru's box, and Haru's money, and he's Haru's helper. So if Haru says it's alright, there's no problem," she said firmly.
Without waiting for a response, she strode over to Tsuna's side and grasped him by the wrist. Stunned, Tsuna let himself be pulled along, out of the police box and back toward the festival. He was almost numb with relief. Strangely, he felt tears welling up in his eyes again.
Fidgeting, Tsuna once again stood in front of the Disciplinary Committee office. It was the first day back, early in the morning, well before the first bell. He could hear the crack of a baseball bat against a ball, out in the field, as the baseball team got an early start on their first practice of the term.
Tsuna took a deep breath and quickly opened the door to the office. He stepped inside before his nerve could fail him, but that proved to be a mistake. This morning, something was different. The room wasn't empty, as Tsuna had grown used to it being so early in the day.
Hibari had been reclining on one of the couches, leafing through a sheaf of papers. His sharp eyes darted up to pin Tsuna in place, and his mouth twisted with some unreadable emotion.
"Hiieee-" Tsuna started to squeak, only to cut himself off with the full force of his will, "-bari-sempai! I-I-I came t-to, to this! Give you! Please accept this small token of my gratitude!"
Only the formal phrased drilled into him by good manners came out understandable and not a jumbled mess, as Tsuna stuck both hands and the envelope clutched in them out toward Hibari.
"What is that, herbivore?" Hibari asked, without much interest.
"I-it's the money I made over the summer," Tsuna said, barely above a whisper, his eyes firmly glued to the floor. He didn't dare to raise his head. "I'm sorry about before, at the festival. You and the Disciplinary Committee have been working really hard to keep me — to keep Namimori safe. I just… I couldn't let you… Haru worked so hard…"
He trailed off again, his speech falling apart. Tsuna took another deep breath, trying to push away his fear and embarrassment.
"Please accept this," he said, quietly by firmly. "Thank you for protecting me."
Tsuna heard the creak of the couch as Hibari stood and his slow, measured footsteps. A pair of dark, polished shoes appeared in his vision.
Something — a tonfa — whacked him across the head, making Tsuna yelp, more in surprise than pain.
"I refuse," Hibari said, meeting Tsuna's shocked stare. "The Disciplinary Committee collects fees. We do not accept payment for our actions. And we are not protecting you, only the peace in Namimori."
It was a strange distinction to make, but it was important to Hibari. He and his Committee were not hired muscle or even guards. They were doing what they wished to do, regardless of whether anyone approved. Taking payment like that would imply that they were obeying some contract or agreement, and that was simply not the case.
Staring up at Hibari for a few moments, Tsuna seemed to understand. "I see," he said, looking away. "Of course. Hibari-sempai isn't doing this for my sake…"
Hibari nodded, and Tsuna quietly left the Committee office, his thoughts heavy.
9 September, Gabriella initiates coordinated attacks to disable the majority of Disciplinary Committee members; Sawada Tsunayoshi renders assistance in neutralizing the threat to Namimori.
Because the Disciplinary Committee had been figuring so heavily in Tsuna's thoughts, his head snapped up immediately when he heard two of his classmates whispering about them before class.
He didn't get a chance to ask as the teacher made his way into the classroom and began the lesson, which Tsuna barely paid any attention to, but the moment they were dismissed, Tsuna turned to Kyoko, in the seat next to him.
"Did something happen with the Disciplinary Committee?" he asked, too concerned to even blush at speaking to his crush.
Kyoko frowned, biting her lip. "I heard most of them are in the hospital," she said quietly, leaning toward him. "It seems like they've been attacked over the last two days…"
Tsuna paled, fists clenching. He was certain, somehow, that this was connected to the foreign men who had attacked him before, who had apparently been still lurking around Namimori. He was correct, in fact. After two months, Gabriella had gathered enough information to initiate a full sweep against the entire Disciplinary Committee, starting from the lowest member and working her way to the top.
"Kyoko-chan," Tsuna said quietly, his head bowed so his expression was hidden, "I'm sorry, but could you tell Haru that I won't be able to meet with her today? She'll be waiting by the gates after school."
"Sure," Kyoko agreed. Worry marred her sweet face. "But what about you Tsuna-kun? You should go home quickly. If someone can take out even the Committee, it must be very dangerous…"
Tsuna didn't reply to her question. "Thanks," he said instead. There was something strange about his smile. He was absent from the next class, and for the rest of the day, though Kyoko was the only one to care or even notice.
Tsuna had set off for the Disciplinary Committee office, but when he caught a glimpse of Hibari's familiar figure just passing through the gates, he quickly changed direction.
"Hibari-sempai! Please wait, Hibari-sempai!" Tsuna called out, running to catch up with the prefect just outside the school grounds.
Hibari barely spared him a glare over his shoulder, not even pausing in his brisk stride. "Return to school, herbivore," he growled. "Skipping in the middle of the day will be punished… after I return."
"So you know where they are?" Tsuna asked, falling in a couple steps behind Hibari. Even if he was threatened with punishment, it was less frightening than remaining behind alone. "And you're going to fight them?"
"Based on their own attempts to gather intelligence on us, we have been able to estimate the location of their base of operations," Hibari said shortly. "Their actions have passed all acceptable boundaries, and I will be certain to bite them to death thoroughly for their presumption in attacking my men." He snorted quietly. "You do not need to worry, herbivore. They will not approach the school again. I will make sure of it."
"I'm coming with you," Tsuna said.
Hibari stopped. He turned and glared. "No," the prefect said.
But Tsuna refused to back down. It wasn't just a matter of being afraid and wanting to stick with Hibari. It was also because he wanted to know — needed to find out why he had been attacked. What were they after? Why him?
"I-I've been studying Italian," he blurted out. "It's just a little, but I can ask them… why and…"
Tsuna wilted under Hibari's glare, but he refused to be sent running back to the school, standing his ground even as his body trembled.
Snorting quietly, Hibari turned away and set off once more. From him, it was as good as permission to follow.
Hibari made short work the Valentino Family's men as he and Tsuna made their way deeper into the mafia group's temporary base — an abandoned complex, the original purpose of which Tsuna could no longer determine. Ten, twenty, it wasn't long before Tsuna lost count of the number of men they left behind, groaning or unconscious on the ground.
A few had tried to grab Tsuna as well, but for the most part, Hibari was too fast for them to get around him, and Tsuna had learned a bit about keeping out of reach — mostly from Hibari himself and avoiding being bitten a little too thoroughly when he had trespassed against the prefect's sensibilities.
"This is it," Tsuna muttered as they paused in front of a heavy iron door. "The boss must be in there."
"Oh? You can feel the presence of a carnivore inside?" Hibari said, smirking. Actually, Tsuna had thought so because of the way the last two men Hibari took down had stood with their backs to the door, like an honor guard.
But Hibari didn't wait for him to explain. With a swift kick, he knocked even the solid-looking door off its hinges and strode inside without a hint of concern for what awaited within.
The sound of a gunshot reverberated through the hallway and the room beyond. Tsuna yelped, dashing forward in concern for Hibari, but his worry was misplaced. With seemingly impossible reflexes, the prefect had dodged the bullet that had been aimed for the center of his forehead. His bloodthirsty smile widened as his eyes locked on the shooter — a woman in a long white coat, her glasses glinting ominously as she help a smoking pistol aloft.
Gabriella, the head of the Valentino Family's combat forces.
"You won't catch me by surprise if you're letting off that kind of bloodlust," Hibari commented smoothly, lifting up his own weapons. "For disturbing the peace in Namimori, attacking my Disciplinary Committee and possessing illegal weapons, I'll make sure to bite you to death thoroughly."
Gabriella's expression showed no reaction as he spoke — she didn't speak Japanese either. But as Hibari fell silent, she snorted and barked back something in Italian — something that, at least in tone, sounded very similar. Like, "You've got a lot of nerve breaking into our base. I'm going to fill you with lead!"
Cowering in the doorway, Tsuna jumped as her cold eyes turned to him and she sneered. He couldn't catch what she said, but one word stood out. It wasn't one that Tsuna had studied himself, using old gangster movies, but rather something from the basic lessons Haru had forced on him.
He mouthed it to himself, even as Gabriella turned her attention to Hibari again.
Why… why had she said that? Had she been talking about her own father? No, Tsuna didn't think so. She had meant his father, Sawada Iemitsu. But why? He wasn't rich enough to afford a good ransom. He wasn't important enough to have someone with a grudge after him.
…Or was he? What did Tsuna even know about his father? What did he do? Who was he?
Lost in his spiralling thoughts, Tsuna jumped and instinctively threw himself aside as Gabriella began to fire again. Hibari had charged at her, but he was quick enough to avoid her shots, ducking and weaving so she couldn't get a bead on him.
Scowling, Gabriella retreated, while Hibari tried to close the distance between them. The sound of her gun firing came in sharp staccato, interrupted only when she was forced to eject the empty cartridge. There was no empty click beforehand — rather, Gabriella had counted her bullets. Nonetheless, Hibari was able to seize the same momentary pause, having kept track as well.
He hurled one of his tonfas at her with unerring accuracy, clipping her hand and forcing her to drop her gun. But Gabriella didn't even flinch in pain. Faster than Tsuna could follow, she pulled out another pistol, in her opposite hand. Hibari had been almost upon her, but the point blank distance meant that even he was hard pressed to dodge. Even as he threw himself aside, then rolled to his feet again, a bullet managed to tear through his uniform and leave a bloody mark along his arm.
Instead of shooting again, Gabriella lashed out with one combat boot. Hibari was able to block the blow, but the force of it actually made him slide backward, grunting quietly.
Gabriella raised her pistol again, but Tsuna could see that the angle was all wrong. Hibari had positioned himself well, making a direct shot impossible. So what was she aiming for?
Tsuna's eyes widened as something seemed to suddenly click in his mind. "Hibari-sempai! She's aiming to ricochet!"
Hibari didn't spare a glance toward him, but a faintly desperate glint entered his eyes as he understood what Tsuna was saying. It didn't matter if such a ricochet should have been impossible, according to common sense, Tsuna was certain that was Gabriella's intent, and Hibari seemed to sense the same thing. Trapped between the wall and Gabriella's leg, Hibari tried to throw off her aim by dropping to the ground.
He was only partially successful. The bullet, bouncing off the wall, hit him in the shoulder instead of the stomach. Ignoring the red stain spreading across his white shirt, Hibari struck with his other arm. The tonfa slammed into Gabriella's shoulder with a sickening crunch, her entire arm going slack as she bit back a pained scream. She didn't have time to even try to retaliate before Hibari followed up with a blow to the stomach that drove the air from her lungs.
With a faint groan, Gabriella collapsed to the dirty floor. Hibari towered over her for only a moment, through sheer force of will, before toppling as well.
"Hibari-sempai!" Tsuna called out, rushing to the prefect's side. Concern overruled fear, and he ignored Hibari's warning growl in favor of trying to at least staunch the blood flow from the bullet wound. "Hang on, I'll call an ambulance!"
"Dis… nary Committee," Hibari insisted. "Kusa… kabe."
"Yes, him too, but an ambulance first," Tsuna said, almost absently as he fumbled with Hibari's cellphone, which he had unceremoniously fished out of the prefect's pocket. He had lost his own at the start of the school year and never bothered replacing it — it wasn't as if there was anyone to call him anyway.
Hibari hissed quietly, but Tsuna couldn't tell if it was from pain, irritation or a warning to stop getting blood all over the phone keypad. Tsuna only looked up as the prone figure next to them groaned as well, stirring a little.
Gabriella glared at them through dishevelled strands of long dark hair, her gaze bleary from pain and her missing glasses. "Don… come…" she gritted out, the second word in broken Japanese.
They had no rope or anything to tie her up with, Tsuna thought with a strange calmness, and Hibari was in no shape to stop her if she tried to keep fighting. His hand closed around Hibari's discarded tonfa. Raising it up, Tsuna said, reflexively, "Excuse me." Then, he brought it down across the back of Gabriella's head as hard as he could.
Coming from the least athletic person in Namimori, who could only jump over the third level of the vaulting horse, that wasn't very hard, but it was enough to knock Gabriella unconscious.
23 September, Don Valentino believed to have arrived in Japan; exact information unavailable during Disciplinary Committee's convalescence.
Don, Gabriella had said. That was another word Tsuna recognized, this time from his own gangster-centered popular media studies.
Her boss was coming. That ominous message hadn't registered at the time — Tsuna had been more concerned about Hibari getting shot. But fortunately, the wound proved to be relatively minor. Nothing vital was damaged, and the bullet was extracted successfully once Hibari was taken to the hospital.
The few members of the Disciplinary Committee who weren't in the hospital themselves had even been kind enough to let Tsuna know the length of Hibari's intended hospital stay and his room number.
Despite being in a different class — and not being entirely sure that Hibari ever actually did homework — Tsuna dutifully brought Hibari his missed work and a lunch box every day. Being bedridden, Hibari was limited in his ability to bite Tsuna to death, but he did his best nonetheless.
All the while, Gabriella's warning repeated in Tsuna's mind. However, he didn't mention it to Hibari. Hibari would do what Hibari had always done, on his own terms, unbound by anyone's expectations or demands.
But Tsuna couldn't keep relying on him forever. That thought began to form, more and more strongly. This was something he had to deal with, his own problem.
His father… That stupid, useless man hadn't even left a contact number. Desperate, Tsuna had tried asking Nana, but she just gushed about their romantic meeting and courtship. Whatever connection Iemitsu had to armed Italian killers, Tsuna had no way of knowing or finding out.
No, Tsuna swore to himself. He would find out. He would learn the truth.
But for now, all he could do was continue studying Italian, and worry, and wait for the next attack.
30 September, Don Valentino and his subordinates take Namimori Middle School hostage.
They didn't have to wait long. Don Valentino did not have Gabriella's patience, so it was only a week after arriving in Japan, having gone through her meticulous orderly reports, that he and his remaining subordinates mounted an attack on what they saw as the epicenter of their problems — Namimori Middle School.
Hibari had been only just released from the hospital. That is to say, he had only just released himself by pointedly ignoring any attempts to keep him there. However, neither the Disciplinary Committee nor its head were back to full strength yet, and Hibari had been planning to spend most of the day napping in the Committee office.
That plan was completely derailed when the PA system suddenly came to life, static blaring for a moment across the entire school.
There were no scheduled announcements, Hibari knew. Opening his eyes, he sat up slowly.
On the speakers, someone cleared their throat. "Ah-huh, this an announcement to the Disciplinary Committee," a man began to speak, his voice low and even, and with the faintest hint of a foreign accent. "Please report to the headmaster's office without delay. To the other students, please do not leave your classrooms until further notice. A dangerous situation has developed that may result in your untimely death if you do not comply. Thank you for your attention."
The speakers clicked off.
Tsuna's classroom broke out in frantic whispers as the announcement ended. As the teacher tried to call the students to order, they wondered who had been speaking, why they needed the Disciplinary Committee all of a sudden, what was this dangerous situation and if it was some kind of prank. Surely their lives weren't really in danger.
Tsuna felt himself begin to tremble. He was absolutely certain he knew what this was. Their school was under attack. Like that woman had said, her boss had come. Now, he was going to deal with the still-recovering Disciplinary Committee, and then it would be Tsuna's turn.
Maybe they would win, Tsuna tried to tell himself. If he just waited in the classroom with the other students, maybe it would all turn out okay. Maybe Hibari would win, like always, maybe this would even be the end of it. After all, there was no one after the boss himself, right?
But… Tsuna couldn't just sit there, no matter how scared he was. Hibari was still injured, and this was all because of Tsuna in the first place. He couldn't keep relying on Hibari forever. He couldn't keep putting everyone in danger. He had to do something.
All eyes turned to him as Tsuna stood abruptly, his chair scraping against the floor as it skidded back. "I'm… going to the nurse's office!" Tsuna announced, ignoring the incredulous stares.
"Sawada, wait!" the teacher called out. "What about the warning?"
His voice was cut off as Tsuna slammed the classroom door behind him and took off down the corridor. He arrived at the Disciplinary Committee office just as Hibari was finishing giving out orders.
"Make sure no students or teachers try to investigate," Hibari was saying to his pompadoured underlings, their numbers sadly reduced by Gabriella's attacks and many still bearing injuries. "Keep them in the classrooms. I will deal with the trespasser in the principal's office."
He was holding himself up well, but Tsuna was sure Hibari looked even paler than usual and something about his movements was different, more careful than usual. At least some of the Disciplinary Committee seemed to see the same thing, judging by the concerned looks they shot their leader as they dispersed to handle their assigned tasks.
"W-wait, I'm coming too," Tsuna stammered, taking a hesitant step toward Hibari.
The prefect glared, making Tsuna cower a little despite his determination. "Return to your classroom. Classes have not been dismissed," Hibari said sharply. "Skipping is not allowed."
"I'm coming too," Tsuna repeated.
"No," Hibari shot back. He glared as Tsuna opened his mouth to protest. "You are just a herbivore, even if you attract too much trouble. I don't care why they have come to Namimori. I will not allow them to disturb the peace or bring harm to any of the students here. Go back to your classroom and wait with the other herbivores."
"I came with you before!" Tsuna said. "Why is this different?" He had even kind of helped, a little. At the very least, Tsuna didn't think he had gotten in the way.
Hibari only glared, unwilling to answer. The truth was simple. It was like this: Hibari took his duties seriously. He said he would protect the school and the students, and he would fight to the death to do it. He had confidence in his own abilities as well. However, he knew he had been too arrogant before. His opponents were not like the pathetic herbivore gangs around Namimori. There was a very real chance that he would die.
And if that was the case, he refused to just bring the very thing they were after to them. If they chose to go after Tsuna while he was distracted, Hibari couldn't guarantee that he would be able to stop them. In any case, a herbivore had no business following a carnivore on their hunt. Tsuna's place was with the rest of his herbivore herd, being protected and kept in line by Hibari.
Hibari had to convey that, and he did it in the most expedient way possible. He held up a tonfa menacingly and said, "If you follow me, I will bite you to death." And to illustrate his point, he slammed the weapon into the wall, leaving an impressive crater.
Tsuna followed him anyway. Of course, he first waited to give Hibari a good head start, letting the prefect think Tsuna had returned to class, before following as quietly and surreptitiously as he could. Luckily, he already knew the way to the principal's office, and Hibari did not look back.
By the time Tsuna reached his destination, Hibari was already inside, having unceremoniously kicked the door open again. Creeping past the secretary's desk, Tsuna crouched just outside the office and chanced a glance inside.
Hibari was there, standing proud and angry. The principal was tied up and unconscious in his big leather chair. In front of his desk stood two men. One — older and portly, with a small beard like a goat — was the boss of the Valentino Family, Don Valentino himself. The other, other tall and sharply dressed — aside from the scarecrow-like cloth sack that covered his head — was the boss's right hand, Lorenzo.
"…bitten to death," Hibari was delivering his usual threat.
"Please wait," Lorenzo said, in the same lightly accented, polite voice that had made the announcement. "That would be very regrettable for everyone. You see, we have set up explosives across this school, and if you attack, we will be forced to detonate them, causing much death."
Lorenzo gestured to the Don, who had been observing the confrontation with the blank expression someone who did not understand what was being said. At Lorenzo's stage whisper of "Don," he quickly scrambled to pull out a small detonator with a large red button on top.
"…Defacing school grounds, disturbing the peace, illegal weapons…" Hibari muttered under his breath, glaring fit to kill even as he was forced to hold off on attack. Unfortunately, he knew he wouldn't be able to reach Don Valentino, on the other side of the room, before the old man pressed the detonator, especially with Lorenzo in the way and holding a bayonet rifle with the ease of long experience.
"We have no quarrel with you," Lorenzo continued, "even though you damaged many of our men. We only want a student in this school. Once we have him, we will go peacefully. So we will call him here and you will not interfere…"
"Denied," Hibari cut him off. "All Namimori Middle students are part of the school, and the school is under the protection of the Disciplinary Committee."
"Think well," Lorenzo tried to reason, shaking his head as if in regret. With his face completely hidden by the cloth sack, it was impossible to tell what he was feeling. "We received Gabriella's stories. We know what damage she caused to your group. You will not be able to…"
Tsuna stopped listening. No matter what Hibari said, he knew this situation was his fault and he had to do something to resolve it. He could, he supposed, give himself up, right then and there. But Hibari would still fight, and with him still injured, the outcome was in no way guaranteed.
He needed to get the detonator, Tsuna decided.
To emphasize some point he was making — "Think of the school, the students," — Lorenzo gestured to the open window behind the principal's desk. A soft breeze stirred the curtains. And suddenly, Tsuna had an idea.
Creeping away from the principal's office, Tsuna moved one door down the hall, to the teachers' lounge. It was thankfully empty, and the window at the end was already open, like a sign to proceed. Carefully, Tsuna moved past the tables and climbed onto the window sill.
There was a wide ledge running along the row of windows, though a beam separated the window of the principal's office from those of the teachers' lounge. Gulping in fear and reminding himself not to look down, Tsuna edged around it, his arms and legs barely wide enough for him to pull himself to the other side.
He crouched immediately, pressing back against the beam — both out of fear and to keep himself from being noticed. Thankfully, Don Valentino and Lorenzo had their backs to the window, both focused on Hibari, who blinked once but otherwise gave no sign of seeing Tsuna on the window ledge.
Keeping close to the side, to keep his movements from alerting their enemies, Tsuna slowly climbed into the principal's office. He crouched behind the desk, next to the chair and the unconscious principal within it. The Don stood just on the other side, detonator still pointedly held aloft.
For an instance, his eyes met Hibari's, and then the two of them burst into action.
Tsuna vaulted onto the desk, sliding across the polished surface to drive both feet into the Don's back. The portly old man gave a baying cry of alarm as he toppled over, Tsuna on top of him. In his surprise, it was easy to grab the detonator right out of his hand.
Knowing both his own lack of combat skill and being completely uncertain about the Don's abilities, Tsuna didn't even try to fight. He scrambled away on all fours and only looked back once he darted around the doorway.
Hibari had attacked in the same moment as Tsuna, going low to throw off Lorenzo's aim and not hesitating to swing his tonfas with all his might. His attacks were expertly blocked as Lorenzo spun his rifle like a member of the color guard, but Hibari only smirked. He was certain he'd get through soon enough, the close quarters of the room giving him the advantage and, most importantly, giving Lorenzo no chance to aim his rifle.
Getting shot wasn't and experience Hibari was eager to repeat.
Peripherally, Hibari was aware of Tsuna making his escape, and his smirk widened. Now he could fight without worrying about the school.
Distracting Lorenzo with a leg sweep, Hibari used the momentum to spin around and send a tonfa flying at the back of Don Valentino's head. It hit with a resounding thunk, and the old man went down halfway to Tsuna's hiding place just beyond the doorway.
"Don!" Lorenzo cried out.
But as he tried to rush to his boss's side, his way was blocked by Hibari, a spare tonfa already replacing the one he had thrown away. "I'm your opponent," Hibari told him, a bloodthirsty smirk on his face. "I'll bite you to death for threatening my school."
Lorenzo put up a good fight, but in the end, Hibari had his way, as always. Breathing a sigh of relief, Tsuna slid to the floor. He sniffled, the sudden sense of relief making tears gather in his eyes and slide down his cheeks. Raising one hand to brush away the wet trails, Tsuna froze as he realized something.
He was still holding the detonator.
"Hiiieee! Hibari-sempai!" he wailed. "The bombs! What about the bombs?"
"Tch," Hibari clicked his tongue, shooting Tsuna a dirty look for ruining his post-battle euphoria. He strode calmly out of the principal's office and made his way to the secretary's abandoned desk. Pressing a button next to the announcement system, he said into the speaker, "All Disciplinary Committee members, search and dismantle contraband objects placed across school grounds. Further, find and detain all trespassers responsible for the contraband items. That is all."
"Sh-shouldn't you at least mention that they're bombs?" Tsuna wondered. "And do the Committee members even know anything about defusing bombs?"
"Those foreign peace-disturbing law-breaking crowding weak herbivores placed them. They can't be hard to remove," Hibari said. In other words, the bombs were probably pretty idiot-proof.
'That's a lot of adjectives,' Tsuna thought, shuddering a little. Still, he pressed on, "But what if, Hibari-sempai… I mean, the school would get damaged a lot!"
Shooting him an almost petulant look, Hibari turned back to the announcement system. "Exercise caution when removing the contraband," he added into the microphone. "That is all."
'There, will you let me bask in my successful defense of my territory now?' his dirty look seemed to say.
Tsuna smiled, a little lopsided, and allowed himself to sag against the wall.
It was over.
Except that it wasn't, exactly.
The Disciplinary Committee eventually apprehended what seemed to be all the remaining stranglers of the Valentino Family, as well as turning Don Valentino and Lorenzo over to police custody. A month passed, and then another, without any further incidents.
Life went on. Haru threw a birthday party for Tsuna, the first he'd had in years. Even if it was just the two of them, he had been so happy he cried. In return, Tsuna found himself roped into helping with Haru's play and mercilessly drilled in the sort of lines he would be performing. In December, the play itself was a complete success, albeit not exactly the way Haru had envisioned it.
"I thought you were very dashing, Tsuna-san," Haru told him comfortingly, after the kids unanimously declared him the villain and stood against him on Namehage-kun's side.
He studied too, under Haru's enthusiastic tutorship. His grades hovered somewhere around barely acceptable, but at least it was something.
He kept bringing Hibari lunch. He kept studying Italian.
All the while, Tsuna kept wondering about what had happened, about why he had been targeted, about how his father might be connected to it all. Lorenzo, the only member of the Valentino Family they had been able to properly communicate with, had refused to reveal anything at all, citing "omerta" — the mafia oath of silence. That was telling enough in itself.
Iemitsu remained stubbornly out of reach.
10 March, Graduation of Disciplinary Committee chairman Hibari Kyoya from Namimori Middle School. Implementation of continued surveillance of Sawada Tsunayoshi outside of school.
"Congratulations on graduating, Hibari-sempai," Tsuna said, after he hunted down the demon prefect in the Disciplinary Committee's reception room. The couches Hibari was so fond of napping on and most of the other furniture were gone — moved to the new headquarters in Namimori High School, where the Disciplinary Committee would now reside — and the room stood almost empty.
There was a certain sense of desolation, Tsuna thought.
"I'm sorry, but I won't be able to bring you lunch anymore, since we'll be in different schools," he went on, despite Hibari's continued silence as he stared out the open window across school grounds. "I just wanted to thank you for everything you've done…"
"The Disciplinary Committee will continue to protect Namimori and all its citizens," Hibari said without turning. "So you don't need to be so frightened of more foreign trespassers. In fact," he smirked, "we will be establishing a new patrol route to better monitor you. You have a tendency to attract trouble, Sawada Tsunayoshi."
'Why do you sound almost happy about that?' Tsuna wondered, his eyes narrowing a little.
Still, he couldn't hold on to his irritation, and a smile spread across his face. Someday, he would get to the bottom of what had occurred. He would find out the truth, even if he had to go all the way to Italy to do it. But for now, he was glad to know Hibari was watching over the town, and him.
Q: The Valentino Family?
A: I don't think anyone is going to recognize where these characters are from. But I enjoyed that show, as stupid as it was. And I needed a mafia group, so…
So, here we have the longer version of Tsuna, Haru and Hibari's backstory! Who doesn't love slow, boring flashbacks?
Some of the details may not exactly match Tsuna's musings back in chapter 9, just so you know. But don't sweat the details!
Q: What's the timeline, then?
A: Originally, Tsuna left for Italy after completing middle school (age 16). High school isn't compulsory in Japan, so I guess this is the point where Hibari would allow it. He messed around in Italy for a few months, managed to track down Iemitsu, but chickened out on actually confronting him. Instead, Tsuna decided to hear to Namimori, but to get the money, he targeted Gokudera's family. There, at Gokudera's 17th birthday party, he premiered as the Phantom Thief.
Then, the Phantom Thief ran around Italy for about 2-3 years, putting Tsuna at 19-20 in the main storyline, 20-21 in the epilogue.
It occurs to me now that I could have really shortened the timeline by having Tsuna leave after his first year of middle school (14), instead of waiting to graduate. So he and Gokudera would have met on his 15th birthday, instead of the 17th, and would be 17 during the main timeline. But, eh. Whatever.