Tsuna sat by the firepit, axing small pieces of logs into kindling. As he tore the splinters off the wood, he placed them in the pit and started arranging larger and larger pieces around it. It wasn’t his turn to make breakfast, or the breakfast fire, but he was awake any way.
Today was the end of the first week back on the road. Having been cooped up in a house for 8 months. It was a nice 8 months in a way, having a real address helped them get work sorted and different paperwork they needed for all their travelling. Half their crew were American and half were Canadian. Sometimes you needed to do paperwork.
Lambo had some legal battles too after all, the kid just turned sixteen when they had first found the house and was in a battle for legal emancipation. He had proven himself capable of looking after himself, and after showing proof of neglect, steady education, and even a ‘place to live’ by means of one Mukuro’s family house, the state couldn’t look him in the eye and deny his emancipation. They had essentially neglected him.
But that didn’t mean that the 8 months hadn’t been tense and finicky. Without constant walking and fresh air relationships got a bit tense. Ryohei and Takeshi were out more than they were in after the first two months of sports channels stopped being restful. Mukuro and Chrome spent a lot of time on the back porch watching the animals pace around the fenced yard. Even Hayato got snippy and went for walks to the café in town a lot by the end of their lease. Tsuna kept busy with work in the local hardware store, and tutoring Lambo.
So, as Tsuna blew on the embers and watched the fire roar to life he couldn’t help but feel a massive wave of relief. Forest aerosols were said to do that to a person, but it was different now. They had known confinement again, and now they were back at it. Backpacking across their two home countries.
But something was still different, not quite right. Something had changed, and they were changed.
Tsuna had been walking for almost 8 years now, those with him (apart from Hayato) had been with him less. Though they stopped often in those years to stay in family homes or hotels, it had still been a long time. It had felt nice to have a place to call home for the eight months.
“Kufufufu, Tsunayoshi, if you keep stealing our jobs in the mornings we will feel neglected.” Mukuro stretched and rolled his shoulders back as he stepped from their tent.
They were all so much older now. Tsuna had started walking at 18, and he, Hayato, and Takeshi were all turning 27. Mukuro and Chrome were turning 29, and Ryohei was pushing 28. Kyouya was actually closer to 30 now and even Lambo would be turning 17 in the next few months now they were back on the go again. Time had flown by.
The tent was bigger now, much more so than they started. Now it was shared across five of their group to make the weight manageable. The tent was a ten-man tent with two additional storage vestibules. It had been an expensive purchase but necessary as their group grew and needed more space.
Tsuna frowned at Mukuro’s comment, and from beside him Natsu gave a stern growl in Mukuro’s direction.
“Is something wrong, Tsuna?” Chrome pondered with a frown, Natsu growled infrequently, and it was usually when Tsuna was in distress and he didn’t like someone’s tone.
Tilting his head from side to side Tsuna just sighed. “Wrong is the wrong word, I’m thinking.”
Before Mukuro could quip anything Natsu growled again, and Tsuna had to run hands through the dense black fur to calm the dog. “We will refrain from commenting, since Natsu seems to know what we were going to say anyway.” Mukuro relented with a disappointed frown. “But do be sure to share your thoughts at some point, I’m sure they will require a pool of effort and funds.”
Tsuna nodded, standing to give the fire over to the twins as he took Natsu to cool off. The great beast of a dog didn’t hesitate to stand and come to heel at Tsuna’s side.
Mutual funds weren’t entirely an issue anymore. Between the odd jobs they took during stop overs in towns – which got easier when they started returning to hometowns every so often – and a low-cost budget they didn’t really need to worry. But it was recently (in the last 3 years) that things looked on the up and up.
Chrome currently ran a very popular lifestyle and spirituality blog using their trip to fill pages, her income was pretty settled. She often received PR packages, sponsorships, and a lot of fees were covered by her writing. Every few days the group made sure to find somewhere to upload her content and that was set.
Even Hayato, Takeshi, and Ryohei had teamed up and between the three of them ran two YouTube channels that documented the group’s adventures. One channel was a vlog-style that uploaded once a week, usually featuring Tsuna and the animals and the crazy antics they got up to, and the second channel was a more serious breakdown of equipment, staying healthy and how to pack while on the road or as Tsuna liked to call it outdoor life’s equivalent of a DIY. Ryohei also taught boxing and Yoga in their regular campgrounds and around towns as the came across the need.
Tsuna was toying with the idea of starting a business, something simple that they could do while on the road, but the logistics of carrying products made him hesitant to open a tea shop. He did though continue with his carving - making spoons, traditional bowls/mugs called kuksas and other trinkets like that.
So no, with all their equal input to their incomes – Mukuro helped Hayato edit, and often did the photography and videography for Chrome, as well as sales of herbal and spiritual items – they were sitting well on their own efforts.
No, the problem was that he just didn’t know what was wrong. And because he didn’t know what was wrong, he couldn’t fix it.
Huffing about 100m from the camp site, Tsuna sat on a boulder. Natsu laid his large drooling head in Tsuna’s lap and the two locked eyes. “So much for being the leader, eh Natsu?”
The old dog huffed shifting round to get comfortable while still being in contact with Tsuna. Even Natsu was getting too old to be on the road now, the old dog would soon struggle walking so much, they had pushed it with his breed as it was.
Tsuna didn’t get much chance to mull about his mood because Takeshi jogged down the road with Jirou at his side. “Come on boss,” Takeshi grinned, having picked up Hayato’s nickname for Tsuna early on. “It’s time for breakfast, we gotta eat if we want to make it to the next camp.”
Tsuna just smiled. He would figure out what was bothering him soon enough, he had his family around him it wouldn’t take too long.
It was two months later when the family was settling down in the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario that Tsuna figured it all out. Figured out what was bothering him, what was missing, and what he needed to do about it.
They had just set up for winter camp, a much different ordeal than a regular camp out. They had set up their tent and had the fire blazing. Of course, they were wrapped up in thin layers, warm but able to regulate easily, and had ground sheets and bed mats to keep the cold out. Luckily, it was late winter, and the weather was warm in North eastern Ontario. They had extra warmth from the animals too so there were no worries. They usually had sites to themselves during winter, few people liked to camp even in Canada where the people liked to take advantage of their 7 months of winter. This time however was different. Kyouya was just finishing their site clean-up and Takeshi was just getting the fire a burning when a car stared driving towards them.
Car wasn’t the best description through, it was a small moving van. White on the outside with a pop-top and dark tinted windows. There were stickers all over the back and even more curious were the solar panels on the roof, low profile, but there. Even more incredible, instead of picking a site further down the road, the driver parked just three sites to the left.
“Hey Tsuna, you think they’re UMA?”
Tsuna could see Mukuro roll his eyes from across the site where he was brushing off the picnic bench to bring closer to the fire. “The only UMA here is you. They’re just millennials.”
“Hey hey, just because they have a van doesn’t mean you should Extremely insult them.” Ryohei admonished gently.
“He’s not.” Chrome explained, she was putting all the coats on the short haired animals. She paused, “Well he is making fun of them a little. But there’s a movement by privileged millennials to live in vans and stuff instead of having to pay rent.” She explained. “Because no one can buy a house you know?”
Tsuna let the argument unfold behind him, it wasn’t serious, and it was all in good fun. They’d been traveling for long enough now that Tsuna didn’t feel the need to mediate. No, Tsuna was too distracted by the van. It had parked, and no sooner had the wheels stopped did the door fly open and a large dog bound out.
He was tan and black, a German shepherd (Alsatian) and he barely touched the ground before he started sprinting and sniffing all around the site. He sniffed every square inch of the site, but he did not leave the boundaries. Once he had finished his investigation he sat, attentive and proud by the firepit in the centre of the camp while his owner shuffled about inside the van.
“Looks like we’re all set, Hodr.” The voice of a man preceded the tall, long haired man that stepped out of the van. He was wearing black pants that looked smart – like slacks – but Tsuna recognized travel pants when he saw them. He was wearing a dark red button-up with sleeves rolled to his elbows though, which made him look like a ruffled businessman rather than a traveller. The man had dark russet-red-black hair that that reached below his ears but was swept back, and dark brown eyes. It was when he was pulling on a light puff jacket that the man looked up and spotted Tsuna watching him, a bundle of wood in his arm and Natsu at his hip.
“Yo!” He grinned, big and cocky, much like a cross between Hayato and Takeshi. But it was still friendly. He jogged over quickly, his dog trotting beside him. But like the well-trained animals they were, neither the strange dog nor Natsu moved from their owner’s sides, despite the excited tail wags. “Not often Hodr and I see others out here winter camping, especially not tenters.” Then the man looked at Tsuna’s group again, at the seven-other people and the seven other animals. “And never a group as large as you unless they’re those big American families in those great honking RVs.”
Tsuna laughed then, holding out his hand. “We are quite a big troop that’s for sure. I’m Tsuna, this is Natsu. I assume yours is friendly?”
The man took Tsuna’s hand and shook it solidly. “I’m Kensuke, and yeah Hodr is the friendliest beast. Go make friendly.” And just like that Natsu and Hodr were off, and quickly with the sound of playing the other dogs and even Uri were off into the woods barking and playing, but never straying too far.
As Tsuna and Kensuke were walking back to camp, laughing and starting introductions with the others Tsuna took a quick look back at the van, and the ideas were spinning.
It had been nice to meet Kensuke, the man had a lust for life and was very much enjoying the freedom of his own job. He was a trail guide and inspector. He travelled around Ontario not only writing/rating trails, but maintaining them and guiding along them. He loved his little van and loved his not-so-little dog.
But he’d given Tsuna ideas, and so, the next time the group stopped over in a town for Chrome to upload her blog and the boys to finish their videos, Tsuna did his own research. In fact, for about two months, he did a lot of research when the group stopped by wi-fi hotspots.
He wasn’t entirely ready to tell the others yet of his plans, they were patient, but he could tell that they knew something was up. He was almost ready to tell them, he just needed to find one more thing. One thing to start really planning and getting things moving.
Which is where he was right now, on his own, not even Natsu keeping him company. He had a list of three stops to make that day before he would be bringing his decision to his friends and start the process of change.
So taking a deep breath and rolling his eyes a little at the situations he gets himself into Tsuna walks up to ‘Greatest Hits’ mechanics and rings the doorbell in front of him. Not long after a man maybe five years older than Tsuna walked out with a smile. “You Tsuna?”
“Come this way then.”
Tsuna found this man on one of those buy/trade forums, he seemed to be a real person, and not some hitman trying to steal unsuspecting women, so Tsuna had arranged to meet him. “Chaos, Thanks for meeting here, it’s my old man’s place but I didn’t want to drag it all the way to my house, only to have to drag it back.”
Tsuna nodded, it hadn’t been an issue either way for him. As he walked through the mechanics shop, he was quite amazed by the equipment and different project up on the racks. “Do you not work here?” He asked instead, the man was a bit intimidating, but he was going out of the way to show Tsuna around, so he wanted to try to make some conversation.
“Eh, not particularly. It will be soon but until recently I was focused on other things.” He explained. He turned to Tsuna with a big smirk, his hair curls bouncing as he turned. Yeah, the man was intimidating, Tsuna could only smile. He still wasn’t used to walking around parts of America where open carry was legal; especially when the man smirked like a hitman who knew all your secrets and open-carried a green gun. “Anyway, here’s the bus.”
Tsuna blinked as they exited another door into the fenced compound that Tsuna had seen from the front. Once he blinked the light out of his eyes Tsuna saw exactly what he had come to this compound for. A 42-foot flat nosed bus. A school bus in fact, and even as Tsuna and the man, Renato, were walking up to it Tsuna had fallen in love.
It was a ten-year-old school bus with a surprisingly few kilometres on it given its age. It was also one of the rare hybrid models Tsuna had found. He wasn’t necessarily looking for an electric vehicle, but that it had some electric elements meant for his plans it was perfect.
“-the price, and I can take or leave the seats that are left. The solar are already hooked up.” Tsuna had completely zoned out as the man opened the doors and led him inside.
It was almost completely gutted, just a few of the old dead sitting in the back, there were already wires and some of the interior had been insulated and walled. The man had done a lot of work already, but it looked half finished.
“Why are you selling this?” Tsuna asked finally, he had already settled on it, he already loved it. Renato had been honest, been fair with the price and what he was willing to include in the cost, but there had to be a catch.
The man signed, running his hand through wild hair before swinging his light eyes towards Tsuna. “You don’t half ask the tough questions.” He laughed when Tsuna mumbled something about being ‘sorry he had a list’ before continuing. “The missus and I had a dream to travel around the country, but with a little one on the way and my old man needing me to take over the company there are other things more important; nothing wrong with the bus.” Then he turned to Tsuna with a knowing look in his eyes. “I just want someone to continue the dream.”
And Tsuna smiled then, bright, warm, and without a single doubt. He should probably talk it over with his friends; they should probably look at the logistics. But Tsuna couldn’t think that they would say no, and so with he reached out his hand.
“Well Renato, I think we have a deal. Fancy showing me how this thing works?”
And the man grinned again, large and a bit wild, god help this man’s child.
“I hope you’re in for a crash course, I don’t just teach anyone.”
When Tsuna pulled into the campground at the end of the day, he just about lost it at the look on his friends faces. The only person unsurprised was Chrome, and as it was she was grinning just a bit too please and accepting a wad of cash from Mukuro.
“So this is your project?” Takeshi asked, finger quotes and all.
“Yep, welcome home everyone!” He cheered, so excited that even Natsu barked happily as he trotted over.
“Maa maa, so much work to make it home, Tsu.” Lambo moaned, but even he ran over and charged right inside, curious and excited all in one.
Tsuna just grinned unrepentant as Ryohei walked past – ruffling his hair as he did- curious and immediately opened the hood, Takeshi not far behind with an unrepentant grin.
Hayato and Kyouya walked over next, stopping beside Tsuna as they watched the others pick over the bright yellow monstrosity sitting in their camp site.
“I demand we get a reversing camera for the beast.” Kyouya started, arms crossed even as roll peaked out from his pocket.
“So, we’re keeping it?” Tsuna asked surprised, of everyone he was most concerned with Kyouya’s refusal to spend so much time in such proximity with them all.
He was met with a raise eyebrow, even as Kyouya went towards the bus, probably to check the electrical, “You never make choices like this without us, Tsuna. So, this is big enough to be permanent.”
Tsuna turned to Hayato then, smile a little hesitant on his face. “What do you think Haya?”
The silver-haired man watched everyone crawl all over the bus, feeling the excitement and anticipation in the air. “I think I’d better become an expert handyman overnight there boss. It’s quite the surprise to spring on us.”
Tsuna could only grin.
What followed was 7 and a half months of chaos.
There was a lot of yelling, a lot of grumpiness, a lot of arguments about this colour or that colour, a lot of designs and redesigns and redesigns after that.
But it somehow worked. Somehow, at the end, with Tsuna and a few others laying on the floor of the shop they had rented for a few weeks laugh-crying it was worth it, and it worked. For them anyway, he was sure it wouldn’t have worked for anyone else.
“I love you all, so fucking much, and I am so glad I did this with you.” He finally choked out, looking at their beautiful bus just as Hayato and Ryohei, in all their excitement began the walkthrough for their channel.
As you walk up the stairs into the main cabin, both sides of the stairs had built ins to store every-day coats, pet leashes, poo bags, and shoes. The ones on the left were taller, almost to the ceiling, and the ones on the right replaced the old dashboard, going from the door almost all the way to the steering wheel and driver’s chair. It was low and long, and also included a cup-holder, and a integrated GPS and reversing camera screen, they had mostly agreed to use it for shoes. As well as, on Ryohei’s insistence, a brand-new radio-media player that hooked up into speakers throughout the bus.
There had been a lot of debate about how to design the interior of the bus. Everyone did their own research, and everyone had their own opinion. Hayato wanted to make the bus similar to everyone else’s, with a shower and bathroom, and full kitchen; Ryohei insisted on as much work space as possible; Mukuro wanted as much storage as possible and didn’t care after that; Lambo wanted a fridge and decent counter space to continue and improve their good eating.
It was probably the biggest argument they had ever had.
In the end it was Kyouya who was the voice of reason one evening. “We have lived an alternative lifestyle for so long, why are we trying to be ‘mainstream’ van-lifers now? We need places to sleep and work and store things more than anything, we can always continue to cook and be outdoors as we have until now.”
And unanimously, with some laughter and self-deprecating humour, it was decided.
Right behind the driver seat was a small breakfast bar, barely enough for two stools, but a nice place for solo work away from others. Moving along the right side was one long row of couches split into three sections. The cushions were thick and well padded, comfortable and made for sleeping and sitting. What you couldn’t see was that each one had another section that folded up to make bunks. So a total of 6 beds. At the very back of the bus, two couches sat opposite each other, on either side of the door, with a large wooden table between them. Both couches became bunk beds. This table could be removed and put between the couches and the counters for the final bed needed to house everyone. The back door of the bus had a fold-down ramp that Tsuna had insisted on for all their animals as they got older.
On the side of the bus, where there was an accessible entrance once, there was not a sliding door that lead out onto a folding deck. And continuing up that side was a large L-shaped counter space. The counters were thick butcher-block repurposed from a couple of re-sale stores, at the end of the counter, closest to the front door was a very large sink. A close-to-full-size fridge fit between the door and the counters. All above the counters were multiple cupboards and shelves to house all their food and spices. However, under the counters, other than one cutlery drawer were the animal beds, cages, and area. Everyone on the bus was quite willing to give up the vital storage for their animals, after all they were what made their journey fun and exciting.
The interior of the bus was painted a bright white -floor to ceiling - and accented by the stainless steel of the fridge and the warm wooden counter tops it was cozy. Everyone had added their own colour and life to the décor, with throw blankets, pillows, tapestries, and even hanging plants. And all the windows had think pull-down blinds. Close to the front of the bus there was even a small wood-burning stove for those colder places.
The bus on the outside had few modifications. All the lower compartments had been left as they were, except the ones that housed the white and grey water tanks and batteries, so there were plenty of spaces for extra food, pet items, and all their old camping gear. One thing they had all insisted on was an exterior shower, and so with some fancy engineering between Kyouya, Hayato, and Ryohei, they had figured out how to passively and actively heat the water, and create a folding, durable shower walls. Not only did they now have a shower for on the go, they could also finally wash the animals off. Some of the other additions to the exterior were that a few of the windows were blacked out towards the back for privacy. The only real difference to the outside was that each person (and animal in some places) had been given free range with the exterior paint and so it was a kaleidoscope of colours and patterns, decals and themes. It was perfect for them though.
The only major renovation, that really showed the bus to me more than an old painted schoolie was the fact that the entire roof of the bus had been cut and lifted to accommodate even the tallest among them, so much so that hey had even discussed adding another bed above the driver’s seat at some point. On the roof were all the solar panels, passive water heaters, and even some storage.
“It’s a bit of a mess,” Hayato finished off the vlog, grinning unrepentantly at everyone as they lounged around the campsite, “But it's ours, and it’s our adventure now.”
Kensuke was under his van, working on his water tank which had been leaking the last 300km. It had been about 8 months since he’d last seen that crazy big troupe of friends in the Bruce Peninsula. It was starting to get chilly again. He had to wonder how those wild things were doing. The wind picked up and even with his microfleece, he could feel it.
He was just pulling himself up, sitting on the step of the van when Hodr suddenly perked up, tail wagging and barking in his loud, deep way. Surprised, because Hodr didn’t often get excited unless he knew who was arriving, Mochida stood to try to see what was coming. It was early in the day still, usually too early for campers to be arriving. When he saw a large, paint-splattered bus he was even more surprised. He didn’t recognize the bus.
The windows were darkly tinted for the most part, and it was obvious that they had been retrofitted and added, but Kensuke didn’t get a good look before it was parked, and the big back doors opened, and a ramp rolled out.
It was then that Kensuke figured out who was in the bus and why Hodr was so excited. Lumbering out, and taking a big deep breath was Natsu, followed by all the other animals of Tsuna’s troupe. As soon as Natsu caught Hodr’s scent they were off barking and playing and running around the two sites.
“Kensuke!” Tsuna followed out the doors next, jogging over to Mochida as if they’d planned to meet up. He pulled Kensuke into a hug before gesturing to the bus. “We took your advice, we were getting too old to be lugging around those packs.”
And what was Kensuke to say to that? He just laughed, pulling Tsuna into a hug before moving forward to start a fire just as the others started to walk out of the bus. “Welcome to the van life, it figures your wild crowd would have to go over-the-top.”