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thousand fahrenheit white hot metal lights ([personal profile] mukuro) wrote in [community profile] khrminibang2009-09-03 10:35 pm
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anniversaries.
( When the day Mukuro might have died looms closer, and Tsuna won't help her free him, Chrome strikes out on her own to find someone who will. )
AUTHOR: [personal profile] eigwayne
ARTIST: [profile] riot_o_curls (link)
PAIRING/CHARACTERS: Chrome, Ken, Chikusa, Mukuro, Guido, Squalo, Xanxus, with other cameos. Pairings are implied Mukuro/Chrome and Chrome->Xanxu
RATING: PG-13




Her phone rang, the ring tone she set for Gokudera. "I'm here," she said softly when she picked up.

"Where are you? The Tenth needs you-"

"Someone else needs me more," she told him, and ended the call immediately. Ken sneered at her and went back to his game.

It'd been the same for a week. She has been Tsuna's Guardian of Mist, officially in the eyes of the mafia, for ten years. Tomorrow, most of the Guardians would be replaced by their younger selves, if they were in the future they had gone to. Even though Boss was still alive and that future wasn't happening, Gokudera wanted all the Guardians in Japan.

Boss's death day came and went. The day that younger Boss and Gokudera would have ended up in the future was yesterday. Nothing was the same. But Chrome still knew what she had to do, because the day Mukuro-sama would almost die at Byakuran's hands was coming.
******

She remembered going to Boss's office last year, on the ninth anniversary of the Mist Battle. Anniversaries were important to her, because when she was young, she never imagined she would have so many to celebrate.

"When are you going to free Mukuro-sama?" she asked. Boss blinked at her, startled from some paperwork.

"Chrome," he started, the same speech he always gave. "Even with all the resources we have, I still can't lift a sentence passed by the Vindice."

A year ago, she had waited for him to finish his speech, full of platitudes, reminders of mafia law, and admissions of weakness. It was a speech that cautioned against action, that recommended waiting.

Today, she decided she was sick of waiting. So instead of sitting quietly with her hands folded in her lap, like the mousy girl she had been when she received her Ring, she cut him off.

"He's hurt people, killed people, used people," she supplied. "He possessed Lancia for years, ruined his life to take countless others. He knows too many secrets to be trusted. He's a monster pretending to be human." Boss flinched at her words, but she couldn't stop.

"I've heard all that, and I don't care," she told him. "There is no reason to keep Mukuro-sama confined."

"Chrome, with all he's done-"

"Xanxus is free."

Boss stopped in the middle of standing. His expression made him look like a boy again, with wide eyes and slack, uncomprehending mouth.

"Xanxus is free," Chrome repeated, sitting ramrod straight in Boss's office one week ago. "Are you saying that his crimes are so much less than Mukuro-sama's? They've both used and killed and betrayed."

"That's... It's different. Xanxus is Family."

Chrome took a sharp breath, shocked that her normally caring Boss would outcast Mukuro-sama like that. She wanted to scream, to beat him senseless. But that was the temper she had learned from being Mukuro-sama; it wasn't her way. She composed herself quickly, making her expression blank as she could and standing up, ignoring Boss even though he seemed as surprised as she at his words.

"So be it," she said, and left. She hadn't answered his calls since.

******

Boss's words ran through her head as Chrome went back to the small flat she shared with Ken and Chikusa.

"Xanxus is Family." Over and over again.

It hurt because it was true. For all the things the Varia captain had done, he had been Vongola before them. In some ways, it had been worse for him- being frozen for eight years and then his punishment for the Ring Battles that Chrome didn't know because no one dared ask. But once his punishment was served, he got his position back. It was a show of the regard the family had for Xanxus that he still lived.

Mukuro-sama was forgotten in his cell during all this, and Boss didn't seem to care.

When she got back to her room, she started packing. She didn't say a word to Ken and Chikusa, just marched to her room and took out a suitcase. She debated leaving everything Boss had gotten her behind, but she'd been on his payroll so long now that everything she owned was bought with Vongola money. So she stuffed as much as she could into her bags.

Ken and Chikusa were staring at her from her doorway.

"We're going to get Mukuro-sama," she said.

"So he finally said yes?" Chikusa asked.

"No. But we're going anyway."

Ken threw back his head and howled with laughter. "About time," Chikusa said simply, and went to his own packing.

******

She hunted down Ranking Fuuta before they left Japan, on the day she would have come to the future. Boss had been silent, but Gokudera called after lunch every day as if he couldn’t deal with her until he’d eaten, demanding she come back and take care of the Tenth. She told him “No” for the fourth time and went to the kitchen to speak with Fuuta.

Fuuta denied her request, the first time.

"How can you ask me that?" he said, uncharacteristically angry. Or perhaps not so uncharacteristic; Chrome knew what he had suffered at Mukuro-sama's hands (ten years, one month, and nineteen days ago, Mukuro supplied).

"He's served his time," she said softly.

"Not according to the Vindice. If he's served his time, they would free him." Fuuta turned away from her to look out the kitchen window. His hands plunked back into the sinkful of water, where he'd been washing dishes for Maman before Chrome interrupted. "He's done horrible things..."

"I know," Chrome said softly, in a voice like she sympathized. She's learned that all on her own; I-pin and Haru and Kyoko, they were all straight-forward women, the kind that didn't bother lying and only hid what they thought would hurt you. Bianchi only had secrets because the topic had never come up in conversation. Chrome, however, was Mist. She lied, and hid, and wrapped illusions around everything she did. An illusion wrapped around illusion, wrapped around truth hidden in illusion. So she acted sweetly to Fuuta even though her mind screamed that she would kill him if he kept her from Mukuro-sama.

"I don't think he should be freed," Fuuta said in a weak voice.

"I don't think he should be caged," Chrome countered. "The darkness these ten years is punishment enough."

She could tell by his expression that he knew very little about Mukuro-sama's captivity, so she spun an illusion of what she felt when he touched her mind from his holding tank. The floating sensation; the pervasive chill; the weakness of his unused limbs, kept from atrophy by illusion and sheer stubbornness. The feel of shackles and tubes and itchily uncut hair. The complete blackness, the lack of any light- not even the feeble moonlight that crept through one's eyelids at night. The yearning to touch, to be touched, to even be able to touch.

Mukuro hated to be touched, and Fuuta knew that.

He shuddered and she let the illusion go. He turned to her, wiping his soapy hands on a towel as his eyes went blank. His hair stood on end and Chrome had to hold down her skirt to stay decent. When he spoke, his voice was flat and distant.

"The number one mafioso most likely to help free Rokudo Mukuro..."

******

It took far too long to get Guido into position, but at least Gokudera had stopped calling every day to bitch at her. Chrome had had to catch herself last week, before she spun an illusion at him through the phone. Never mind that she didn’t know if it was possible; the thought of Gokudera Hayato’s panic seeing Mukuro’s beautiful eye and the black blood of the Fifth Path when he looked in the mirror had been very tempting, almost enough to try it.

They boarded the plane without mishap. No Vongola showed up to stop them. Ken didn’t assault any airline workers. Chrome thought that maybe they could pull this off.

Then the airline lost their luggage. Ken howled at them, in real rage and in getting into his role as a businessman's assistant. Their cover was Chikusa as successful importer Giuseppe Millesemina. He let Ken and Chrome handle details, all the bothersome things, and stepped in when his authority or credit card needed to be thrown around. He stood back as Ken berated the airline employees, a small frown of disappointment on his face.

It was surprisingly effective in getting them promises and free essentials kits, but no amount of Ken-freak-out could locate lost bags, and they headed towards the entrance, where Guido Greco met them, dressed as a chauffer and holding a sign for "Sig. Millesemina." Chikusa adjusted his glasses, but otherwise didn't react.

"Your handwriting sucks," Ken growled, like he had a right to complain, but he still got in the car.

"Thank you, Guido," Chrome said softly. The boy beamed at her, like Ken beamed at Mukuro. She wondered at this.

Chikusa took the front passenger seat, like the affluent businessman he pretended to be, while Guido loaded their carry-ons into the trunk and patiently listened to Ken complain about their lost checked luggage. Chrome got in the back, fretting about her bag. It was all the last minute things. The only thing she was certain was in her carry-on was her phone charger and clean panties.

Once they got started, Guido talked animatedly as he drove, the veneer of the professional chauffer slipping in his excitement of seeing them in person for the first time. He talked about his studies, the Italian scenery, his excitement about freeing Mukuro, the fights he was looking forward to. He liked to get up close when he killed, couldn't wait to see what was under the Vindice bandage masks even if he had to slice it off with a knife. Ken forgot to be annoyed with the boy because he was looking forward to similar things.

"Bonding over mayhem," Chikusa said in a soft, bored tone. Chrome nodded.

When they arrived at the hotel, Signor Millesemina checked in for all of them, a friendly smile looking convincing on Chikusa's normally dead face. He practiced hard for this role; they all did. A tiny fraction of Chrome's power went to making his eyes look alive, anyway, because no amount of smiling into a mirror could make Chikusa truly smile.

She was hoping Mukuro-sama could, though.

Tomorrow, she told herself. Tomorrow she would visit the men who would help her.

******

Their rooms were beautiful. Chrome flopped onto the bed in her single with a sigh. She regretted that it was too late in the day to shop; she'd rather replace her lost wardrobe immediately. But the bed was soft, the comforter clean and warm, and she barely had enough wakefulness to set the alarm. It seemed like only minutes later that it rang out, and she had to start a new day.

She dragged herself from the warmth to the bathroom, and took the longest shower she ever had, except for the one after her first kill, when the blood just hadn't wanted to come off and she rubbed herself pink trying. Afterwards, she walked around the room naked simply because she could. She didn't dare try it at home, not with Ken and his loud disapprovals, and Chikusa's quiet ones.

Then Chrome looked sadly at the one suitcase left to her. She had to put together an outfit suitable to impress a Boss with only the contents of one poorly packed suitcase.

The plain black skirt she found was a little wrinkled, but it would do even if it hugged her hips more than she would have liked. The stocking weren't a pair, but they were the same color, and the mismatched lace on the thigh-highs would be hidden under her skirt. The white shirt was missing the first button and the second was loose. The only bra was a black push-up.

'I look like a tramp,' she thought. She spun illusions around herself, simple ones that only the most astute student of magic (or those possessing hyper-intuition, she thought with a frown, thinking of who she would be seeing that morning) would notice. The fit of her skirt was better suddenly, the shirt had all its buttons. Her jacket, she left alone, since it was a beautiful thing and currently without blemish.

She didn't put it on until after breakfast, just in case.

Guido gave her a look, and she remembered that he’d been studying magic, to unlock the natural gifts that had drawn Mukuro-sama to him. He could tell at a glance that she had illusions over herself. Ken and Chikusa didn't acknowledge her entrance, and only nodded a greeting when they made direct eye contact, Ken muttering something around a mouthful of toast.

Guido seemed insulted by their treatment of her. His eyebrows furrowed and he frowned. He opened his mouth to say something, but Chrome stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

"It's their way," she murmured.

"It's not right," Guido said. "You're Mukuro's favorite vessel." Mukuro-sama seemed to laugh in her head, soft and inscrutable. She shrugged, embarrassed, and poured a coffee.

******

Getting to the Varia manor was a pain, and getting in was an adventure. There were troops everywhere, making Ken cranky and Chikusa wary. All of them were elite fighters proudly bearing the badges of their unit; a lightning bolt for Levi-A-Than, the tornado for Belphegor, two drops of rain for Squalo since he was now the Second Sword Emperor and someone thought they should show it.

A boy with aqua hair and bored eyes wearing a Mist badge on his sleeve led them towards the mansion from the gate to the grounds. He seemed completely unphased when the scenery changed around every bend, going from the courtyard where the Lightning Squad worked out to a rich forest, to geysers of flames to a dead olive grove with phosphorent moss. Chrome could tell it was their guide using illusions to change the path, just to annoy Ken, who had protested loudly about everything the moment they stepped through the gate.

She put a hand on the boy’s shoulder, feeling very much like a teacher. "Straight inside will do," she said after letting Ken squirm for a bit. She was a little annoyed with him for being a jerk already, but she was also punishing herself and Chikusa.

The boy sighed. "And here I thought I was going to get some useful practice."

"The withered forest was quite solid, even though you need to be more careful about glowing moss in daylight," she told him honestly. "But pillars of fire are sort of a stand-by for us; you can't fool someone who sees them so often. You need to add your own touches, your own flair, to separate yourself from other magicians."

"Hmm," he seemed to consider her words. "I'll work on that. Pillars of fire aren’t terribly heroic, and I've always preferred pits anyway." He opened the door for her.

Chrome nodded her thanks and stepped in. She was greeted in the foyer by the Mist captain himself (or her, Chrome could never tell), looking just as tiny and irritable as he had ten years before during their fight for the Vongola Rings.

"I see Fran took you the long way around," Mammon said, as if his trooper often led their guests on an illusionary tour. "Come on. Squalo wants to see you first." Phantasma, in frog form, snorted at her from the top of Mammon's hat as his owner turned and took Chrome and her boys to an office.

Squalo was pacing when Mammon let them in, and he shouted at them for being late by thirty seconds. Chrome suspected that he was shouting for shouting's sake, and not because they were late.

Once the swordsman had blown off some steam, they sat down and got to business. Squalo demanded to know why they were bothering him. Chrome didn't mince words.

"We want your help to free Mukuro-sama."

Squalo gaped at her for a second, and then burst out laughing. "You want me..." he choked out between laughs, "...to help... free Rokudo Mukuro... From the Vindice prison? Bwahaha!"

He laughed from his belly, a full, rough, almost villainous sound. Chrome preferred his ear-splitting "Vooii."

Ken bristled and Chikusa's hand went to his yo-yo, but Squalo calmed himself.

"Seriously, do you have any idea how much that will cost?" he said. "It costs a fortune to hire Varia in the first place, and this is beyond S-rank difficulty. It's suicide, you stupid girl!"

"We've waited for ten years to free him," she began. She'd rehearsed a speech in her mind, hoping that she could appeal to Squalo's pride and sense of loyalty. It was a long shot; how much compassion could a man have after being an assassin for twenty years? But she had to try.

"All that time, we waited for the Vindice, for the Boss, to end his sentence. We believed in Mukuro-sama, and that someday, he would see us again. But it's been ten years and he is still locked in the darkness and the cold, where we can't reach him.

"I was hoping you would at least understand that feeling."

He did, she could tell by his suddenly somber expression. The question was, would he act on it?

"Do you remember that?" she prompted, when he was silent too long. "Did you have hope that it would end someday, that you would get your Boss back?"

"I never gave up hope!" Squalo shouted. "If you brats gave up for even one second-"

"We did," Chikusa said, his voice barely breaking through Squalo's. "When Sawada Tsunayoshi finally revealed that he is powerless, we wanted to give up."

Chrome watched Squalo's face, the emotions flittering across his expression. There, a flash of triumph, something he and Xanxus could use.

'Sorry, Boss,' she thought, a pang like betrayal making her chest ache for Sawada Tsunayoshi. 'But they can give me Mukuro-sama and you can't.'

******

Xanxus consented to see them after Squalo barged into his office. There was some muffled shouting, the sound of something breaking, a low roar of an animal, and then silence until Squalo opened the door.

"He's awake now." He rubbed his cheek, which sported a fresh pink mark. "Go on in."

There was a glass smashed against a wall when they entered Xanxus's office. Chrome and Chikusa ignored it, and Ken made a small sound, almost like he was impressed at the damage.

"You have two minutes," Xanxus said from where he lounged, one hand in his liger's mane. They both looked bored.

Chrome made her request. She reiterated that they knew the difficulty of the mission, the amount it would cost to hire even one Varia. Squalo had given his consent, and they would pay for his time and expenses over the four days, when the plan would be carried out. They would even pay up front for the mission fee, and-

Xanxus leaned forward abruptly. "I know you can pay," he said in that gruff voice. "If I doubted your ability to hand over the funds, you never would have made it past the gate. No, Chrome Dokuro, if I am going to stick my neck out for you, I want something no one else has from you."

She blinked, taken by surprise. Out of the corner of her good eye, she saw Ken and Chikusa glance at each other. She was fully prepared to offer herself as payment, to offer Ken and Chikusa and even Guido, if it would free Mukuro. But she hadn't expected such a request from this man. Xanxus, by all accounts, was uninterested in, or simply too proud to stoop to bodily trade. She decided to play coy for a bit, to feel him out, see if that was truly what he meant.

"You know of course, that you will have Mukuro's friendship, and all his resources and mine if you should ever need-"

"That is a given, in this situation." Xanxus stood, and Chrome caught her breath. She had forgotten how tall and imposing he was when he was at his full height. He was lit by the yellow sunlight through the window, and she could swear she could see his aura, all glowing light and barely restrained power. It was different than Mukuro's power, but she still felt a small thrill run through her. Here was a man who would use her, order her around, give her direction...

Someday, she thought, her desire to please, to be used, would get her into real trouble. The day she met Mukuro-sama didn't count as trouble; he was the best thing that happened to her and she was happy to be used by him. But Xanxus, he would chew her up.

She almost wished he would try.

"Joushima, Kakimoto, take Bester and leave us. Dokuro is perfectly capable of completing the negotiations." Ken protested, but the liger gave a low growl.

"Fine, fine," he said. "Who cares what you do to that woman anyways..." The liger seemed to herd them both to the door. Chikusa glanced over his shoulder at Chrome, but she waved him away. Whatever Ken thought, she was probably safer with Xanxus than anywhere else in the world. He may make her body tingle with the thought of his strength, but she sincerely doubted she would get to taste any of his power. The door clicked closed.

Xanxus sneered as he approached her. When he stood before her, he reached out and fingered the second button on her blouse, the one held on by a single thread and a tiny spell. "You can't hide behind illusions," he told her. "I can see everything you're trying to hide." He glanced down her blouse, at the edge of black lace and the swell of her breasts. Her body tensed, welcoming his rough fingers on her skin.

"I won't be bought with sex."

He meant it. Some men said so, but could still be swayed by kind words and a show of cleavage. Some men wanted to mean it but were still weak enough to give in. But Xanxus said it as a statement of truth. No deals would be made in his bedroom. Mukuro-sama's presence in her mind seemed almost glad that the option was off the table, and she wondered briefly why.

"You seem intent on refusing all my offers," she said. Her voice sounded breathy in her ears, and she hoped Xanxus couldn't hear it.

"The Varia doesn’t accept missions with such a low probability of success. I don't know what you said to Squalo to make him agree to even bring this to me for approval."

Her heart pounded against her chest, less in excitement now and more in anger. He knew perfectly well, and he was still making her say everything. He refused her out of hand, and taunted her. She stood up to her full height, even though he still towered over her.

"We have been waiting for Mukuro-sama for ten years while he languishes in darkness. He only had to wait for you for eight."

Xanxus paused, his face darkening. "You walk a thin line..."

"Do you want me to show you what he feels? Do you want to know the darkness and the cold firsthand?" she pushed.

The Varia captain snorted, dismissing her questions. "I've been frozen before, little girl; the Vindice prison can't be much different. If Squalo is really soft enough to let that sway him then I won't bother fighting him. But before I tell him so, I want to see your scars."

That took her off guard. "Eh?" she said stupidly.

"Your scars." Xanxus reached up and touched her eyepatch, more gently than she would have though he was capable of. "Show me what your Mukuro and that upstart have done to you to earn such loyalty."

She thought of correcting him about Boss, telling him that she had run out on Sawada Tsunayoshi at least a week before, but decided against it. She dropped the illusions tidying up her appearance and unbuttoned her blouse. Xanxus stepped back and watched her hands on her buttons.

"Mukuro-sama saved me after this," she said quietly, her stomach bared. There was an ugly jagged scar just below her ribs from the accident, and a smaller white line from the surgery that removed her ruined organs. She shrugged the shirt off her shoulders, exposing the mark on her arm from a compound fracture she'd gained in a fight with Hibari. Mukuro had stopped that one by trapping Hibari in an illusion and dragging her to the infirmary. Hibari had since learned to avoid being trapped; Chrome had learned never to accept a challenge from him.

Her other arm had a long white scar from sparring against Ken's Lion Channel. Her hands bore calluses from using her trident. She slipped down her skirt to show the strange grooved place on her hip where Hibari's spiked tonfa had torn into her skin once. She turned around so Xanxus could see the old marks on her back from training and missions.

He was quiet throughout, watching her bare herself. When she turned back to face him, he reached out and removed her eyepatch without a word. He was the first person who didn’t react at all to the sight.

"And the brat says I don't care for my men," he finally said in disgust. "Tell that screw -up that I'll be damned if I'll let him take over this Family. He can't even take care of one woman properly!" Chrome once again bit her tongue. There was no point to her correcting his assumptions about Boss.

Xanxus went back to his chair and practically flopped back into it. "Get dressed and go," he commanded. "Tell Squalo to pack. And send my cat back in when you leave." He closed his eyes, either going back to his nap or giving her privacy to straighten her clothes, she didn't know.

Once dressed, she opened the door and petted Bester as he slipped by her, her hand running over his fur. He arched into her touch but didn't pause, instead going back to lie by his master.

A preview then, she thought, of what she would get from Squalo. She could deal with token loyalty, as long as he didn't run back to Xanxus before Mukuro-sama was free. She went back downstairs to tell Squalo he was hers for the next week.

******

"Look, look!" Guido called happily when the four of them- Chrome, Ken and Chikusa and Squalo- arrived back at the hotel. He waved a handful of papers in the air. "I got maps!"

Chrome suppressed the urge to call him a good boy and pet his head.

"Show me," Squalo demanded. He made an annoyed face when he looked them over. "These are twenty years out of date," he sneered.

"The Vindice aren't exactly forthcoming with their floor plans," Guido spat back. "We've all been there, except Chrome. We can see if we remember the changes, before we waste time looking for updated blueprints that might not even exist."

Squalo looked at him with an expression that wasn't quite a grin. "Maybe you're not useless." The men quickly spread the plans on the table and started going over them.

Chrome retreated to her own room of the suite, aware that she would just be in the way at this stage of the planning. She ran a bath, anxious to get out of her mismatched suit. The skirt felt too tight and the lace top of one of the stockings was itching her leg.

"You had a busy day," Mukuro-sama's voice came from all around and within her. "Why don't we relax?" She felt his illusions over her skin, rolling down her stockings with the languid grace she always imagined his hands would have. Her body seemed to move on it's own, stripping off every stitch, even her eyepatch, and then lowering into the warm water.

"Four days," she murmured to Mukuro-sama.

"I heard. Congratulations on securing the Varia."

"I was only able to get Squalo," she admitted with a blush.

"Mmm, I know," Mukuro-sama said. "I think he will fine. I've had enough of Xanxus for a while." There was a hint of jealousy in his voice, and Chrome wanted more than anything in the world to be able to comfort him. She wondered if he would even allow her to touch him if he was really there.

"Soon, my cute Chrome, you will know." The feel of warm, leather-covered fingers trailed over her skin, and she leaned back as if welcoming a lover. She wondered how he could stand to touch her with his power when he also knew how eager she had been to feel Xanxus’s. Her lip trembled and tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I wish you were here,” she told him, her voice wavering.

“Soon,” Mukuro-sama whispered again, soothingly. “Soon.”

******

It was the day before their infiltration when Gokudera called. Chikusa was watching television, some Italian dub of a Hollywood action flick, with Ken sprawled on the couch with him, occasionally giving him a light kick just to be annoying and playing games on his handheld. Squalo and Guido were arguing about the team set-up in the other room as the Anvil Chorus began playing. She had chosen that song for Gokudera because she always pictured his bombs exploding in time with the music, like an old cartoon.

"I'm here," she said softly when she picked up.

"Where are you?" Gokudera's voice came. "The Tenth needs you-"

"Someone else needs me more," she said, cutting off the call.

Ken gave her a nasty look. "I don't know why you bother picking up. You know who it is and what they want."

She made a small, non-committal noise. It was habit, in a way. She was the Mist Guardian, or half of one, after all. The other Guardians all had each other on speed dial, and talked with each other, and fussed about the upcoming dates. The day where they would have infiltrated Melone Base was coming, and after that, the day the game of Choice began. It didn't seem to matter that the future where all that happened was void.

The only date that mattered was the one where Mukuro-sama would have died, and that was tomorrow.

******

Chrome left early, with Ken and Chikusa. Guido would follow later with Squalo, after he'd checked out of the hotel on behalf of 'Signor Millesemina.' They would signal when they were at their first position. Once the signal went off, they would attack from two sides and make their way down to Mukuro-sama.

Chrome wondered if they would make it out alive, even if they found Mukuro-sama. He told her, in that calm, soothing voice that echoed in her mind, 'You will win if you believe you will win. I believe in you all.'

"Mukuro-sama believes in us," she told Ken and Chikusa, seemingly out of nowhere.

"Eeeh?" Ken drawled. "Of course he believes in us, stupid woman. We're his Family."

Chrome smiled in spite of herself, giggling softly into her hand. Chikusa didn't turn from his driving, but the corner of his mouth quirked upwards.

"Che. You're both crazy." Ken settled into his seat, arms crossed, and grumbled until they parked the car.

******

They crouched in the undergrowth, hoping the illusions would shield them from the Vindice patrol as they walked by.

The time was approaching. Squalo and Guido had sent their signal, three short flashes of white light and one long blue. Now Chrome and Ken and Chikusa and the box owl Mukurou that Chrome had stolen from the future would make their way to their second position and begin. They just needed this patrol to get farther away before-

The first strains of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy rang out. Ken gave Chrome a foul look. It was her ring tone for Boss. She fumbled for her cell phone as the Vindice patrolmen froze. Mukurou flapped his wings to get himself aloft, and away from the noise, Chrome thought, panicking. She got the phone out and the owl swooped at it.

The patrolmen were talking in low voices as Mukurou seized the phone in his talons. Chrome choked back a cry as he flew toward the patrolmen.

"Dammit, man," one of them said.

"I know, I know, shut up," said the other. Chrome was surprised by how unconcerned they sounded.

The second took a phone from his pocket. "My wife," he said sheepishly. Mukurou seemed to hover over the man's head with Chrome's bleating phone as he answered. "Missed it," the patrolman said as her phone stopped.

"An... Illusion?" Chrome asked hesitantly.

"He thought your phone was his," Chikusa said flatly, as if that explained everything.

When Mukurou returned, he dropped the phone into Ken's hands before resuming his perch on Chrome's shoulder. Ken snapped the phone in two and tossed the pieces into the bushes with a low growl.

"It's for the best," Mukuro-sama's voice came from the owl. "Really, what can Sawada Tsunayoshi say to you -now-?"

Nothing, and she knew it. She left the destroyed phone where it lay, and they continued towards the Vindice stronghold.

******

Squalo and Guido had planned their attack for shift change, or the nearest they could manage with the Vindice furtiveness. They infiltrated much farther than Chrome had feared before they were swarmed with guards.

"It should be down here," Chikusa whispered during a pause before he attacked, his yo-yos whirling. He had used a fast-acting poison on the darts inside, and any guard that got caught in the hail of needles soon collapsed with a strangled groan.

Ken leapt around, never still enough for the Vindice to close in on him. He switched between Channels effortlessly, with only the barest pause to switch his teeth. One guard would fall, his body mangled by the Wolf Channel's fangs, the next one slashed by Lion Channel's claws. The Cheetah Channel kept him out of all their reach.

Mukuro-sama's trident whirled in Chrome's hands. A stab of her weapon became a shot of light when she wanted to push back a Vindice guard who got too close. Mukuro-sama whispered encouragement in her mind. 'Good. Keep going.'

But they were in the Vindice's base, their only backup a young felon and a single swordsman who were nowhere in sight. Chrome found herself against a small group of Vindice, one of them higher-ranked by their demeanor, even though they all dressed so similarly.

Chains tangled around the head of her trident, threatening to pull it from her grasp. She made the ground erupt with pillars of fire. The less-imposing Vindice backed off, but their leader saw right through the illusion and stood firm.

"Enough, girl," he said. His voice made her tremble. "Stand down now, and you will be shown mercy, with the respect due to you for serving Vongola the Tenth. Persist, and you will face judgment."

"I will not," she spat out, thinking of the dark and the cold and the feeling of floating. "I am here for Mukuro-sama, and I will not back down!" She yanked the trident back towards herself, lashing out with vines of lotus flowers that sprung from the floor and pulled free from his chains.

She ignored a cry from one of the other Vindice, saw a flash of grey that was Ken in his Wolf Channel fly by as she slammed her Vongola Ring into a box. Her trident seemed to bloom into its alternate form, spurred by the power of the box, and Mukurou glowed with his released armor. The owl swooped at the Vindice leader as she stabbed.

They both missed, but the Vindice backed up a step. Not enough to trip over the lotus vines still wrapped around him, but enough to leave an opening. She pressed in, stabbing and slashing with the broad head of the trident.

She heard Ken shout suddenly, a dismayed growl that might have been words.

"Reinforcements," she choked out. Reinforcements for the Vindice and still no Squalo and Guido. She pulled deeply on the power of her ring, making the floor erupt upwards in an explosion of stone shards. She hoped that would give them a few more seconds.

'Do not feel overwhelmed,' she heard Mukuro-sama say in her mind. 'Attack, and you will defeat them.' His voice, so calm and confident, soothed her. She pressed onward.

She ignored the pain when the chains hit her, tore off the manacles with illusory lotus vines, stabbed and slashed, pushed and pushed until she could see the faint shapes of holding tanks in the gloom. Again she made the floor burst with pillars of fire, bathing the room in thick red light.

"Mukuro-sama!" she shouted, even though she knew he couldn't physically hear her. Mukurou screeched. He flew at the Vindice's wrapped face, talons outstretched. There was a sound of ripping cloth and a grunt of pain and surprise, but Chrome's eyes followed the owl.

Mukurou alighted on the top of one tube and screeched again. Chrome took a few running steps, calling Mukuro-sama's name.

"Stop!" the Vindice commanded, and Chrome felt the cold steel of a manacle around her throat. Her brain shouted denials. She was too close to lose now!

Fire that wasn't hers ran up the chain, and she and the Vindice both gasped. The flames were a sickly green color, and shot off sparks as they melted the metal. As the chain snapped, she stumbled away from her erstwhile captor and, leaning heavily on her trident, glanced about for the other magician- for Guido.

He waved both arms from the stairs, seemingly heedless of the Vindice following him in his excitement at finding Chrome. She was about to call out when he stabbed backwards with the heavy knife in his hands, casually gutting the jailor behind him. He grinned as he pulled the knife out.

"Left!" he shouted, waving again. Chrome looked to her left, saw another flash of silver.

It wasn't Ken's Wolf Channel this time. She quickly covered her ears.

"VOOOOOOII!" The shout shook the room, and the Vindice leader, about to capture Chrome again in her distraction, looked away from Chrome to the source.

Squalo stood, perched on another tube. His eyes gleamed and his grin split his face, manic with glee. He held his sword dangerously close to one of the cables running into the tube.

"Superbia Squalo," the Vindice leader said in the booming voice from all their nightmares. He barely seeming affected by Squalo's brain-rattling scream. "Are you so eager to spend time with us again?"

If he was intimidated, Squalo didn't show it. He grinned even broader. "I'm sure you missed me, but I'm here on orders. I can't stay to chat." He gestured to Mukuro-sama with his sword. "That one has served his time. We're here to fetch him."

"Xanxus's orders carry no weight here."

"Oh? Who said the orders were from Boss?" Squalo grinned and grinned, and Chrome was envious of his confidence. Her hands trembled on her staff. She edged away from the Vindice while he was distracted, getting into position for one good lunge with the fan end leading.

"So," Squalo said. "We can do this the hard way, or the easy way." He gestured with his sword, the blade scratched to metal tubing on the top of the capsule where he stood. The Vindice tensed. "Oops. Is this important?" He was still grinning. "I wonder what he did to get in there..."

"I would suggest against such recklessness." There was subtle difference in the Vindice's voice, a hint of worry that Chrome never would have thought possible from such an intimidating presence.

"Sorry. I tend to swing when I'm waiting. Free Rokudo, and the sword stops." He slashed again.

Chrome wondered vaguely if she should allow Squalo more time to do his brand of negotiation. She had a clear shot at the Vindice, though, and took it. She lunged, her fan-style Vongola spear leading the way.

The Vindice cried out as her weapon hit him, pushing him forward and slicing into his side at once. He hit the glass of the tube Squalo stood on and the Varia jumped down as smoothly as if they'd rehearsed the move. The tube swayed in place, the cables coming out of the top making a sickly groan.

"Tell me how to get him out alive," she demanded, "or the next blow will be fatal." She leaned closer, her weight shifting the head of her trident in her opponent. She could see his eye where Mukurou had ripped the bandages of his mask, and she abruptly wanted to tear it out. "Tell me."

He spat in her face. She almost split him in half, but stopped herself. "If I shatter the glass," she asked in a flat voice, "does he die?" She pushed her trident into the glass tube, and cracks spider webbed out form the longest point.

"Yes," the Vindice hissed.

Chrome saw Ken out of the corner of her eye and called to him. "Tear this one down," she told him. She backed up, letting the Vindice drop to the floor. He clutched at his side immediately.

Ken switched his teeth, his muscles bulging into his Kong Channel. He tore the tube from the ceiling, making the cables groan until they snapped. Water first seeped out, and then poured as the glass broke. Ken dropped the capsule.

"You should be more gentle," Chikusa scolded as he came up beside him.

"I don't care. It's not Mukuro-san." Chrome agreed with him.

"Ken? Chikusa?" Guido asked. "If we're all here, who's holding off the Vindice?"

"Cavallone," Chikusa said.

Chrome's heart pounded. She hadn't asked Dino Cavallone for help; he would go to Boss directly. She hadn't hid her movements over the last week, but she hadn't telegraphed them either. Why was Cavallone here?

Ken ignored them both and tore the top off the tube. When he ripped the mask from the captive's mouth, he gaped like he was choking.

Chrome noticed then that he had blond hair, and part of her hoped it was the man who would have been a Funeral Wreath in another future. She let him lie there gasping.

'Chrome. Support me as I do you,' Mukuro called to her. 'Then let Ken do as he will.'

"Ken. Take Mukuro-sama down." He looked at her, incredulous. "I will keep Mukuro-sama from this man's fate," she said, gesturing to the blond as he drowned, a fish out of water. "Take him down."

The injured Vindice made a strangling noise like he was calling out for them to stop. Ken ignored them, following Chrome's instructions. Break the glass first, drain the liquid, and get him to the ground. Chikusa held him in his arms as Guido pulled the tubes from his eye and mouth. The Vindice made one final gurgling sound as Squalo finished him off.

"You shouldn't have done that," Dino Cavallone called as he came down the stairs. They weren't sure who he was talking to, and didn't care.

He was following the Ninth, standing at his left. Xanxus stood at the old man's right, the only one who smiled.

"I cannot cover this up, you know," the Ninth said. Chrome focused on keeping Mukuro's lungs functioning as he adjusted to breathing on his own. She was more worried about the way his special eye looked cloudy than whatever Vongola had to say.

It was Squalo who responded. "They paid well for this. All of them did."

"No amount of money-" the Ninth started.

Xanxus strode down the steps to glare at him, eye to eye. "You can't buy this with money, you old fart! They paid for this with years of their lives, with their fucking loyalty! A dog can only live without their master for so long before it goes mad!"

"Hey!" Guido snapped. "Ken resembles that remark!" Chrome wondered if he'd been spending time with Fran of the Varia to develop that attitude.

The Ninth merely looked at them all with those sad, knowing eyes that marked the Blood of Vongola. Mukuro-sama clutched Chikusa's shirt, his mouth twisted. He knew what was coming.

"You still don't see love when it's before your very eyes, my son?" the Ninth said to Xanxus, softly and full of regret. "Dino, they are under your care. This has become a Vongola matter, and I wish for a neutral party to hold them."

"Prisoners or patients?" Dino asked, and somewhere, he had developed those same sad eyes that marked the Vongola Bosses.

"Patients."

'Patience,' Mukuro-sama corrected in Chrome's mind, and she could only nod as the Cavallone medics took Mukuro-sama away.

******

Mukuro-sama lay, helpless, in his hospital bed, his eyes covered by a strip of gauze. Both were weak from disuse, like his arms and legs, and they told him the gauze protected them from the glare of the lights. It had been months, though, almost a year of slow recovery and physical therapy, and he still spent most of his time prone. Ken suspected they were keeping him weak on purpose. Chrome agreed; the average length of physical therapy was a mere six months. She’d checked.

Chrome hovered nearby whenever she was allowed to see him, holding his hand. Sometimes, he let her touch him, and she ran her fingers over his skin with reverence. She’d been doing it when Xanxus had come to see her earlier, and Mukuro-sama had felt her heart quicken. She was ashamed of herself, and Mukuro-sama was disappointed. Xanxus has merely smiled, that thin-lipped, dangerous smirk, and reminded them both that they owed the Varia before he left.

When Boss entered, she sat by Mukuro-sama’s bed with his left hand between hers, and he stared at the ceiling through the gauze and slowly rubbed her finger where the Vongola Ring had once sat. The callus was gone, now, smoothed away by time and his soft fingertips, but they both knew, and Boss knew. His eyes flicked to their hands and then away in an instant, and his cheeks turned a little pink.

"I'm not blind, Sawada Tsunayoshi," Mukuro-sama said. "I can tell you're there."

Boss seemed nervous. He had been frightened of Mukuro-sama, once, and then pitied him. Chrome suspected he had no idea what to feel around him. "I... wanted to talk to Chrome, actually."

"We can talk here," she said. She wouldn't let go of Mukuro-sama's hand, not until they forced her to go back to her own room. She knew Ken and Chikusa and Guido did the same.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before, but… About that day... Chrome, I tried to tell you the Ninth was coming," Boss said. "He wanted to negotiate again, to get Mukuro out. Because you were right. There's no reason to be lenient with the others and let him suffer. So I called you-" He cut off as she started trembling.

The call that she had let Ken destroy her phone after, it had been for Mukuro-sama's release. She had indebted herself to the Varia, used all their savings, risked all their lives. She had made Mukuro-sama jealous of her weird and dangerous attraction to Xanxus's power. She had taken them into the Vindice prison, killed who knows how many guards, destroyed two expensive holding tanks that they still paid for through meager allowances and odd jobs. She had put them in a situation where they all might end up in those tanks, even now; Mukuro-sama, her, Ken and Chikusa, Guido and maybe Squalo, all for nothing.

"Chrome," Boss said softly, and she realized tears were leaking down her cheeks, soaking her eyepatch.

"Leave us," Mukuro-sama commanded. He sounded stern and angry. "You have done enough damage for one day, Vongola the Tenth."

Chrome barely heard Boss leave. The soft clink of the Mist Ring being set on Mukuro’s table seemed unimportant. Mukuro-sama pulled her down, so her head rested on his chest and his hand was in her hair. She sobbed into his sheets, calling his name and saying, "I'm sorry," over and over again. She cried herself out and lay there, weak and exhausted against Mukuro-sama's body.

"My cute Chrome," he said in that way he had, the one that made everything better. "No matter what, I am proud of what you've done for me."

His soothing voice wasn't working. Her trembling started again and she clutched his sheets in her fists. He held her against him so all she could hear was his heartbeat, real and strong and alive, resounding in her ear.

"I am proud of you," he said. "I need you here, with me."

It was the eleventh anniversary of the day he first called her name, her real name, and told her he needed her.

"I still need you," he whispered, and everything really did seem better that time.
ekmisao: (Default)

[personal profile] ekmisao 2009-09-05 01:08 pm (UTC)(link)
(applause, and more applause)

As someone with Shamal's license I most appreciated that paragraph about the therapy needed after being in that tank for so long. ^^v Beyond that, the characterizations for a group of people that are difficult to characterize, on a good day, is a wonderful sight. Kokuyo AND Varia. And you pulled them off well without resorting too much to their stereotypes. Kudos to you.

The descriptions and the action are balanced. No overload, and no confusion in what is happening.

Again, awesome stuff. Thanks for the read. ^^v
erisabesu: (Default)

[personal profile] erisabesu 2009-09-06 08:41 am (UTC)(link)
Oh wow. What an amazing piece! I love Chrome's backbone here, showing how much she's grown in the last ten years. The comparison of Mukuro's 10 years and Xanxus' 8 is something that I hadn't quite considered before, and good grief what impact. *___* I love the details and the progression of the phone, how she considers sending Gokudera an illusion and then Mukuro uses her phone to cast the illusion on the guard, and then the inverted significance of Tsuna's final call. Guuuuh. <333

This part about Xanxus was brilliant: It was different than Mukuro's power, but she still felt a small thrill run through her. Here was a man who would use her, order her around, give her direction... Beautiful and believable characterization all around.

Wonderful job! <333