|The Distillation Process
Author: coincident PM
Honor among thieves, or something like it. Hibari/Mukuro, one-shot.Rated: Fiction T - English - K. Hibari & Mukuro R. - Words: 3,727 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 16 - Follows: 1 - Published: 04-26-10 - Status: Complete - id: 5927632
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: I always find it inordinately interesting that Hibari is a member of law enforcement. Crazy, crazy stuff. He has to think about this sometime.
It's not messy at all; the knife slides smoothly around his throat and then into his temple almost as an afterthought: one, two, three smooth twists to ensure proper completion, a quick rap to dislodge clinging nerve tissue, and the child falls without a sound. The young woman reverses the knife blade and places it in the sink. She bends, swabs precise touches at the wrists and neck to check for a pulse. Turns back and smiles. Her voice deepens and changes, but her eyes stay the same, one red, one blue.
"Shall we?" says Mukuro.
In life, little was known of the Torregrossa heir except the simple fact of his existence, and at times, not even that; the family was one of the minor affiliates under the umbrella of the Cavallone alliance, and unremarkable when judged on its own merits. Hibari remembers that Dino had occasionally visited them with the boy in tow. He had been pudgy, possessed a moon-round cheese of a face, and looked so frightened whenever anyone spoke to him that after a while most of them had stopped trying.
Tsuna, however, had not, and so it is Tsuna who cries when they receive the news. Murdered by his own nursemaid, he whispers, voice shaking, how awful—
Hibari says nothing. Across the table, Chrome is buttering a piece of toast. Light flashes in neat parallelograms on the blade of her knife, quicksilver competent; at seventeen, she has the steadiest hands of any of them, even Yamamoto, whose fingers now shake over the stem of his fork. She is dry-eyed as well, but then, her eyes are not her own. Her glance finds him like a touch.
Sawada Tsunayoshi mourns, and she smiles.
The Guardians have been sent out in pairs since it was first noticed—or first commented on, rather—that Gokudera and Yamamoto's assignment success rate was directly proportional to the number of joint hotel rooms they'd shared over the span of said assignments. Given the unconventional nature of Gokudera and Yamamoto's relationship, however, Hibari and Chrome had initially eyed one another with some skepticism when they stood side by side, facing the Baby across the Namimori classroom that had doubled as a meeting room then. School had ended for the day and they viewed him through a host of raised metal legs, chairs on desks, watered-down sunlight filtering through panes of glass and turning hazy against the chalkboard.
"Over the next few years, we will be required to take on a number of…special assignments outside Tsuna's jurisdiction," they had been told. "Usually, these assignments are entrusted to the acting Guardian of Mist alone," a nod to Chrome, "but given the unorthodox nature of our situation, I want her partnered as well. I trust you can put aside your differences for the span of these assignments?"
"What sort of assignments do you—" Chrome had paused, visible eye widening at something only she could hear. "Oh. Oh."
Hibari, turning pages in the quiet library of the Vongola estate, had understood much later. Of course someone acquainted with the Vendici would have known the history: one family's rise to power was predicated upon the fall of several hundred others. He had not known, then, of the sheer amount of families involved in the power play, hundreds upon hundreds, some with Guardians, some without, some based inside Italy itself, some outside, some legitimate, and some not. There had been maps with black flecks of ink marking cities he could not pronounce, and once, cracking and shedding flakes of parchment, a charred genealogical chart, down which his finger had trailed until it stopped at the Namimori line of succession.
Now Namimori appears on the maps as a protectorate. Unlike the others, it is cordoned off in swift strokes from a pen which Hibari knows, a ridiculous adornment dangling from its purple body as Sawada Tsunayoshi defensively states, "It was a gift from Kyoko-chan, okay?" There is a thick purple line around the city, and a scribbled capital "V" that mocks the precise lettering of the other claimed zones of the Vongola. During his first visit to Italy Hibari had stared at this map for hours. It had seemed imperative then that he learn every fluctuation of coastline and cityscape contained in that yellowing grid. Once he had traced an imaginary dotted line—a flight path, he understands later—from the embossed star in the arch of Italy's boot all the way to the purple box, envisioning himself like a shaft of light along that trajectory.
It has been four years since then, and he has not returned to Namimori once.
Mukuro visits on the afternoon after they assassinate the Torregrossa heir. Hibari is drafting a letter to Kusakabe, who has left for the fall vacation to supervise their successors at the Disciplinary Committee. Letters, interestingly, are the easiest form of communication to slip out of the Vongola estate, as electronic communication is monitored and aside from Bianchi, who writes love letters to someone living on the next floor, Hibari knows of no one else who chooses to communicate in epistolary format. When he hears the light tread at the door, purposely softer than Chrome's footsteps could ever be, he lays down his pen.
"It's always a pleasure," says Mukuro, "to set foot in this place without the threat of physical violence."
Hibari chooses to ignore this, mainly because he has maintained the same reasoning for three years running, and if Mukuro chooses to summarily dismiss it, he is free to believe whatever he wishes. In any case, Mukuro has been doing this since their first special assignment, and Hibari has never stopped him.
"I'm not interested in crushing your herbivore pet," he reminds him anyway.
"How chivalrous of you," says the other Guardian. He strolls in and takes a seat in the stiff-backed chair across from Hibari's. "You've been taking rather good care of her. I'm very pleased."
"Gratifying," says Hibari shortly. He returns to the letter and reaches for his blotter, only to find it replaced by a glass paperweight that smears the ink across the page. He looks up. Mukuro smiles at him.
"My, you're not going to fling it at me, then? A joy to behold. Have you been meditating, as I suggested?"
"No," says Hibari, although he has.
"I knew it would benefit you." Mukuro's smile skews, lopsided, into the involuntary expression of serenity he usually wears when he is not actively leering at someone—or, as Hibari has noticed, murdering them. His gaze lingers on the spartan furniture lightly, with a disinterest so complete it seems to disintegrate the objects in its wake as it travels. Hibari suddenly wonders how he chooses his clothes from Vendicare prison. Currently, he sports a white shirt with a very particular fleur-de-lis pattern of embroidery on the cuffs, a shirt he knows is presently highly fashionable, having heard Reborn shout at Gokudera for apparently spending an entire mission budget on a similar article not a week before. He pictures Chrome dutifully updating her master on fashion trends. The idea is so ridiculous he wonders if Mukuro has somehow planted it in his mind, then dismisses it.
"Do you have any reason for coming by this time?"
"Yes, actually," says Mukuro. He palms the glass paperweight and, looking thoughtful, fills it carefully with violet smoke. Hibari stares at it against his will. "Although I resent the implication that I don't otherwise. We are partners in these assignments, Hibari-san. Your welfare is my responsibility."
"We're not partners," says Hibari superfluously. He means to imply that his partner is the female, which is in any case far more bearable, but Mukuro interprets this differently, as is his habit.
"True," he says idly, "It is, after all, only one of us who has actually completed an assassination thus far. I suppose the more appropriate terms would be an assassin and a freeloader, then?"
Hibari has his tonfa out at this, not doing anything, just holding them. Even as Mukuro sits in front of him and taunts, there are hints of Chrome, in the way he favors the right leg she hurt during their last assignment, or the clear fingernail varnish he has forgotten to buff from her nails, entering the illusion. Hibari fixes on these and waits.
"Tell me," says Mukuro quietly. "What is it that bothers you so much about these assignments? The deaths—or the manner in which they are conducted?"
"You need to leave."
"Or perhaps, Hibari-san, the fact that you're well aware our dear Tsunayoshi would not approve? It's well that he never cares to inquire what his Mist and Cloud guardians are doing, otherwise—"
Metal flashes, and he has his tonfa locked at Mukuro's neck, just hard enough to bruise. The striations of muscle fluctuate under his hands, a swallow, and then Chrome's eyes are looking up into his. Neither of them move; this has happened before.
"Mukuro-sama," she says finally, "sends his regards."
Hibari strikes her to the floor with the handle of the tonfa. She simply rises and straightens her skirt. "You should answer his question, Hibari-san," she says as she leaves. Paused at his door like that, she looks nothing like him. Her hair has grown long enough to trail down her back, and her skin, when the light hits it, is translucent as tissue, layers and layers of soft white cloud cover over whatever lies beneath it. Skin that is made for red scratches, but Chrome almost never sustains this sort of minor injury on their trips. She is hurt in straightforward ways: bullets to her limbs, bone fractures, once a knife gash all along her stomach, from someone who had realized, too late, that the man he thought was his best friend sported differently-colored eyes. Hibari himself has never been hurt on an assignment at all.
"I will bite you to death if you don't get out of here," he says.
She smiles, bows politely, and leaves.
The tenth generation of the Vongola family had built itself on a sort of inverse net of families, each connected by genealogy and circumstance that he had, at the beginning of those four years, memorized. There was a manila folder with three columns of typeset, surname, given name, location—and in the plane seat next to his, his traveling companion's eyes would glaze over as Chrome probed Mukuro's memory for the accompanying anecdotes and photographs. In those times he had never needed to remove his tonfa. The assassinations were so easy it was almost comical. Minor heirs died in swathes under blades and bullets, their closest friends barely informed of the crimes before they were taken by the Vendici. Mukuro told him later how one woman, upon learning that she was being framed for the murder of her husband, had broken down there on the entrance dock, eventually throwing herself over the precipice at the prison's edge.
"I was not there, of course," he had said, voice amused. "But I thought you might be interested to know, always spoiling for a fight as you are."
Somehow, in Mukuro's voice, the word fight holds the whisper of rustling sakura petals, ethereal and deadly in a breeze that doesn't exist. Hibari has heard that long-ago queens used to distill poison from nectar to dab on the necks of courtesans, so that the venom would kill them even as their minds only perceived the scent. Ancient lands covered with sand, soundless deaths without identifying markings, only open lips covered in wetness. Liquid glimmering on dusky limbs. Into the shadows of archways and the orange flicker of light on the rivers, Mukuro scatters his poisons, a laughing boy offering petals to the wind. Like the queens, his hands are never bloodstained in the end. Hibari doesn't think he'll ever understood the meaning of the word fight.
To fight, as he knows, is to have and to hold. To break skin and bone so intimately that there is blood on one's hands and one's clothing, so that, ultimately, the land to fight for is paid its necessary tribute. A battlefield all gilded in blood, Hibari has always thought, is the greatest of shrines—and also, once he had turned eighteen and lost his virginity, uncaringly, calculatedly, to the Namimori valedictorian—the greatest of bedchambers as well. Two parties, each seeing nothing but the other, and meeting one another without artifice. The pinnacle of acknowledgement, and of intimacy.
As soon as he realizes this, he realizes, also, that Mukuro will never fight him.
On the evening of the Torregrossa funeral Hibari kisses Mukuro. The stones of the tower that the family is named for are cold and slippery under his fingers, still wet with a light rain that has fallen some hours before. Mukuro's illusory suit picks up minute grains of red sandstone. His only response to the kiss is to laugh softly against Hibari's lips, but this is all that is needed; he forces his tongue inside the other man's mouth, coaxes Mukuro's hands to his shoulders.
"I see," murmurs Mukuro, as Hibari pauses to catch his breath. "Biting me to death. How clever of you."
Hibari pulls back and sees an inward-turned look in the other man's eyes, as if he is laughing with Chrome about something or another. He lets go of the suit jacket. Mukuro straightens it as if nothing at all has just transpired. He pulls the knot of his tie to the side with an unconsciously practiced air; it is, at once, the loveliest movement Hibari has ever seen. He wants to reach out and snap Mukuro's small wrists. He wants to strangle him with the black silk tie, or to sink his teeth into his neck and rip his jugular from its place amid the red beating muscles, the only parts of him that resembles human body parts—or are they? He has been schooled in anatomy, and can recall with careful precision Kusakabe's charts of strike points where a blow from tonfa incapacitates, and where it kills. But Mukuro is something not-quite-human, and it's anyone's guess what Hibari will find if he peels back that smooth skin from his collarbones. Certainly not a heart. Certainly not.
Mukuro teases a few stray strands of hair behind his ears, smiling as he catches Hibari's stare. "Well, this has been interesting," he says, straightening his cuffs. "Let's do it again sometime, when we aren't at a funeral, perhaps?'
The sky is all lavender and ragged behind his hair, as if something pure and soft has been dragged along a gravel road. These are all associations Hibari can make, now, the locked car trunk, the gunshot windshield. Rain will fall again soon. Further away from where they stand, in the shadow of the tower, their boss and their fellow guardians weep over a man they killed. To ensure a stable succession, but Hibari knows beyond all shadow of a doubt that it is a stability Tsuna would not want at this price. He is not bothered by this. He has been a prefect, has written in red marks and fractured bones the law of the land. Once he drove a boy's rib up into his lung and watched him cough blood into the dirt, great hacking starbursts of it, and he had felt like a king observing his portion of the night sky. Back then he could still shade his life with black and white, red and gold. Colors he could name. Nothing like the sky now, washing white at the edges like an overexposed photograph and pooling in strange places, the hollow of Mukuro's throat, the cool cupped liquid of his right eye.
Arpeggios of rain patter down the street. In the leeward side of the tower, they don't feel it at first, and then it's upon them, the cool Italian rain that soaks the stones sharp-scented and glittering, but seems to leave the trees untouched. Mukuro draws a lacy black umbrella from seemingly nowhere and chuckles as he eyes the pattern.
"Chrome," he comments, "is so very predictable in her tastes. Well, Hibari-san, we should return. Tsunayoshi will be displeased."
"I'm not participating in this farce," says Hibari. He hasn't brought an umbrella, and the wind presses wet fingers of rain against the back of his neck, under the curling hair there.
Mukuro casts him an amused glance.
"You know," he says conversationally, "I informed Reborn, at the very beginning, that we would encounter problems with this ridiculous honor code of yours. The school prefect, after all," and his words are chilly with effortless sarcasm, "will remain loyal to his darling hometown."
Under his wet sleeves, the tonfa slide, drenched metal sending thrills through his skin. His bones, tuning forks resonating to a new and unheard pitch.
"My loyalties have always been with Namimori," he says, and knows it's a lie the moment it's out in the air.
"Clouds," says Mukuro quietly, "are made of mist. I think we both know that, Hibari-san. And now, if you'd like to stay out in the rain and freeze, that is your prerogative. I am returning to the funeral. The family has lost its son and its nursemaid, who is of course to be committed to Vendicare. We would do well to alleviate their loss."
He turns and walks back towards the yellow lights of the funeral, which glint like fireflies against silver sheets of rain. Hibari follows, and when Tsuna, turning to them, says, "Mukuro-san! You brought Hibari-san back with you!" Mukuro does not react at all, unsurprised that Hibari has followed, unsurprised, in fact, of anything at all. In the next moment he flickers back into Chrome, who takes one look at Hibari, blushes wildly, and comes to stand next to him with her umbrella.
Once he had stood at the center of that purple block on the Vongola maps, with the prefect's emblem pinned to his sleeve the way a crest of honor might be, or, in a manner of speaking, had been, as he had seen in pictures of the Vongola First. He had been seven, and the emblem was made of construction paper and colored pencil, but it had mattered very little, since he had understood that he would wear it in reality someday. It was something he had not considered at the time, that the makeshift badge was something he had acquired before his tonfas, before he understood why he had wanted to bite anyone to death, and before he had, in fact, donned the black-and-white uniform that still felt more real to him than the tailored suit he had acquired since.
In four years he had filled it out well. The tailor had clucked and spoken in appreciative Italian. He had extolled in bolts of cloth the appropriate curves of his shoulders and the smallness of his waist. Gokudera, who had chosen the design, had sulked in the corner. Hibari had been told that a well-designed suit drew one's eyes to the elegance of the bones above all else, and in the mirror in front of him he observed this with cold eyes, all the while aware of the discarded Namimori uniform on the chair behind him.
White and black, and the silver of metal, were all defenseless against perfume distilled from flowers, or the taste, so pure it still chills him to the bone, of Mukuro's laughing mouth. A school rooftop is a perfect square, its lines and boundaries securely delineated, but in the places they find themselves, under tall towers or the cradles of gondolas in the canals, there are no boundaries at all, simply endless running water and the petals, individually distinct, of flowers Hibari can't identify. He no longer knows which side of the law he's on, no longer knows if Mukuro knows either, but he knows, with all certainty, that the Mist guardian does not actually care. He isn't surprised. A criminal among criminals has proven a thousandfold that there is no side of the law; he flickers from one to another like that despicable chameleon, and in the end, because he fights for nothing, he receives nothing as well. He is beyond the law, but Hibari—
Once Hibari was the law, and now, as he pushes Mukuro back over his single bed, feels poison and sweetness sliding beneath his skin at the taste of the other man's sweat, he thinks of his Namimori, and something shatters.
Tsuna is arguing with Gokudera when he walks into his office, and Hibari catches the words Vendici and can't just end the investigation before they both fall silent and turn to him. The Baby's eyes are on him as well, and Hibari knows that Reborn is aware, more aware than he is, perhaps, of what he is about to do. He ignores everything and tosses the manila folder on Tsuna's desk.
"Hibari-san," says Tsuna, confused, "what's this?"
In the corner of the room Chrome is suddenly still and alert, and when Hibari turns to her, he sees that her single eye is fixed on him with a rare perceptivity he has never before seen in her face, until it shifts and changes and isn't her face at all. Mukuro leans against the doorjamb and observes him, not smiling, not moving, his glance against Hibari's as clean as the clack of metal on metal. For a moment, four years are almost validated. And then, as Mukuro's eyes are still on him, Hibari turns away and addresses Tsuna.
"Open that folder, herbivore," he says. "There's something you should see."