Kawahira, in his 'Checker Face' guise, watched the sick Giglio Nero Boss and contemplated his next move.
While the Sky Pacifier should go to young Aria upon Luce's death, Kawahira had found another Sky to take on the burden. One with a much Purer Flame. By not holding two parts of the Tri-ni-Set, Aria would be able to use her inherited talents from Sepira to the fullest and keep the family that Sepira had died for strong.
Not to mention live longer.
Kawahira didn't have the gift of Foresight, but something tingled unpleasantly at the edge of his senses and made him restless. And he hadn't lived to be the last of his people without learning to trust his instincts, as the First Ones were much more connected to the Earth than the humans, and something was coming.
The Earthborn's- as they had come to be called by the time Kawahira and Sepira had been born- acute connection to the fabric of reality explained the why oftheir ability to directly manifest the fury and transformative nature of the elements themselves in their very souls.
Or it had been, until the Earth had become corrupted with lesser species and the balance had been irrevocably disrupted, causing Kawahira's people's march to extinction. Meanwhile the lesser races had lumbered forward gracelessly, unaware of the chaos they were inviting with their reckless disregard for the laws of the universe and nature. But unruly offspring never do listen until the consequences catch up with them, do they?
The modern, watered-down version of Flame users were but a pale shadow of the powers the First Ones and even their descendants the Earthborn had once commanded.
Kawahira was the last and thus the ancient responsibility of keeping the fabric of reality from unraveling across the multiverse fell solely on his weary, jaded shoulders.
So having both Aria- who had been groomed her entire life for the burden- and another candidate- who knew nothing of Flames or the Mafia- as viable options to bear the burden of the Sky Pacifier left the Administrator of the Tri-ni-set with the issue: to take the Sky Pacifier or not?
In the end, Kawahira had little regard for the humans and their silly 'rules'.
The Sky Arcobaleno was special, centrally important even. But Kawahira was under no obligation to tell the other Arcobaleno who the new holder of the Sky Pacifier was- and he certainly didn't care that they were technically the 'Boss' of a 'Famiglia' and the other hundred thousand banal rubrics the vainglorious fools had come up with over the centuries.
Just as Luce went to hand the Pacifier over to Aria, Kawahira stepped in, swiped it, and disappeared before anyone could react.
(He'd never been more thankful that the Sky Pacifier dulled Sepira's blood quite as much as he'd been in that moment, as Luce had been nearly as sharp as Sepira had been back when they were children, and Kawahira had never beaten her at a game of tag back then.
He was also thankful that the Pacifier would keep the new Sky from Aria's Sight.)
The little boy looked at him with eyes far too old for his young face.
Kawahira had had to pull him out of a cupboard.
He'd seen some strange human childrearing customs throughout his long life, but in this day and age, and in an affluent neighborhood such as this, there had been no need for such measures.
"This-" Kawahira said, having taken off his mask so that he could speak to the child without frightening him. "- is the Sky Pacifier. It is part of a system that keeps the world in balance, and needs someone to hold it so everything doesn't die. The problem is, over time it will make you sick, and you'll be lucky to live to see your thirties."
The boy merely stared steadily at him, solemnly attentive.
"There are six others with Pacifiers like this, but they are reduced to the forms of babies- the holder of this Pacifier is the only one who ages normally. You can identify who they are and what Element they represent by the color of their Pacifier." Mist Flames twisted and shimmered according to his will, conjuring up illustrations and visual aids that coalesced on sheets of mist that hung like sheets of crystal reflecting stained glass.
"Collectively the seven of you are commonly called I Prescelti Sette or 'The World's Strongest Seven' or the Arcobaleno. There are seven types of Flames of the Dying Will: Sky, Storm, Rain, Lightning, Sun, Cloud, and Mist." Kawahira pondered his options for a moment before he decided to give the kid the watered down version Sepira had once given Giotto. "Their abilities are: Harmonization, Disintegration, Tranquility, Hardening, Activation, Propagation, and Construction, respectively."
The kid nodded slowly, looking puzzled.
Kawahira sighed, softly enough the child couldn't hear him, before continuing briskly. "There are also Hard Flame Types and Soft Flame Types- much like how…..biscuits are different based on the heat they're baked in and for how long." Given the boy's age Kawahira decided to stay with the cooking metaphor, well aware the child knew his way around a kitchen. "You know how some biscuits are fluffy and others are flat? There are many reasons- ingredients, the weather, how they are blended.- do you understand how the two things- baking heat and time and then the last thing I mentioned are different but directly affect each other?" The boy nodded so Kawahira continued, illusions keeping pace with his words. "That somewhat corresponds to the difference in Classic versus Inverted Flame users."
Considering the kid looked thoughtful instead of constipated Kawahira plowed forward, eager to get this whole affair over and done with. "Each Flame has a characteristic color: Sky is orange, Storm is crimson, Rain is blue, Lightning is green, Sun is yellow, Cloud is purple, and Mist is an opaque indigo. Are you following along with me?" Kawahira had been using his Mist to make illustrations as he explained, and with a bit more effort a book, fully illustrated, popped into existence in front of the boy.
The boy gingerly picked up the book and nodded hesitantly.
"The system that the Pacifiers are part of is called the Tri-ni-Set, and it is what keeps all life on Earth perpetuating- or continuing to exist." Kawahira paused and squinted at the boy, somewhat disturbed that the child hadn't fallen into waterworks or hysterics. "You're taking this pretty calmly."
The boy smiled tremulously at the white-haired man. "At least my life would mean something this way." He muttered, scuffing a sock on the floor of the 'junk room'. "My parents were drunks who got themselves killed and my relatives hate me. At least if I wore your Pacifier I'd be doing something useful with my life. Even if it…k-kills m-e." The boy's breath hitched over the end of his statement. "And you used those pretty Flame-things in front of me already, and Aunt Petunia already calls me a freak." He shrugged, "Not that hard to put it all together."
Kawahira sighed internally, he hated humans- not the boy in front of him specifically, but all the stupid humans around him who made this eight-year-old think like that. "Well, that's not all I have to tell you. Flame users are usually always in the Mafia and they'll eventually catch up to you- your Elements, that is. You'll need to keep your Pacifier on the bracelet I made you- maybe fasten it to your thigh or something- and eventually your Arcobaleno will find you and make a big fuss about you having the Pacifier. To them, you are the Sky and that makes you their Boss, according to their rule." Kawahira's eyes narrowed and he put on a rather foreboding aura before he, quite clearly and distinctly, orated the next part. "By then the Sky Pacifier will have bonded to you and no one- not you, not them, nor anyone else- will be able to take it away from you. To do so would kill you and the Pacifiers themselves will reject such a thing. Violently."
'And I'll be alerted and come deal with the problem.' Kawahira added inside his own mind. He had only had to interfere a few times in regards to idiots trying to interfere with the Pacifier holders and- well, those incidents never ended well for those who attempted to meddle in Kawahira's affairs. Just lots of bodies, blood, and fear with just enough survivors to spread tales of the utter folly it had been to try and separate holder from Pacifier.
Unaware of Kawahira's dark memories the still-solemn boy nodded shortly, his wild dark hair shifting quietly under the moonlight falling through the window.
"However, the Mafia world isn't the only hidden society on Earth. There is also the Earth's magical population." Kawahira didn't mention that both groups- Flame users and magic practitioners- came about from the collapse of his people. Flame users from humans and Earthborn pairings and magic from Earthborn and humanoid beings unions.
Kawahira and Sepira had been the last of the Earthborn to ever carry to term. Eventually the long-lived people had disassembled into the shadowy obscurity of what was now ancient history.
"There's no such thing as magic." The boy said quickly, eyes going wide and his body trembling slightly.
Kawahira sighed out loud this time, he really hated humans.
Kawahira was usually content to just leave his Arcobaleno to their lives once he'd done his thankless duty. But, given the extenuating circumstances, he'd stopped long enough to dump a hefty amount of Mist into the minds of the Dursley family before he left that night. He was an Earthborn, a higher being than measly humans, but he wasn't entirely heartless. And the boy had accepted the Pacifier with minimal fuss, so the least Kawahira could do was make sure that his 'family' treated the child at least somewhat indifferently, if not amiably.
Practically speaking it wouldn't do Kawahira any good if the boy died early from malnutrition, so he'd left strict instructions on how the boy was to take care of himself in the book he'd left with the brat. Really he'd just been ensuring the fetid fleshpiles wouldn't manage to harm a central knot in the tapestry of reality. The elder Dursleys were just about everything Kawahira despised in humans all wrapped up in two wholly unpleasant packages.
As the product of their poor examples the young spawn wasn't any better. So Mist mind trickery it was!
With that taken care of the Administrator had spent all of a moment considering the possibility of magical interference. Then he had chuckled darkly to himself and dismissed the notion.
The Pacifier would protect itself and its bearer from mental attacks, so Kawahira had no concerns about the magicals finding out about the boy's status. And, even though there were some magicals among the Mafia, by the time the other Arcobaleno thought to check England, the boy would be fully bonded to the anchor.
As he stepped back into his shop, Kawahira allowed himself a moment to lament the need to use such a bright, young soul for such a dark task.
But then cold, harsh reality reasserted itself and Kawahira was forced to face the cold, hard facts that had led him to make his decision in the first place. That boy's Flame was one of the purest he'd seen in millennia- potentially even purer than Giotto's had been- and as the Tri-ni-Set Administrator, Kawahira knew he'd made the correct decision.
As a person, though, even he hated himself a little bit at the moment- and he'd had to turn his own children into Arcobaleno over the years.
Harry Potter turned the brightly glowing orange Pacifier over in his hands, the cheerful light it was giving off a pleasant warmth to his turbulent thoughts. Uncle Kawahira had said that once the Pacifier had fully bonded to him it would only glow when one of his fellow Arcobaleno was near, but right now it was stabilizing.
The eight-year-old scoffed to himself and tried to push back against the tears that were forming in his eyes as he thought about how screwed up it was that the man who gave him the thing that was going to kill him was the closest thing he'd ever had to a real friend or actual family.
Harry sniffled and swiped at his eyes angrily. He wasn't going to waste time feeling sorry for himself! Uncle Kawahira had done something to the Dursleys with his pretty Flames and now they were mostly ignoring him, and if Harry only had so much time left he certainly wasn't going to waste it crying in Dudley's junk room!
The boy pushed down his oversized pants and buckled the bracelet-like strap to his thigh like Uncle Kawahira had suggested, grinning like a loon when it shrunk to fit snugly.
It's like magic! Harry thought delightedly, still somewhat skeptical of the whole magical-society thing, but willing enough to wait for confirmation.
With that, Harry Potter skipped out of the room and headed for the secret stash of pounds that his Aunt Petunia kept under the vase in the hallway- he was going to get some clothes and some books. And some clothes of his own from the charity store! And….and….candy! And buy that one nice lady a flower from the corner store!
Even if the Dursleys snapped out of whatever they were in after a few days, he'd have spent a few days making some good memories to fall back on- and he only had so much time to make those now.
The Arcobaleno were in an uproar.
Luce had passed on, but 'Checker Face' had stolen the Pacifier and now they didn't know who their Sky was!
Even more disturbing was that no one in the Mafia had come forward, which meant that somewhere a civilian- like Skull had been- had had the Sky Pacifier dumped on them and the Elements weren't anywhere near that person.
The Pacifiers were connected in a twisted way- it was what allowed the Sky Arcobaleno to Sacrifice and bring back the Elements if they were lost. So the other six- well, seven if you counted Lal Mirch- could feel the Flames of the new Sky Arcobaleno resonating through their Pacifiers, but they couldn't trace them back to their source.
This made the Elements grouchy.
Well, if 'grouchy' could be applied to cold, hard killers who were able to end a person's life with a credit card if the need arose.
"Still nothing, Verde?" Reborn barked impatiently.
"Science takes time, Reborn." Verde snapped back.
The two descended into squabbling and Skull sidled up to Viper. "Hey Viper."
"Time is money, Skull."
The purple-haired former stuntman sighed. "Yeah, I know. But hey, does our new Sky feel-er, childlike to you?"
The hooded baby turned to face the Cloud Arcobaleno contemplatively. "I thought I was the only one who had noticed." Viper admitted after a few moments of silence. "But as pure as the Flame feels, it also feels very childish to me. I believe that our associates are looking in the wrong direction as well."
Skull's lips tightened and he ran a frustrated hand through his hair. "A kid." He muttered angrily to himself. "You dragged a kid into this, you asshole."
"Indeed." Viper agreed, derision coloring their usual inflectionless tone. "However, I don't believe that our fellow Arcobaleno would be inclined to listen to us at this point- not even Fon, he's especially Storm-y right now, so we should keep this to ourselves."
"Conduct our own search."
"Only if you work for free."
"So mean, Viper." Skull pouted playfully.
Uncle Kawahira's book had been a lifesaver, and it was Harry's most treasured possession. The boy had changed a lot in the past few years, and not just in height and weight! He was no longer afraid to fight back or stand up for himself, but he was also much more willing to see other people's points of view and not jump to conclusions either.
There were two hidden societies right under most of the modern world's noses! Who knew what other mysteries could be lurking out there! He didn't want to miss something amazing because he was worried about something stupid- like other people's opinions.
Uncle Kawahira had told Harry that when he was eleven he'd be invited for formal magical schooling, but Harry wasn't really interested in that to be honest. School was even more intolerable than Number Four most days, honestly.
However, he did want to see if his parents had actually been drunks or not, so maybe he'd go for a year? Uncle Kawahira had said that Harry's parents had been magical but had refused to say more than that on the matter.
So Harry was desperately curious on that account.
According to his book, his Pacifier could shatter just about any Trace the magicals could put on him, so Harry would wait and see. But if this school didn't live up to his expectations of awe-inspiring…..well, he just wouldn't go back.
He only had so much time, after all, and he wanted to see the world.
Much to Petunia's delight, Harry had been getting barely passing grades in most of his classes because he'd been committing himself to learning as many languages as he possibly could and learning as much about foreign countries as he possibly could his hands on.
Thanks to some tips left in his book Harry had been able to use his Harmony aspect to learn languages fast. It only worked if it was focused intently, hence the rest of his studies falling by the wayside. Currently he was reasonably fluent in Spanish, French, Italian, and English. Did the last one even count? It was his birth language! Eh, he'd take what he could get. He was still struggling with his Standard Mandarin and Japanese. Trying to read in either language gave him a massive headache, but he was determined, and stayed up late and half-assed his other work just to push himself further.
All in preparation for his future adventures! He might be destined to die early but he was going to make his years count, even if they just counted to himself.
He wanted to experience a Russian winter, see the Northern Lights in Alaska, play with penguins in Antarctica, watch a lion defend its pride in the savannas of Africa, see the Coliseum in Italy, walk through different time periods in Asia, go and explore the Mayan and Incan ruins in South America, see the oceanic islands and explore the seas-
Harry wanted to experience the world. And no one would be allowed to cage him- not even a world full of magic.
"It's been almost two years, Viper, and our Sky still feels childish. How young is our brat?" Skull burst out, utterly frustrated and dramatic as he flung himself into a chair in Viper's Varia office.
The Mist Arcobaleno sighed patiently, putting down their feathery tipped pen. "I do not know, Skull. Our compatriots are still looking for an older teenager or young adult. If we had a name I could find them easily, but we know nothing except that our Sky bears the Sky Pacifier, has a stupidly Pure Flame, and feels childishly young to the both of us."
"Yeah. I knew you'd get it Viper." The Cloud Arcobaleno sighed wearily, running a tiny hand down his chubby face. "And Reborn-sempai has been getting even tetchier about my not officially joining a Mafia Famiglia lately." Skull grimaced and glowered petulantly at his only friend. "I don't want to Viper. I know I'm technically a Hitman now, but I don't want to tie myself to a particular Famiglia, even though I'm not super-strong like the rest of you. I'm still a Cloud, dammit. I might be a pretty carefree one, and an Inverted Soft Flame-type according to those research-y types but I'm still a Cloud in the end and I do not want to be tied down."
Viper's eyes flashed for a moment underneath her hood, tiny fists curling inward in Viper's band of seething, silent fury. "I can keep him busy for a while, if you need me to- you have built up some credit."
Skull offered his friend a quicksilver smile. "It's alright Viper, I'm just angry, is all. Thanks though."
The Mist Arcobaleno huffed, and began to plot anyways.
Someone had to look out for that cheerful idiot.
Harry looked at the giant man who delivered his letter and truly listened to everything the man had to say.
The newly-turned eleven-year-old gamely followed the man- Hagrid- through the Alley and made sure to keep his eyes and ears open throughout the trip.
Sounds like someone with an agenda sent me a hero. The boy mused idly that evening as he absently ran his fingers through the magnificent Snowy Owl's feathers.
Uncle Kawahira had told him- and the book had confirmed- that all Arcobaleno had an Animal Partner. However, since he'd been chosen so young and hadn't been in complete control of his Flame, Uncle Kawahira had chosen to delay that aspect of the Sky Pacifier until Harry had gotten a better grip on his Flames.
"Hello beautiful." He cooed to the Snowy Owl, amber eyes watching him intently. "I'm Harry. I won't be going to Hogwarts, though. I'm going to see the world. Would you mind being my Animal Partner anyways?"
The regal owl ruffled her feathers and gave him an indignant stare, and Harry felt a small pang of loss. "Oh, ok. I'm sorry that you won't be going with me- ouch!"
The owl had reached forward and bit down hard enough on his ear to draw blood, and the Sky Pacifier flared.
When the light died down Harry looked and saw that the lovely Snowy Owl had changed. She was still just as lovely, but now she had orange veins in her pristine feathers- particularly in her predominate wing and tail ones- and her eyes were now a deeper shade of amber.
"Coo." She sang smugly.
Harry grinned, flame bright and brilliant, as he reached out a hand towards her. "Oh. Oh. I've been waiting for you, partner. Let's fly together, alright?"
The owl preened.
Harry's second trip to the Alley went much quieter than his first, but was actually much busier.
He found that his Trust Vault was his to do with as he pleased, so he emptied it and got a nifty pouch that would convert currency as he needed it. The Goblins had been more than happy to assist him for some reason, and so his estate was quickly sorted, meaning that the Goblins would be taking care of the financial and propertied aspects until he came of age.
With his Parent's Will sealed and Harry having never stepped foot into Hogwarts, technically Harry didn't have a Magical Guardian, which allowed him to make his own decisions and appoint Grapplehook his Steward.
(The Goblins were a warrior race, and the Sky Arcobaleno Pacifier was a powerful artifact, older than recorded history. Magical beings such as Goblins would intrinsically understand the burden of such a thing and therefore view Harry as a warrior as opposed to a wizard. Warriors, even those of another race, were kindred spirits. Allies in a world gone soft; drunk on its own importance. A single Sacrifice for the good of all- no matter the species, religion, or creed- was to be honored.)
The rest of the day and part of the next had been spent buying books, supplies, and other things- a lot of them recommended by his new Goblin acquaintances- and he slipped back to Privet Drive for a final night while he waited for his Passport and other items to be finished.
Harry had been planning on travelling the world for over two years. He'd been reading travel guides, brochures, and tips from anywhere he could find. The addition of magic had only simplified matters.
August fifth nineteen-ninety-one, Harry Potter boarded a Holland America International ship bound for Alaska, Hedwig on his shoulder and a grin on his face.
"Ready to fly, Hedwig?"
Harry found that magic was almost absurdly easy once you'd gotten used to the Will required to use the Dying Will Flames.
The wand movements that spells required were fascinating, though, and Harry spent a lot of his evening time in his cabin reading about them. Why were they necessary? Why Latin? Why not Greek or Hebrew or Arabic or one of the Asiatic languages?
Of course, Harry also had to keep up on his other studies given the deal he had hashed out with Gringotts. Grapplehook had requested that the boy stop by a Gringotts location and take some assessment tests every once in a while- promising to allow Harry a small trinket from the Family Vault which was allowed by the Potter Family bylaws- for every grade level Harry advanced.
Apparently there were diaries of past Potters in the Vault, and Harry was a sucker for history, which kept him motivated.
Eventually he would be old enough to access the Vault properly, but until then he was more than happy to do things Grapplehook's way. Harry was positively desperate for credible information about those who came before him.
But it wasn't all time spent in his cabin studying! He had met interesting people on the ship! People with stories to tell!
He was incredibly grateful that the Goblins had loaned him- because when you bought a Goblin-made artifact, you were only paying for 'your lifetime use' not for the artifact itself, Grapplehook had explained- a bracelet that made people not question why he was by himself, as it made his conversations much more enjoyable.
He'd also started to learn bits and pieces of German from a kindly old German man.
By the time the ship arrived in Alaska, Harry had used up nearly seven rolls of film, and filled nearly two notebooks full of his observations and stories.
"Where to next, Hedwig?"
Skull was thoroughly unimpressed by the Carcassa Famiglia.
The Cloud Arcobaleno did not care that Reborn wanted someone on the inside to weaken the scumbags, Skull felt dirty just from being near their Boss.
Skull gunned his motorcycle and made a sharp, tricky turn, moodily contemplating ways to passively irritate Reborn-sempai without making it seem like Skull was trying to irritate him.
The Cloud Arcobaleno was a master at passive-aggressiveness.
So lost in his thoughts, he almost missed it when his Pacifier briefly flared.
Spinning quickly, the Cloud Arcobaleno smoothly backtracked and began to methodically use his Pacifier as a tracking device, his heart beating out a strangely loud rhythm inside of him.
Skull knew for a fact that he was the only Arcobaleno currently in the United States.
That it was most likely their baby Sky.
Skull slowly made his way up the quiet side street, keeping a vigilant eye on his Pacifier, which continued to ebb and brighten.
He came to a stop about a half a block away, and stared.
Because there, balanced precariously on the edge of a rickety bridge, with a beautiful owl on his shoulder, was a small boy with messy black hair, glasses, and the brightest green eyes Skull had ever seen.
The glow coming from his thigh was also a pretty good indication, as well. Despite the dark cloth that covered the boy's legs.
The owl hooted and the boy looked over at him.
"Oh, hello." The boy said in a quiet voice with a British accent. "You must be one of the Arcobaleno Elements. I'm Harry." Then the boy smiled so brightly it damn near hurt to look at and gestured to the owl. "This lovely lady is Hedwig. You're the Cloud Element Pacifier holder, right?"
The Wizarding world was in an uproar.
Harry Potter, the 'Boy-Who-Lived' was dead.
In between his introduction to the magical world and the beginning of term, something had happened and now the boy was lost to them.
Or so they thought.
When Harry had used the Sky Pacifier to shatter any Traces he might have just before he boarded the ship, he broke all of the Headmaster's equipment, leading people to think him dead, the Headmaster included. All manner of tracking the boy magically tracking the boy failed and thus he was presumed dead.
The Invisibility Cloak had returned to its rightful owner without the Blood Wards obscuring him from it. The Cloak was waiting patiently to be discovered at the bottom of Harry's equipment, but that was fine- it was back with its family, which was all that mattered.
It was a shame that everyone simply assumed that Harry had died and that the Potter Estate had entered its Probate Period- the period after a family died out without heirs wherein it continues to be run by a Steward before coming up for auction- because that assumption would prove costly for them in the long run.
Because if magic failed to find the lad he had to be dead, right? There was nothing in the world that could confuse magic itself!
Or so all the learned men and women told themselves, secure in their own superiority.
If they had only stopped and thought; considered, perhaps they would have found clues. A transportation log here, a ticket stub there, perhaps uncovering the stories about the strange young lad who was traveling with his ailing grandfather, white snowy owl perpetually perched on his shoulder.
The Goblins knew, but no one thought to ask them, and they certainly bore no loyalty to wizards.
"Hi." Skull greeted somewhat dumbly. "I'm Skull." He gestured to the top of his helmet as he'd flipped his visor up. "And that's Oodako." The octopus cheerfully waggled an appendage at the boy across from them.
The boy grinned at Skull, hopping off the bridge with the air of someone who routinely did such things, shoving his hands in his pockets before canting his head to the side thoughtfully. "That's awesome. Is that your natural hair color?"
"Yup!" Skull returned cheerfully, leaning forward on his bike to get a better look at the young Sky.
"Hedwig and I were going to get something to eat, do you want to come?"
"Sure!" Skull chirped, pushing back the raging maelstrom of questions and emotions with practiced ease. "Is that backpack all you've got?"
"Ah, it's a special backpack." Harry scratched his head sheepishly. "I have magic, you see, so I kind of cheat a little in terms of luggage."
"Ah, that explains a lot." Skull replied, nodding sagely. "You ever ridden on a motorcycle before?"
Harry brightened. "No! But I've always wanted to!"
"Well, come on! You're still short enough you should be able to fit if I cheat with my Propagation a little!"
The boy pouted at the Cloud Arcobaleno. "Not that short." He muttered rebelliously under his breath, earning him a winged cuff around the ear from the owl.
Skull took a shaky breath and dialed Viper. "Time is-"
"I found him."
"Skull?" Viper's voice was concerned.
"I found him and he's a fucking eleven-year-old, Viper. He was eight when he took the Pacifier. Fucking. Eight."
There was silence on the other end of the line. "…..that is not all, is it?" Viper sighed after a long, tense moment of silence.
Skull barked a short, humorless laugh. "You know me too well, Viper." The Cloud Arcobaleno began to pace, absently flicking his purple eyes back towards the tent entrance every so often. "He's entirely reconciled with dying young Viper, he just wants to see the world first. He's not like Luce in a 'accepting my fate' sort of way, but more of a 'live every moment like it's your last' sort. He just wants to travel the world before he dies, Viper." The plaintiveness in Skull's voice was nearly palpable.
"We cannot tell the others then, at least not yet. They'd try to clip our little Sky's wings." Viper responded flatly.
The Cloud Arcobaleno's lips curled up into a grin. "This is why you're my best friend, Viper. Yeah, they'd try to make him a Mafia Boss because of his Flame Type, but he's- something else. He's accepting and gentle, but he's also got a spine of steel buried underneath all that, he's a good Sky, Viper."
"Then as his Elements it will be up to us to protect him." Viper said firmly. "Carcassa is a negligible threat to the Vongola, send your report and disappear with our Sky. You might not be the strongest out of the Arcobaleno, but you're still an Arcobaleno, and I can track you easily enough."
"There's something else, Viper."
"He's Harry Potter."
"The actual Harry Potter that was recently pronounced dead by magical Britain?" Viper asked incredulously.
"Yeah. That one." Skull replied amusedly.
"Hmm, explains a lot. At least we know our baby Sky isn't one to dance to someone else's tune." Viper mused thoughtfully. "Leave the logistics to me, you just play bodyguard." Viper demanded imperiously, in that bossy tone that most mistook for arrogance but Skull knew to be as close as Viper came to heartening.
"Hm, you owe me gallons of strawberry milk, Skull. The expensive kind." The other informed Skull loftily just before the line disconnected.
Skull laughed. "Sure, sure. Bankrupt me, you miser." He muttered fondly.
Harry had come to find that he very much enjoyed Skull's company.
For all of his plans to travel the world and his lack of previous positive companionship, Skull didn't make him feel stifled or weighted down. The Cloud Arcobaleno had a very dry, sarcastic sense of humor, and was smart- he was tutoring Harry and making his schoolwork go a lot easier.
It was also making travelling a lot more pleasant with someone older and wiser to help with the plans, allowing Harry to slowly relax and just enjoy the places they visited while Skull took over most of the strategic parts. That wasn't to say that Harry was being lazy or anything, but Skull insisted that Harry enjoy himself, and when Skull had finally relented and allowed himself to be paid for his work, Harry had also conceded and allowed Skull to work while Harry did tourist-y things or something non-logistics related.
So, it was mostly due to Skull that they spent their Christmas holiday in the Bahamas, snorkeling and exploring caves.
That was also where Harry had met Viper- or Esper Mammon in front of most people nowadays- and Harry adored the tiny Mist user.
Granted, he was fairly certain that Viper only put up with him because he was the Sky Arcobaleno and was paying Skull so well, but he genuinely liked Viper with her vicious wit and penchant for charging people for the strangest things.
Harry was also vividly aware that these two were protecting him and his dream of traveling the world by not telling the other Elements, which was sort of against the unwritten code of the Arcobaleno, and that just made him love them a little bit more.
So if he slipped a coupon or two of Viper's favorite restaurant to Fantasma or just happened to want to go to places that Skull's gaze lingered on a moment longer than usual- well, that was his business.
Harry doubled over laughing, "Oh-wheeze- my ribs. I can't believe you did that."
Skull pouted melodramatically, "Oh, cruel fates! That mine own Sky should laugh at my agony!" Skull fell back against some pillows theatrically, hands clutched at his chest.
The Sky in question cheerfully chucked a pillow at the Cloud Arcobaleno. "Jerk."
Skull belted out a cheerful laugh, tossing the pillow back with a bit more force than strictly necessary, ignoring Harry's 'oomph' of outrage. "Well, that didn't work." The Cloud mused, looking over his designs and calculations. "I suppose I should start over."
"What are you trying to do again?"
"A really tricky triple-jump, just with some creative flare." Skull muttered absently, chewing on the end of his mechanical pencil as he applied his brain to his current quandary.
"If by 'creative', you mean 'suicidal in its survival chances' then, sure." Harry muttered sarcastically, still laid out on the floor.
"You shouldn't doubt the Great and Glorious Skull!" Skull screeched indignantly, hopping onto the table to glare down at his little Sky.
"Monaco." Harry drawled dryly, not moving an inch, metaphorically or physically.
Skull spluttered, flustered and offended. "There was a legitimate issue with the fuel injector!"
Harry's cocked a dark brow in silent admonishment, resulting in a short visual standoff.
"I forgot to calculate the elevation levels into the jump parameters." He admitted grudgingly, caving under the pressure of Harry's concerned emerald gaze.
"I almost lost you." Harry's eyes took on a pained cast and Skull was quick to hop up into the twelve-year-old's lap, where he was promptly cuddled. "I know that your Flames are the strongest in your generation and you're really good at what you do, but be careful alright? If Viper hadn't been able to pull out that favor…."
"I'll be careful, Harry, I promise."
Harry smiled down at Skull with slightly watery eyes. "That's all I ask. I won't ask you to be safe or give up something that you love, but remember that I'm the one that's supposed to go first, ok?" The young Sky teased lightly.
Skull smiled, but for the first time the full implication that his Sky- this bright, bright boy who loved to finger paint with vibrant colors on plain, but serviceable bed sheets and donate them to orphanages that they passed by; who loved to cook dishes from whatever country they were staying in and feed to the homeless or poor; who liked to try to take pictures of the sunrise and the sunset every day, especially when they were over the seas- would die before him truly hit home.
Skull stayed awake that night and ran small hands through his Sky's hair as he watched over Harry while the young Sky slept. Skull, somewhat bitterly, wondered what kind of wretched person it made him that he almost felt grateful to Checker Face for giving Harry the Sky Pacifier, because the boy was the truest home Skull had ever known.
The Cloud Arcobaleno sighed and tried to force back the tears that burned at his eyes.
"Skull." Harry mumbled, groggily annoyed at missing Skull's customary furnace-level of body warmth. "'O 'eep." A sharp tug on his wrist brought the baby-sized man tumbling down, and he was promptly cuddled like a stuffed animal. "'Night." Harry sighed contentedly into Skull's hair.
Skull smiled and curled his tiny fingers into Harry's sleep shirt. "Night, Harry." I'll stay with you, right until the end.
Viper sighed to herself as she listened to Verde ramble on about trackers and devices and whatnot, prompting yet another fight with Reborn.
The only thing truly keeping her from bankrupting all of these fools for wasting her time was the fact that she knew that their little Sky was safe and sound with Skull- they were traveling through Greece right now, actually.
Viper should have been more surprised than she was that Fon had been the one to catch her in her and Skull's elaborate lie.
"Viper." The pleasantly smiling martial artist had cornered her when they'd broken for a recess and everyone else had all but fled the room and she had pulled out her ledger. "Walk with me."
One did not last in the Varia without a healthy sense of self-preservation, and Fon's Storm was raging in his eyes. "Of course."
They had barely settled under a suitably distant tree before Fon cut to the heart of the issue. "How long were you and Skull going to keep our Sky from us, Viper? We have a right to know!"
Knowing that she needed to mitigate the coming disaster, Viper was uncharacteristically blunt. "He's a child, Fon. He was only eight when he was given the Pacifier, and his only wish is to travel the world. He did not have the- well, most wholesome, shall we say- childhood and is fully aware that he will die young. Skull and I were merely doing our job as Elements to protect him."
Fon was silent for a few endless moments and Viper was hyperaware of her surroundings, ready for anything.
"I suppose," He said at length, seemingly tasting his words as he spoke them to her. "That considering how close Reborn was to Luce and how Verde tends want to push the envelope that I can understand your hesitation. However-" Fon's eyes were sharp when they cut back towards her. "- that does not explain why you did not tell me."
Viper sighed and resigned herself to being unusually blunt for the entirety of this awkward conversation. "You get along with Reborn better than just about anybody, Fon, and he is constantly at odds with Skull. Harry- our young Sky- is quite attached to Skull. Skull had been his bodyguard-slash-caretaker for nearly a year now, and Skull is the one who found him. Reborn has a tendency to hardline and Harry is a free spirit, we were simply concerned about putting you in the middle."
Fon hummed noncommittally and Colonnello called for everyone to come back before the martial artist deigned to speak up again.
"Get your butts back here, kora!"
On their way back to the other Viper was abruptly struck with the uneasy sensation of feeling more like the mouse instead of the snake.
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