AN: So. Another OS. With - no one is surprised - Skull in it. I blame the plunnies, and that terrible, terrible idea of mixing Khr and Ghouls.
Warnings: Violence, gore, ghouls, mentions of cannibalism sort of. I mean, come on. GHOULS.
Like a second skin:
It seems like an eternity, before the wall – door, panel, whatever – opens, and Reborn is pushed outside.
The light is blinding. For a few minutes all Reborn can do is blink furiously, all the while trying to get a sense of his surroundings. His mind is in overdrive, trying to make sense of what's happening. There is chatter all around him, above, like he's a pit and- he blinks once more and registers walls, high walls.
He's in a pit – an arena, more like, with high walls and people looking down at him, whispering and laughing like he's a wonderful entertainment. Reborn clenches his teeth and wishes, not for the first time since he woke up, that he had any weapon along with his body and flames.
He wishes he had Leon, or any gun at all, to bust some skulls.
"Reborn," Colonello says, barely a whisper, next to him, "What the hell's going on?"
"Illegal fighting ring?" Lal suggests, clinging to Colonello – a move that makes her seem weak, something that she will use to her advantage later.
"I don't think so," Fon's voice makes them turn towards him.
The martial artist looks worse for wear – they all do. Dark circle under his eyes, and wearing barely anything for clothing. No weapon in sight, not that Fon needs it. Not that any of them need it usually, except- except that they do. They do, because there's something wrong, and Reborn knows it, knows the others know, knows they all have this dark feeling heavy in their gut.
"Did you see-?" Reborn asks, voice so quiet no one could hear it – no one human, at least, he thinks with dread.
"Yes," Fon says, and the fact that he's not bothering to whisper is like a punch to the gut. He's smiling, serene as always, but it's brittle. "Their strength, their eyes-"
"No," Colonello breaths, in horrified understanding.
But yes, and they look up, horrified and grim. People look back, people in everything – they look human, talk human, laugh and seem normal. Except that some of them are grinning a bit too widely, and their eyes, their eyes are black and red.
Not a surprise, because in the mafia everyone knows about ghouls, and knows that flames are all but useless against any ghoul worth it's name. It explains their powerlessness, explains why they didn't do as much damage as they should, how they were taken by surprise.
They won't be again, but surrounded by inhuman creatures they might not live to see this again.
"The others?" Fon asks, suddenly – they were all separated upon capture, have spent the last few days in flame-restricting containers, in the dark, wondering and panicking.
"Haven't seen or heard about Viper, Verde or Skull," Lal answers. "Only caught a glimpse of you three."
"Same," Colonello says, and Reborn nods in agreement. Fon nods too, and they all share a small, relieved glance.
It's a small hope, but their fellow arcobalenos are their only chance, and if they didn't see them, then it means they might have made it out. They might have-
"Good evening!" A voice suddenly booms, above them. "And welcome!"
They tense up, even as excited chatter rises before everyone goes silent. Reborn and the other three share a glance. They all have seen that the arena is devoid of exit, except one door – and they all can agree that whatever is on the other side is probably bad for them. Their only way out is up. Up, and through an army of ghouls that are here for fun, clearly, in a parody of a high-class illegal fighting ring.
It's suicidal to even think about it, but what other option is there? None, that's what. They can only hope for help, or a distraction at least. But they need to focus, and to expect the less – it means they are on their own, against terrible odds.
They might be four of the strongest seven, but that's not for ghouls.
Everyone in the mafia knows that you don't fuck with ghouls unless you're armed for it, and experienced. Flames don't do much, and the mafia is half-ghoul anyway. All the unsavoury famiglias, and even some of the large 'popular' ones have a side-market for the inhuman creatures. Human trafficking has never been so popular.
So, truthfully, even if no one likes the ghouls, or even the idea of them, they can't do much about them, because ghouls blend in perfectly, and are monsters.
Besides, even if they had weapons that would be efficient against ghouls, they would hesitate taking on so many ghouls at once. They have no idea how many there are, what strength, what fighting style- they are in this blind, weak and unprepared.
"Haa," Lal exhales, and she smiles uncharacteristically. It's not a happy smile, "We're gonna die, aren't we?"
"Probably," Colonello says, with a smile that is so similar it's not difficult to see that they once were both Rains with the same training. "Anyone has any genius idea, or a miracle at hand?"
Fon and Reborn shake their heads, Fon still smiling and Reborn scanning the crowd. The presenter – they suppose it's a presenter at least – is still talking. Inane small talk, thanking people for coming, saying that things will go the same way it always does, saying that for today they have 'special guests' and oh does this make Reborn want to sneer.
Then there is the sound of a door banging open. And a voice that echoes in the sudden silence.
"What," the person that they can't see says, low and dangerous, and yet easily heard, "Is the meaning of this?"
There are whispers, excited but also fearful. Several in the audience are starting to shift, looking restless. Some share anxious glances, mostly confused ones. After a beat, the presenter steps out, eyes black and red, and kôkaku kagune out and ready to strike despite the ghoul's pacifying posture.
"Ah, now, now, let's settle down," the man says, honey words and pleasant smile despite his monstrous appearance. "I wasn't aware you would grace us with your presence, but surely-"
"I'm not here to enjoy the entertainment," the stranger – except it's not a stranger, the voice is familiar – says. "I'm here to get my humans back."
"I'm sorry," the presenter says, and looks truly confused, "What?"
"These humans," and the person takes a few more steps, "are mine."
A few more steps, and suddenly there is purple, and the four humans down the arena still, frozen in shock. Because up there, sparing them barely a glance before focusing on the presenter, is Skull.
Except that it can't be Skull, despite the purple hair and the piercings and the painted nails. It can't be Skull, because the man has black and red eyes, and a rinkaku kagune, eight blood-red tentacles waving lazily behind him. It can't be him, because he's holding himself all wrong, all relaxed and nonchalant, and predatory and dangerous, and like he belongs there.
It can't be Skull. Skull is weak. Skull is their Cloud, their Lackey.
Skull is supposed to be human.
"What?" The presenter repeats, and the four humans can almost feel the tension, the fear in his voice. "That's not possible, I was assured-"
"Whoever assured you that those humans were unaffiliated is a liar," Skull replies, cold and even mocking. He adds, sharp and hard, demanding respect and obedience. "I have rights over those humans. I claimed them."
"Do you-" the presenter shifts a little, as if to attack, but Skull – not Skull, it can't be Skull – simply stares at him, rinkaku flowing behind him and following the presenter's movement, and the presenter stills, knowing that his attack will be met. He licks his lips, nervously, "Do you have proof?"
"Of course I do," Skull says, like it's offensive to even consider anything else, "You could ask Don Carcassa, for one. Or, you know," and suddenly there is a sharp, sharp grin on his face, one that spells danger, "any self-respecting mafia-affiliated ghoul out there."
There are a few offended cries at that, but mostly there are people nodding slowly, or even marking their assent audibly. Reborn catches a few faces that, now that he's looking for it, look slightly familiar. He feels like his insides are made of lead, but doesn't show it. Instead, he turns back to Skull.
Skull, who doesn't look much like Skull, because Skull is the one person that can't be a ghoul.
Except that clearly, he is, and Reborn's brain can't compute. From Colonello and Lal's face, the same can be said for their own minds. Fon, of course, looks like there is nothing wrong – smiling serenely, as ever, and only because Reborn knows him can he see the tension and millimetre-widening of his eyes.
"I can vouch for him," someone says suddenly, and a few more people mark their assent. "Everyone knows the arcobalenos are Skull's." They add, after a beat. "I didn't know those were the humans in question, however."
"This goes against the rules," someone else hisses, angrily, and there are more kagune coming out. "This establishment is supposed to be respectful-"
"Oh please," someone else suddenly scoffs, "the rules are stupid. Humans are food. Everyone should be free to them-"
"You say that because you're pathetic," someone else retorts haughtily. "You can't even hunt on your own!"
And, as easy as that, chaos descends on the upper level. Skull glares at the presenter, who shoots him a wide – fake – smile, and takes a step back. Skull looks like the man is but an ant under his boot, and dismisses him. He jumps in the arena, landing in a crouch, ignoring the battles starting above them.
The four humans would step back, but they have frozen, in a prey-to-predator way. Except for the first time in their lives, they're the prey. And Skull, weak, idiotic, lying Skull, advances lazily towards them, rinkaku flowing behind him. His eyes, inhuman and dangerous, are taking in every detail of their appearances, and what he finds clearly displeases him.
"Are any of you hurt?" He asks, and his nose is flaring, even as he circles them, searching for anything more.
"No," Fon manages to say, sounding steady – Reborn will admit to himself that it's fucking impressive, because he wouldn't sound nearly this calm if he were to open his mouth. "We were uninjured."
"Good," Skull says.
Before he can say anything else, however, someone drops from the higher-level, kagune all out and a snarl on their face – clearly intending to attack. Skull reacts before any of them can. He barely turns, his rinkaku lashing out like blades. Reborn is reminded, oddly, of Oodako, even as the stranger crashes into the wall and four of the eight tentacles follow, stabbing again and again, making blood fly.
Skull doesn't even look, instead looking at them with an oddly normal expression, as if it was just another day and he wasn't currently murdering someone with his inhuman appendages.
"We should get out of here," he says, sounding slightly annoyed. "Those gatherings are always a bother. People all think they shit gold, or something." He rolls his eyes, and behind him they can barely see more than a mess of flesh encased in the wall. "Such a bore."
"I'm not sure I would call this boring," Colonello mutters.
He probably didn't intend for Skull to hear, but the Cloud does anyway, and grins a little. It looks dangerous, with is ghoulish features, but it's so familiar it takes them by surprise.
"Of course you wouldn't," Skull says, and it's amused and fond, "You're human."
And isn't that a chilling thing to say? You are human. He is not. He's a monster, and they've been so blind. Skull gestures for them to follow his lead, and jumps up. After a beat, they do follow him, because frankly they can't afford to do anything else.
The chaos is even more impressive up close, and they stare wide-eyed at the monster fights, the clashes that would have broken anyone normal. Skull doesn't look bothered. He avoids a few flying projectiles, and stops a few more with his kagune. All the while, he doesn't stop walking towards the exit, his eyes on the four humans trailing after him.
Eventually, they do reach the exit. Skull opens the doors, and gestures for them to leave first, scanning the crowd behind them. Watching their back with a small annoyed expression. The four arcobalenos step out, and are immediately accosted by two people-
"Viper, Verde," Lal recognizes them first.
"Are you alright?" Verde asks, almost sounding worried. He glances at something behind them, and frowns. "What's that place?"
"Illegal fighting and feeding ring," Skull's voice answer, following the sound of doors closing. He adds, sounding angry, "Trash, most of them."
"So, it's a Ghoul haunt," Viper says.
"Yes," Skull says. He sighs. "Come on, let's get out of here. We're already attracting attention as it is."
They don't really protest, eager to get away from there. Especially with the sound of snarling behind them, barely muffled by the walls. Barely a step out, and Skull is suddenly normal again, sclera white and no extra appendage, the scowl on his face familiar.
They had barely the time to blink, and Reborn wonders for just a beat if they hallucinated it, if maybe Skull is just- just normal, human Skull.
Then Viper is walking in tandem with the Cloud, shooting a single glance behind them as if to check they're not being followed, before asking.
"I thought being claimed would protect us," they point out, sounding curious and a tiny bit accusing, and suddenly Skull's eyes flash black and red again, a snarl on his face- and he's not human, never was.
"Those are the rules," he growls, clearly furious. "But clearly I've been avoiding this mess for too long, if people think they can just break them." He takes a deep breath, as if to refrain himself from murdering someone. He clearly doesn't succeed, because the veins, dark and unnatural, shooting from his eyes are protruding angrily. "Someone- someone took affiliated humans, my claimed humans, and knew it- because you can't fucking miss it- and threw them into a ring!"
Viper looks quietly unnerved, step faltering for a beat. Reborn is struck by the realisation that it's not Skull being a ghoul that is unnerving them. It's Skull being angry, being so fucking enraged that his voice is more a primal growl than anything else.
Viper knew, he realises.
It feels like someone poured ice water in his blood. Viper knew, is asking very specific questions that show they knew – and isn't it a whole new can of worms to open, huh?
It begs the question of whether Viper is a ghoul too, because at this point Reborn wouldn't even be surprised. Or are they human, like the rest of them, and they simply guessed at some point? Or did Skull tell them? In any cases, Viper never said anything. Never even let a hint drop, let them think Skull was just a weakling and a normal average civilian human.
"Skull," Viper says, cautiously, "Do you know who-?"
"No, not yet," Skull says, guessing the line of questioning. "I have no idea who is foolish enough to dare and take claimed humans, especially mine." He grins, then, and it's frightening because they never saw Skull acting so Cloud-ish and bloodthirsty – he distinctly reminds Reborn of Hibari right now. "But trust me, I'm going to find out, and I'm going to enjoy tearing them apart."
"Do you want me to ask the Varia for information?" Viper asks, then – and shit, they're not even giving a price for said information, the world is ending.
"Nah, it's my hunt, I'll be good," Skull says, but he looks a bit more relaxed, and sends an oddly pleased look at Viper. His eyes are back to normal. "Thank you for the offer, though."
Viper only nods, and Skull's expression turns fond. The Mist clearly knows what it means, because they huff and nod, and Skull grins, all of his anger seemingly forgotten as he suddenly pounces on the miser.
Reborn is pretty sure he's not the only one tensing, mind going for a second to the worst conclusion – thinking that Skull is attacking Viper, because that's what Ghouls do, isn't it.
But then Skull's arms just wrap around Viper's shoulders and neck, and he puts his chin on the Mist's head, in a way that is familiar. Skull can become oddly tactile, they have learned, and if let would hang on them like a huge, gangly, purple, human shaped leech. Viper's posture clearly show that they aren't nervous, tense or uncomfortable, just long-suffering.
Why wouldn't they? Reborn thinks a bit hysterically. After all, Skull has always done this. The only thing that has changed is that they know.
"Speaking of the Varia, though," Skull goes on, looking more relaxed now, hanging from Viper like a weird coat, "Would it bother you to stay at Varia HQ while I'm hunting those bastards? I would feel more comfortable, knowing you're safe."
"It wouldn't bother me, personally," Viper gives a tiny shrug. They turn, slightly, towards the rest of the group. "And I'm sure Xanxus wouldn't mind lending a few rooms for the others."
"Neat," Skull says, grinning a bit, and turns to them, "Would that be alright with you, guys?"
"Staying at the Varia?" Verde is the one to ask, frowning a bit – clearly, he is less unsettled than the rest of them, minus Viper, probably because he had more time to adjust. "What for?"
"Well, for my peace of mind, for one," Skull answers, "I dislike hunting with only half my mind focused on the task, and if I'm worried about your safety it'll be a bother." He gives a shrug. "I trust the Varia to keep an eye on you, and to keep anyone that would want to hurt you from doing so."
"They'd probably enjoy the challenge," Viper says.
"...They'll keep us safe?" Verde asks.
Skull frowns, clearly wanting to say something to that but not sure how to formulate it. Viper, somehow, seems to know exactly what it is. Probably feeling him tense against their back. They interrupt.
"Skull is the one keeping us safe," they say simply, "the Varia is just additional security."
"Aw," the Cloud says, expression clearing and relaxing again, "You say the sweetest things."
Viper snorts, but doesn't answer. Verde looks a bit cautious, but eventually nods silently.
"I would agree with it, then," he says.
Skull's answering beaming smile is frankly a bit disturbing, when one knows how monstrous he looked a few minutes before. Still, Verde doesn't comment, simply turning his gaze away and pushing his glasses up his nose. Skull still looks really pleased.
He turns his gaze to the others, and Reborn really isn't sure of what he's supposed to do or say. His mind is muddled, too many contradicting information at war there.
As always, Fon seems to be the one collected enough to answer first.
"I'll agree with it too," he says simply. And he looks at Lal, Colonello and him, and adds. "And I'm sure the others agree, right?"
Lal and Colonello nod, wordlessly. Reborn, after a beat, does the same.
At this point, he's pretty sure he's not in the right mind to make good decisions. And if the others agree, then he'll agree too.
Skull looks even more pleased, and make an odd sound that reminds him of a pleased cat. Almost a purr.
"Great," he says, "It's a plan, then!"
In hindsight, Reborn feels he shouldn't have been surprised to learn that most of the Varia operatives are ghouls. A bloodthirsty assassination squad is probably the best cover ever invented for a bunch of equally bloodthirsty human-eating monsters. Really, even just Belphegor should have been a hint – the guy never shows his eyes, and goes nuts at the sight of human blood, how did he miss this. And that's not mentioning the other psychos in the Varia.
And yet only willpower prevents him from gaping unattractively at Squalo, when the swordsman suddenly snarls, eyes shifting for the briefest moment into something dark and inhuman, a sword like appendage growing from his back.
"They what!" Squalo growls, and his eyes shift from Skull to take in Viper first, then the rest of the Arcobalenos, who are all standing there, watching warily. "No one's hurt?"
"No," Skull says, and his expression is too calm, too human, when barely an hour before he was just as snarly and inhuman as Squalo is right now. He gives a wicked smile, then, all teeth and no joy, "But whoever dared to even think about it is about to regret being born."
"Ha, yeah!" Squalo grins, and abruptly he's human again, looking a bit more relaxed. He waves a hand, "Don't worry, you, we'll find them a room somewhere for the time it takes you to hunt down the bastard. And if you need help-"
"I'll call, but I doubt it," Skull says simply. He gives Squalo a serious look. "Thanks for this."
"Hey, you know how it is," Squalo replies, shrugging. He grins sharply, "But if you want to repay the favour, Xanxus is still looking for a Cloud…"
He trails off, suggestively, but Skull only laughs. Squalo doesn't look surprised or disappointed, making it clear that it's a familiar joke between them – or maybe not just a joke, but right now Reborn can't stand to think of Skull as the Varia Cloud, his world view has already tilted too much on it's axis.
Skull finally leaves, as does Squalo – the swordsman muttering something about warning Xanxus and paperwork, leaving Viper to guide them. The illusionist does, easily stepping into the large building, beckoning them to follow. They barely cross a corridor before they meet another person, and this time Reborn is expecting it.
It doesn't make it less frightening to suddenly see a perfectly normal woman suddenly shift, black-and-red eyes and kagune twisting around her shoulder, turning to them sharply. They all freeze except for Viper, who scowls at the ghoul.
"Stop frightening the guests," they reprimand sharply.
"Sorry, sorry," the ghoul hums, and takes a deep whiff of air, then makes a face that might be a pout. "Aw, claimed, all of you? Shame."
"Yes, now get lost," Viper huffs, "Or pay me for the lost time."
The ghoul grins, loosing all inhuman looks in a blink, and skips ahead, leaving them behind. Viper mutters something probably greedy and uncharitable, and starts walking again. It's only a few seconds later that Lal clears her throat and asks with deceptive mildness.
"There are a lot of ghouls around, then?" She asks.
"Most of the Varia are ghouls, yes," Viper confirms that doubt. "The few that aren't are claimed humans, and aware of it."
"You seem to have been aware of this before us," Verde points out slowly. "I've been wondering about it. Did Skull tell you?"
"Are you telling me you never thought Skull's reaction to anything ghoul related was odd?" Viper asks, tone just shy of incredulous.
Verde blinks, and then suddenly understanding dawns. Not only for the scientist, but also for the rest of them, and Reborn can see Colonello mouth 'motherfucker-' out of the corner of his eye. Not that he blames him, as suddenly his mind his reeling, and going back to every conversation they ever had with Skull, every mention of ghouls and-
"Ah," Fon says, mildly, "We've been quite blind."
That, Reborn thinks dryly, is the understatement of the fucking century. A blind man might have seen it coming, while they assumed. Wrongly assumed.
It's one of the first and most important rules – never make assumptions, it'll get you killed – and yet they all did it, like morons.
Skull always was very nervous when the topic of ghouls came up, always looked faintly scared, especially in the beginning. He always paled a little more, and made himself scarce when they spoke of ghoul attacks, too.
They assumed he just had a rather healthy fear of ghouls.
Then, a bit later, he had thoughtlessly answered a query about ghouls, telling them about a bit of information that had been rather surprising, but logical, and that none of them knew. They had written it off as a fluke, or something he'd read around. But then another time Verde has asked something pretty specific, and Skull had gone into a very detailed explanation of kagune variations.
("You know a lot about this," Colonello had said, impressed.
"Ah, yeah?" Skull had blinked at him. Then, with a rather wry smile, he had said, "I mean, I thought it was pretty common knowledge.")
...Hindsight suddenly gave a whole new meaning to that shit-eating grin. What a bastard.
After that, Skull had become their go-to informant on ghoul matter, because he knew quite a lot, and always followed the news on ghoul attacks and rumours and other things – places to avoid, regions to go, behaviour to be cautious of.
They had assumed it was a hobby of his, or simply a sort of cautious paranoia pushing him – since he was so clearly afraid of ghouls, it made sense that he tried to learn all he could, in a 'know thy enemy' type of deal, right?
They had been so fucking damn blind.
"Well," Reborn says dryly, "I think that what they call 'missing the obvious'."
"Yeah," Colonello mutters, looking as annoyed with himself as Reborn feels. "Fucking hell."
Reborn hums a little, not missing the tiny smirk that Viper is sporting. He narrows his eyes. The illusionist clearly knew before them, and is taking a lot of pleasure in seeing them going from shock to shock. But-
"It doesn't answer the question," he points out after a beat, looking at Viper, "How did you know?"
"…Skull told me, in a way," Viper admits, reluctantly. They huff, "When I joined the Varia, I was one of the few humans in there. I didn't know anything about claiming rules, then-"
"About that," Lal cut in, frowning, "what exactly is this about 'claims'?"
"I was coming to that," Viper tells Lal, sounding annoyed. Lal makes a tiny apologetic gestures, and Viper goes on, "I didn't know about it, until one day I saw a new prospective agent get dragged into a room for, well-" they make a vague gesture- "lunch."
Right, Reborn thinks distantly, ghoul lunch. What a glamorous end. He almost wants to ask if that's something that happens often here, the ghouls operative dragging the human ones to eat them. It certainly would explain the Varia being understaffed.
Next to him, both Lal and Colonello look faintly green at the thought, and even Verde looks faintly disturbed. Fon, still mild, is not smiling at all, his face frozen into something rather neutral.
"Obviously, I wondered why no one had actually even attempted to grab me or another of the human operatives," Viper goes on. "So I asked. The thing is, ghouls have a code of conduct, of sorts. Given that they are hunters, and territorial bastards, if they all started to fight over food, it wouldn't end well."
That's certainly one way to put it. Fighting over food. Reborn finds himself wondering if Viper hasn't gone a bit crazy, spending so much time around ghouls. They certainly have picked up disturbing speech patterns.
"So ghouls have a way to mark their territory, mostly," Viper says, "Skull explained that one, I think."
They all nod, because they remember that one conversation. Something about how ghouls can avoid getting into fights, if they suddenly find themselves hunting the same human in a dark alley or something. Apparently, to avoid stepping on some toes, ghouls try to divide places in blocks, and to keep to said block as hunting ground.
Of course, most ghouls don't really mind another one trespassing on their territory, as long as they are polite about it and don't leave a mess. Or that's how Skull put it, and really, how did they miss it, it's so obvious he's a ghoul.
"I was under the impression that ghouls didn't care that much about infringing on territory," Verde says, which is a good summary of all their thoughts, Reborn thinks.
"Not on geographic territory, no," Viper confirms, "But people? That's different. For all our differences, ghouls look and act mostly human most of the time. So obviously, just like anyone else, they socialize, make friends, and sometimes even fall in love with humans." They smile a bit wryly. "That's where it can get ugly. If a ghoul accidentally ate a human that was precious to another ghoul, there would be more than a little blood shed for that. Ghouls are vindictive, petty shits, and if one offends another, they go out of their way to retaliate – but ten times worse."
"What you're saying is that if a ghoul killed the human friend of another ghoul, said ghoul would go kill all of that other ghoul's friends," Lal says, dry as dust.
"And then eat them in front of the ghoul, and then murder them too," Viper says, just as dry. "Yes."
Alright, vindictive fits. And clearly, Reborn is rather glad that there's somehow a rule to prevent that, because otherwise he can easily see how it would escalate. An all out ghoul war isn't something anyone sane would like to see.
"Which brings us back to claims," Viper says, "Ghouls mark the humans they count as theirs, be it friend or food. Claiming them. I'm not sure what trace is left, but it's something that apparently none of them can miss. It's the one golden rule – you don't attack a claimed human that isn't yours, if you don't want you and yours to end up dead." They shrug. "Obviously, only one ghoul can claim a human."
"So, that's why you and the other humans in the Varia never get attacked?" Fon asks.
"Yes," Viper nods. "Someone explained to me what a claim was. By this point I had been in the Varia for a few years, so I didn't know when or who had claimed me. I spent a lot of time just asking around, but no one knew. Eventually I asked Tyr-" of course he was a ghoul, Reborn thinks with exasperation- "Who told me that I had been claimed before entering the Varia. So I just gave up, and didn't really think about it, since it was just useful."
"Then why did Skull tell you?" Lal asks, frowning a bit. "Did you ask him?"
"No," Viper drawls, looking faintly exasperated, "Xanxus wanted to harmonize with me, but since I was claimed by another ghoul he couldn't without it being seen as him infringing. So he and the others went on a merry hunt, found out the rumours of the Arcobalenos all being claimed by the same ghoul, and came back." They huffed. "I was pretty surprised to learn that apparently Skull was the one that had claimed us. So I called him, he came over, and Xanxus and him got into a fight that Skull won easily."
Reborn isn't the only one to choke. Next to him, Fon stumbles a little, and both Lal and Colonello seem to have inhaled wrong, while Verde simply looks like his brain is crashing.
Xanxus being a ghoul is far from a shock at this point. Hell, Reborn would probably expect everyone he has known in his life to be a ghoul now, because clearly he's terrible at seeing the obvious. Xanxus being a ghoul and losing a fight with Skull, though? Especially a cursed Skull, since this has to have happened after the Fated Day… Well. It puts things into perspective a little.
Xanxus playing human is already terrifying. As a ghoul he must be even more. For Skull to win… Skull has to be incredibly strong.
It's a novel thought.
"Skull thankfully liked the Varia and Xanxus enough that he gave his permission for Xanxus to court me as his Mist anyway," Viper says, not seeming to notice their reactions. They say wryly, "In their words, I'm apparently under shared custody now, with Skull having priority."
"Right," Colonello says a bit weakly. "Custody."
Viper hums, and no one says anything more.
Reborn can foresee a truly enormous migraine in his near future.
Bonus (aka. How the reveal could have gone):
Ghouls were a myth, an urban legend, the story told to newbies and ex-civilians to scare them.
Skull, Reborn distantly remembered, had been a nervous wreck when the topic had been broached, much to his sadistic delight. What a coward, he'd thought at the time.
Now, seeing him with his deer-in-headlights expression, eyes wide and red with a black sclera, and veins protruding, blood dribbling on his chin… Well. Reborn thought he might have gotten the reason of Skull's nervousness wrong.
Bonus 2 (aka. How the reveal could have gone II):
"Ah," Skull said, looking awkward.
More awkward than anyone had any right to look when holding a half chewed human hand. A hand that he had been chewing. There was still blood around his mouth!
Somehow, when Skull had high-tailed it right after the curse had broken and they had regained their adult bodies, muttering a hasty excuse about having dinner, Reborn hadn't considered that option. At all.
"Sorry, um, for ditching you guys back there," Skull said, still holding himself very awkwardly, as though his eyes weren't red-black. As though being caught eating someone was like being a child caught with a hand in the cookie jar. "I was hungry."
I'll admit to not having reread Tokyo Ghoul in a while. I might have taken some creative decisions about ghouls. But listen. I have HEADCANONS about Ghouls and the Khr world, okay ? So MANY of them. Here, have them. *Throws headcanons at readers like glitter*
Bonus 3 (aka. Headcanons galore):
Thhe Arcobaleno Curse fucks the human metabolism badly but on a ghoul ? It does a hell of a number on them. In Skull's case, the Curse saw him unable to eat anything - but thankfully also cut his appetite. Unfortunately, it means that the moment the Curse disappeared he had literal decades of hunger crashing on him. (Which was what inspired the Bonus 2, but ended up being scrapped).
Skull can actually go a very long time without eating. It ties in with his cloud flames, and his immortality, somehow. He eats one in a while, but can go for years without a meal. At this point, he only eats when he wants to hunt.
Kawahira would have taken Skull as an Arcobaleno for previous generations sooner, if Skull hadn't been a ghoul. He didn't know how the Curse would affect a ghoul, and didn't know if it would even work. He didn't want to risk it. The only reason he did it that time was because he was getting desperate.
Skull actually has one hell of a reputation in the ghoul community as THAT ONE ghoul that no one really sees or knows personally but everyone knows because he's been there longer than everyone else. There are rumours about him. On rumours says that he's one of the very first ghouls ever, but no one can prove it. Another rumour says he's the strongest ghoul in the world. (He's not, but he's older than everyone and thus has more experience. He's also the strongest Cloud ever, which coupled with ghoul abilities make him quite a beast. Thankfully, he's not as bloodthirsty as some.)
When he was young, Skull was actually a lot less controlled. He used to be very bloodthirsty and violent, and lost control due to hunger a lot. He mellowed with age, though.
The Varia was actually founded by Ricardo - who was, no surprise there, at least half-ghoul. He did it to provide a 'safe place' and a good excuse for all the ghouls that were too violent even for the mafia. That way, ghouls could actually hide better. They eventually got better at hiding in plain sight too, which led to the underworld as a whole being unable to keep track of the ghouls in their ranks, and thus seeing most of them as urban legends. (If only they knew how big the ghoul community in the underworld actually is...)
The one famiglia that is full of ghouls but no one would expect it, is the Carcassa. No surprise there, Skull had a hand in it. He mostly takes in inexperienced ghouls, or just non-violent ones. Don Carcassa is a ghoul, obviously, one that knows Skull better than most. They have a mutual benefit arrangement. The reason the Carcassa wears helmet isn't because Skull started the trend - well, it was, sort of, but Skull started it because dark helmets made it easy to hide shifts in eyes and face for inexperienced or overly-emotional ghouls.
Tsuna knows about the ghouls, about the Varia and about Skull. Of course he does. He knew the moment he put his eyes on Squalo, and later Xanxus. He's not a ghoul, and neither are Ryohei, Takeshi, Gokudera or Lambo. Mukuro is one, and Chrome too - both of them due to transplants of ghoul organs. No one is sure if Hibari is a ghoul or not, because they never saw him shift or actually eat anyone, for all his threats of biting to death. He might just be a very psychotic cloud.
Tsuna also knew that the arcobalenos were claimed, and guessed that Skull was the one to claim them. He never mentioned anything to Reborn because he thought that Reborn knew (Reborn does give the impression that he knows everything). When Reborn learns that Tsuna knew, he's very unhappy.
The whole Viper situation was what put Skull and the Varia in contact. The trashing Skull gave Xanxus for even thinking of doing anything to his human, was legendary. After that, many Varia agents decided that Viper was Above All and shouldn't even be looked at wrong. There are horror stories about Skull now, circulating. The Varia is still trying to recruit him. There are rumours that he was part of the Varia at one point in history, but no one is sure, and there are no records of it. The Carcassa sometimes sends hopeful agents to them, and most of the time they pass the Varia tests with flying colours.
Skull actually spent most of the Cursed decades thinking his fellow arcobalenos all knew that he was a Ghoul, because they asked him questions on the topic when they wanted information. It was frankly a misunderstanding on both parts. Even Viper telling him they had no clue didn't convince him fully that the others didn't know (once more, Reborn is actually pretty good at pretending to know all).
That's pretty much why he's like this in the fic (and bonuses): He's still not convinced that the shock is because they didn't know, and thinks that it might be because they actually never saw him shift.
Viper knows, obviously, that the others have no clue. They still don't tell them. Viper finds it terribly funny (they are a Mist) and had a bet going with a few people in the Varia on how long it'd take them to realize. They also have a bet with Skull over whether they really don't know or act as if they don't. Needless to say, Viper is about to get richer.
I hope you've all enjoyed this AU ! If it's the case, or even if you guys want to discuss more headcanons with me, please leave comments ! I'd love to hear your thoughts !
Anyone is free to write their own fic with those ideas, as long as proper credit is given. I'd love to see more Ghoul!Skull fics !
Please, do not demand (or ask for) updates. This is a OS, and stands as such, and I have no intention of continuing it. Thank you for understanding.