Merry fucking Christmas you guys. December 25, 2018, and I am posting TEN ENTIRE CHAPTERS of edited and rewritten Slip Up for your viewing pleasure. At 4:30am because why the fuck not. BLESSINGS AND JOYOUS DAYS TO ALL OF YOU- and especially to Northpeach who helped edit this monstrosity.
Lal breathes deep and stands to her feet. She has to leave the room. Even if she was once a Rain, she's now a Misty Cloud and she had her limits to what she would deal with. Finding out how much Skull had been hurt, that they had made his situation worse, that they- that she- had missed so much about their Cloud was…
Lal wanted to hit things until something broke- her hand, the object, or Skull's enemies- until she couldn't feel anything for a while. A soldier had been the one to save her and her kids. It had been winter and she had been homeless, cold, and starving, but she had been the oldest in the group and one of the few able to go out for food and come back. She still wouldn't have made it alive with the kids she watched out for- her kids-if the soldier hadn't helped her.
She owed her life to a soldier, had chosen her career path because of that soldier, had become and worked with soldiers for a large portion of her life and she hadn't noticed.
If Lal hadn't walked away she would have destroyed the house.
There had been so many scars.
Gods, they had been so blind.
She slides back into the house silently after working off some of the rage (they had firewood for a while) before sitting on the couch next to Colonnello.
Skull's hands are shaking.
He can't hide up here forever, he knows, but he doesn't want to go downstairs either. Yuni sits beside him, waiting for Skull to move. She doesn't say a word to him about what he 'should' do.
Skull appreciates that.
They had seen his scars, and had saved his life. They were his Elements, his friends. He had hidden this from them for thirty-three years. He had always known they would find out though. Sooner or later, someone would slip, the situation would demand it, something would happen and he would tell them.
He supposed it was time. The secret lasted pretty long though.
Skull shudders again, steeling himself before he carefully stands. A hand ghosts over the scars on his face, lowering into his line of sight so his eyes can trace where he knows, through the gloves, the familiar scrawl of 'I must not tell lies' that's carved into his skin sits. His gaze lifts to the door that leads downstairs. It's closed.
It was time. He'd always meant for the others to find out about his past, just…not like this. He'd always thought it would be on his terms. When he felt ready.
If he was honest, Skull didn't think he would ever have been 'ready' to tell them though.
So maybe…maybe this was for the best.
Even if he felt like he was going to throw up, he was so nervous. Even if he hands shook, and his breath wanted to come in too-quick gasps. Even if he wasn't even sure where to start explaining everything to the others.
Just because it was for the best didn't mean that Skull didn't want to run. He wanted to run- very much. He didn't want to explain this, didn't want to relive everything he had survived.
Didn't want the Arcobaleno to see Harry Potter in Skull De Mort.
He wouldn't run though. He had faced Voldemort, a Basilisk, Dementors, Dragons, Mermaids, and war, when he was a teenager, all those terrifying things trying to kill him, and he did it without running away. He refused to start with the Arcobaleno who, despite their words, cared about his well being. He took a shaky breath, shoving his hand through his messy hair before he began heading for the stairs.
Harry wasn't really ready for this, but…but circumstances meant it was time to tell them anyway. A tired sort of smirk worked its way onto his face. Once again he was shoved into a situation, lacking information and entirely unprepared.
At least this one wouldn't kill him.
The collective focus of the Arcobaleno snapped to the stairs the moment when they heard the door open and shut. They knew Skull had let them hear him coming. Even before all this had happened Skull had always been quiet on his feet, so they knew the noise was deliberate. His footsteps were still silent, as if to confirm from them how badly they had messed up.
They silently, with neutral expressions, watch as their Cloud slinks down the stairs, his shoulders squared, his face blanked, his chin up and the lines across his eyes deep with stress and tension. There's a stubborn tilt to his mouth. Skull gets about halfway down the stairs before he pauses, his dark (jaded) eyes lift to stare down at them all. They see the subtle quiver that runs through his body before he takes a deep audible breath and continues down the last few steps.
Reborn hesitates, in starting the conversation. Which Skull takes full advantage of. He stands there, and speaks briefly allowing his gaze to fall on each of them before moving on.
"I've fought my entire life." He tells them, his voice shaking a bit, but his eyes are steady. "I didn't even make it to two years old before I started fighting," he continues and it's accusing.
Reborn doesn't move, doesn't flinch or outwardly react. Skull still catches those whose eyes slide away from him, those whose fists clench and whose breath stutters.
"Every day after that was a fight for my survival, for food, for basic hygiene, for education, my life and the lives of everyone around me."
Skull's just beginning his explanation and already none of them like where they know this is going to go. They had known they wouldn't like what came out of their Cloud's mouth (and at this moment, only Viper truly knows how much the others will loathe what they will soon learn, Viper is the sole Arcobaleno that has any idea of how dark their Cloud's life had actually been) but they hadn't thought it would start so early.
Two? He had fought since he was physically the age the curse had reverted them to?
Skull has locked his body into place at the foot of the stairs after letting that first sentence escape his lips.
He hadn't really realized at first that he had been fighting since he was two. "I-" he pauses and closes his eyes and breathes deeply.
Harry, always pause before you act, breathe before you move. We don't want a repeat for fifth year again, right?
Hey! I started the DA in fifth year and where would we be be without that?
He shakes himself from memories and attempts to begin again.
This was hard.
Harder than walking out to the Forbidden Forest and meeting Voldemort, knowing, knowing he would die there. Dying was easy. Making the choice between his life and the lives of his friends, of the children that stood behind him?
There had never been an easier choice in his life.
(-Dumbledore had made sure of that-)
Living was hard. It was uncertain and things changed, and it hurt and yet- and yet.
He had stood up from certain death for a second time and had marched forward from there, even after he realized he was different than the others, even after he realized that the war he had fought, the family he had lost, the friends he had buried, all those who died for a world free of Voldemort and for some sort of equality- They had died for nothing because everything they had fought against was still happening, only now it was better hidden.
(-and that had been one of the worst realizations of all, the confirmation that his life meant nothing)
Telling all of this to the Arcobaleno was hard, but he would get through this. He wasn't wiping their minds, and they wouldn't leave him alone now that they knew something so Skull would have to talk.
"I," he continued resolutely, his voice steadying out as he spoke, "I lost my parents when I was one. They died defending me from a madman." His eyes flickered as memories swelled-
(Lilly it's him! Take Harry and run! I'll hold him off!) (Not Harry! Please, no, not Harry! Take me! Take me instead!)
-before he shoved the memories back, along with the cold that rose up in his chest. "I was left with my mother's sister. She…did not take after my Mum. She…my Aunt that is, she and her family wanted nothing to do with me, and made that very clear to me. I was 'Boy' or 'Freak' and I cooked and cleaned and took care of the house, including the lawn. My earliest memory," he says, for the second time in his life, "Is burning myself on the stove and my aunt screaming at me for burning the bacon."
Skull didn't meet any of the Arcobaleno's eyes. Instead he shifts his focus over their shoulders and at the walls around them. He doesn't want to see…
"She might have hit me with the frying pan, but I'm not entirely sure."
The Arcobaleno didn't need anything spelled out for them. They weren't stupid. With what Skull had said, and what he wasn't saying paired with the scars on his body- some that they knew where from very early childhood…
Skull had been abused by his mother's relations. The wording he uses to describe his entrance into their lives- was left- is concerning. Because that implies a lot of unsavory things.
Flames stirred in response to their anger. It wasn't even two minutes into their Cloud's explanation and they were already angry. They were Mafia and it wasn't something they hadn't seen before- especially at the top of the Underworld where they stood- of course. Child abuse was unfortunately a rather common problem so it was something they had seen and dealt with many times honestly.
Reborn charged lower prices for child abusers. Viper would randomly find them and take all their assets before ruining their lives. Sometimes ending them. Occasionally taking the kids in as informants, giving them a place, or finding them one if they wanted it. The others were the same. All of them had come from troubled backgrounds, so this wasn't something new.
But this was a bit different…this was their Cloud being treated as a thing. As a slave. This was deeply personal to them and their anger was justified. Skull was theirs. That he had been hurt in such a way, that they hadn't noticed and continued to treat him like shit in their ignorance...well that changed things.
Gods, they had hurt their Cloud so much more than they had realized. How many times had they hit him? How many times had they yelled and demanded and ordered him around? All in the name of 'toughening the civilian up'. He showed none of the usual signs of child abuse. They all just believed he ran away to the circus to chase after his dreams.
…Skull had never dodged their hands before only gunshots and weapons. He'd always just taken their orders and obeyed. They thought he was just learning, that he understood his place among them. Apparently it was because he was used to hands hurting him and saw no reason to dodge them. For him, it was instinctive to respond to orders without thought (especially since they had hit him while giving their orders). Him refusing any training had lead to them physically attacking him, in an attempt to make him give in.
He just took it, so they figured if he could take their hits, he would be okay against the rest of the world. Maybe, if he was truly in danger, his instincts would wake up and realize he was a Cloud.
Glances were exchanged as they realized this. How much had they expanded on their Skull's pain just by mimicking his early childhood, even if they hadn't realized it? How much had they hurt him?
Skull continued dispassionately, ignoring the looks that his fellow Elements exchanged with each other.
"My aunt was obsessed with keeping the house clean, the lawn and garden perfectly arranged. I was told to keep up with everything, else I would be punished. Punishments included getting hit with fists or frying pans, beaten with a belt, denied access to the bathroom and withheld food."
Skull fell easily back into 'mission mode' as he spoke. It allowed him to recite what he knew without feeling too emotionally attached to the information. He had used it during the war many times and working in the Mafia had only made it (worse) better. It would hit him later, and hit him hard after he had finished, but for now this allowed him to speak without his emotions overwhelming him too horribly.
It…wasn't healthy, dissociating like that, but Skull didn't think he'd manage to start, let alone finish with the Arcobaleno if he did this any other way.
"Mistakes resulted in punishment. Mistakes included burning food, missing a spot while cleaning, not cleaning something enough, trimming hedges unevenly, missing weeds in the garden, doing better than my cousin in anything, touching my cousin's belongings, asking questions, speaking out of turn, being rude, and being a freak."
He drew in a breath, lips twisting into a mirthless smile.
"If my cousin did something wrong, it was my fault for being a freak and I was punished. If my cousin made something up and told my Aunt or Uncle I was punished. If I tried to defend myself, if I dodged I was punished. I learned quickly that I didn't ask questions and it was better to just take the punishments without complaint or any attempts to fight back because once I was caught it was five times worse than it would have been.
"I learned that guarding my food was something I would be punished for by being denied food for even longer. I learned not to ask for more or I wouldn't be fed anything. If my cousin was hungry, he could take my food from me and I had to let him. I grew up knowing, for me, food was precious and I had to obey the rules of the house or I would get nothing."
"I never knew the names of my parents, until I was eleven years old. On the day of, actually." Skull blinked, some feeling working its way past his barriers and into his glimmering eyes and faintly trembling voice "No questions, after all. I was always hungry so I listened. I didn't fight back, I didn't disobey, and I tried to be their version of perfect."
Skull fell back to the repressed state as he continued, "I know now that the only thing that kept my going was my abilities, but I didn't find that out until years later."
Skull's fellow Elements were not handling this information as well as they thought they would.
All the Arcobaleno felt nauseous in one way or another. Guilty, ashamed and regretful. Hands that were some of the steadiest in the world, hands that could carve out swathes of death without the slightest of quivers shook. Subtly, almost unnoticed, but they shook.
Their treatment of Skull had mimicked these people. These people they were so angry with had done what they had done. They had hit their Cloud, shoved him around and screamed at him. They had demanded perfection from him, and when it wasn't given to them they had gotten violent with him. If he had fought against them they had hit him harder. (I learned quickly to not ask questions and take the punishments without complaint or any attempts to fight back.) And how many times had they taken food from his plate and eaten it in front of him? (I was always hungry so I listened.)
Flames stilled and stuttered in their horror, glances were exchanged, hands quivered, eyes gleamed with Flames as emotions raged under the surface of the blank faces the Arcobaleno projected, just as much as Skull was doing now.
And that was wrong too. Skull was meant to be emotional and flamboyant and loud. Not this…blank, marble statue that recited this information like he was describing the list of groceries he needed to get and not the earth shaking revelations that they were for the Arcobaleno.
"I was six when I realized that no matter what I did my relatives would loathe my existence and punish me for whatever imagined wrong they could think of regardless of what I did. I still performed as close to perfect as I could manage for them, but I knew it wouldn't change how they treated me." He tilted his head contemplatively, as if reminiscing on fond childhood memories instead of this.
"I was six and a half when I found out I couldn't tell anyone about what they did to me, because everyone I told, or anyone that put the pieces together would suddenly 'forget' and then 'disappear'. I was trapped with my relatives and nothing I did would change it, no matter what lengths I went to."
Skull sighed heavily, raising a hand to run it through his hair. "And then I turned eleven and I saw a glimpse of the sun. A flicker of hope."
His eyes cleared of blankness and focused sharply on the horrified faces of the Arcobaleno- not that they showed any sign of rage or pain, but Skull knew how to read them by now- as he told them, very solemnly.
"What I tell you now is a secret kept under something that is a reflection of Omerta. I am using a loophole to tell you of it- for it states that I may only tell members of my family and so I am telling my Family, but you must not speak openly about this."
Skull stares intently at the Arcobaleno, his eyes violently purple and flickering with the manifestation of his Will.
As Harry Potter it is entirely possible he could tell whoever he wished of Magic so long as he trusted them and no one would breathe a word against it, but he will not have them saying anything that would give someone an excuse to mess with their minds. He also wants them to realize that this is a society like the mafia, in the sense that it is hidden and dangerous. He waits until he has a verbal agreement from each of his fellow Elements before he retreats back to that blank state of being, repressing the emotions attached to his memories.
"I warn you now that breaking this agreement could result in me being placed in this society's version of Vindice's prisons and your minds will all be wiped of any memories of what I tell you now, as well as any memory of me. You will not remember any of it. "
He can feel the bristling of the Arcobaleno's Flames but it's muted in this state, something that feels far away.
They don't have to agree, but they're guilty and he needs to tell the truth anyway. Regardless of everything.
All of the Arcobaleno bristle and their Flames writhe under their skin as their Cloud casually speaks of mind wipes, of forgetting him, of a Vindice equivalent taking him away to be left to rot while they forget anything was wrong.
It would have been better if he had sounded more emotional about it, but Skull spoke like a civilian spoke of rain. Like it was nothing out of the ordinary. Something to be dealt with on a daily basis that didn't impact your normal life, but you were still aware of it.
Viper alone knows that Skull speaks of Azkaban and Dementors and she shudders. She would not allow their Cloud to fall to that fate. Not even if she needed to use a Mist laced compulsion. She had failed her Cloud (the Man who Conquered He Who Must Not Be Named) more than enough already. She would not fail him in this. Would not allow him to be caged in that hellhole.
Especially considering Sirius Black.
Skull can feel how close he is to breaking down. He's a hair's breadth away from just stopping, from backing out of the room. His childhood had been the easy part for all that it had prodded at old wounds to tell them. This next part…his Hogwarts years…that glimpse of the sun so close he could almost touch it only to discover he was Icarus and he had flown too close, that the wax of his wings was melting and he was soon to crash painfully to the ground…
A deep breath and he reinforces the barrier between his mind and his emotions.
He can break it later. He can struggle with Skull, with Harry, with all of this shit, he can do that afterwards, when he needs to put himself back together, alone, as he always has. Only after he finishes here.
All he needs to do is breathe. As long as he breathes he can step forward, he can keep going.
Even when he is falling apart and there's no one there to put him together again (not anymore), even when he feels like he's bleeding, when he feels like he can't take another step. As long as he was breathing he could stagger on as he always has: broken and lost and pained but stubborn enough to endure.
(Or perhaps not stubborn, but lost with no idea how to do anything but continue forward no matter what is in his way because it was all he had been taught to do, all he knew how to do.)
-Dumbledore would be so proud-