Skull woke up under the clouded night sky with no moon in sight, lying in Harry's lap, feeling thoroughly spent –and a bit confused (for why was Harry here?). He lifted his hand to rub away the crust in his eyes, only to freeze at the sight of pale, tiny hands, and suddenly he remembered-
whyLuceWhyDidYouBetray U S-!
A much larger-but dainty- hand wrapped around his tiny ones –that were now clenched into fists due to his r a g e- and Harry's soothing words calmed him down, "It'll be alright. I'm here for you, Skull."
The darkness in his eyes receded as Skull blinked at Harry's face that hovered above his, her emerald eyes staring at him with so much affection –and a hint of concern hiding beneath it- making Skull choke a bit. He reached up with his tiny hands and grabbed some of her red curls that were spilling over her shoulders in his tiny fists. Tears welled up in his eyes but he stubbornly didn't let them down. Instead, he just sat up and quickly hugged Harry, burying his head in her bosom, clutching the strands of her hair tighter in his hands and just basked in the feeling of warmth and home that Harry provided to him.
It took him years to reach the point in his life where he was free to do whatever he wished, and no one was there to bind him –he had left 'Neil' and 'Cloud' behind him years ago, and accepted 'Skull' with open arms. He loved being Skull, being the Immortal Stuntman that could do terrifying stunts with no fear of dying. He loved riding his bike with carelessness, he loved the adrenaline that rushed through his veins whenever he's performing any stunts, he loved the cheers and delighted screams of his audience whenever he did any breathtaking –and most probably suicidal- stunts. He utterly and truly loved being Skull. Being Skull- the immortal Stuntman- was his pride, his everything.
But now, he lost his everything- his adult body, his freedom…..everything. He couldn't do stunts anymore with this tiny infantile body of his –the bike would be too big for it, to say nothing of the fragileness of this body. All the reflexes, tricks, scars, muscle memory he gained all these years as a stuntman were gone. There would be no screams of audience cheering him on as he performed, no feeling of absolute freedom as he let adrenaline get through his head and did stunts that could most likely kill him…..there would be no Skull- the Immortal stuntman- anymore. And that….. that was what made him despair.
The only that that remained with him was Harry. If Luce's Flames had snatched this bond from him too during the curse, he would really have either raged this whole world to the ground, or killed himself for real this time that Harry wouldn't have been able to resuscitate him even with Death's help.
"You're not going to leave me, are you?" A sudden terror hit him and he clenched her curls tighter in his fists and buried deeper into her chest, not caring if he was hurting her a bit with his unconsciously propagated strength. "I don't know what I'd do if you left me too, Harry."
Harry chuckled-not even sounding a bit uneasy even though Skull had been unknowingly crushing her with his enhanced strength- and wrapped her arms around his tiny frame and embraced her Cloud, "As long as you want me, I'll be right by your side. So don't fret, Skull."
"You still have me."
And so, with Harry whispering assurances in his ears, he once again fell asleep.
The next time Skull woke up he felt less like death warmed him up –Ha!- and tiredly glanced around his surroundings, only to blink in surprise seeing the familiar lavender ceiling of his cabin-slash-safe-house located in the outskirts of Rome. He had only used it twice before –both times were when he felt overwhelmed with the spotlight (the crowd of fans and paparazzi always insisting on following him around were a bit too much for him) when he would run away from his shows for a while to get some peace and quiet –leaving behind a pissed Martha and an exasperated Marco because Skull always left without any prior warning whenever he felt like it, and only leaving a note behind every time he did something like that.
He wondered if Harry brought him here, and how she knew about it's location but then he remembered that Harry was an immortal Goddess(?) and the genuine Master of Death, so she must have her ways about obtaining information.
He took in a deep breath, and sighed when he felt Harry's Flames saturated in the air that soothed down his own flames that still felt so wrongboundcagedLetUsOut-!
-and once again, Harry's Sky Flames curled around him like an invisible blanket, providing him with warmth and the feeling of h o m e and they somehow soothed down his flames before his Cloud Flames could once again go on a rampage.
Skull was so, so tired. Tired of feeling so angry all the time; tired of the sting of betrayal that twanged inside him every time he thought of what happened on that cursed day; tired of feeling so cagey because the pacifier hanging around his neck felt more like a leash that chained him down than a responsibility to the keep the balance of the world's Tri-ni-sette. He wanted to move on, to pretend like this curse wasn't going to break him, that he was stronger than before…. but just the thought of moving on, of facing the others –who were now known as the 'Arcobaleno'- without being reminded of what he has lost was so hard. He knew that he wasn't the only one who has lost something –the others too had lost their adult bodies and skills and so, so much. But they were already part of that world –one way or other, every one of them was somehow involved with the mafia world. What about Skull, who was essentially a civilian –who was now forced to enter the mafia world officially just because he was now bound to an artifact that was somehow connected with Mafia? Sure, he had spent the last few months with some of the most (in)famous mafioso in the world, but that was only because he felt nice there. He felt like he finally belonged. They were all a bunch of misfits, but somehow they all fit together. It wasn't supposed to be permanent. He had thought they'd work together for a while –as a team- and then they'd go their own ways sooner or later. He had never thought he'd chained be down to mafia world because of a curse. He wished he could just rip off this pacifier and crush it with his super-strength…. oh how he wished to burn the mafia world to the ground, and destroy everything that chained him down-
He squawked in indignation as a soft paw smacked at his face, snapping him out of his thoughts that were taking a darker turn. He pulled off the white paw –with cute pink pads underneath it- and glanced up at the creature that had jumped on him out of nowhere. He stared in baffled silence at a pretty white cat –with it's dark eyes glimmering with cunning and mischief- that meowed at him in supposed innocence –as if it hadn't just sacked at Skull's face with no remorse at all.
The cat turned around and once again smacked his face with a swish of it's tail this time and walked out of the room, leaving behind a very puzzled Skull who wondered where the heck had that cat come from.
A few minutes later he sat up straight when he heard footsteps nearing him, and only relaxed when he saw Harry enter the room, with the white cat in her arms –and was that a raven sitting over her shoulder? Um…. what?
Harry sighed in relief as soon as she saw him conscious. "You finally woke up. I was getting worried."
"I'm fine now." He mumbled instinctively, his eyes never leaving the two strange animals. "How long was I out for?"
"A week, at most." She sat down on a chair next to his bed. The white cat, sensing that it had completed it's mission, jumped off her lap and mewed something to the raven. The raven cawed in indignation and flew towards the cat, while the latter swatted him off with practiced ease. Harry continued on speaking, ignoring the two animals –her new pets, maybe?- causing a ruckus on the floor, "You woke up a few times in between, but you weren't lucid enough. I guess it was because you over-exerted your flames –even with their propagation it still took time to your flames to get back to their normal level, and- Skull?... Are you even listening to me?'
Skull, who had been watching the cat and raven's playful fight with wide eyes, suddenly snapped his head towards Harry when hearing her call him, "Ah, uh yeah…. It's just….." his purple eyes glanced back towards the two animals and he couldn't help but ask to satiate his curiosity, "What's with the cat and the raven, Harry?"
"Oh," Harry blinked. She then waved her hand in a dismissive way and said, "That's just Little Black and Little White. Death thought I actually needed a babysitter to keep an eye on me." She didn't really roll her eyes, but the contempt and ridicule Skull could feel dripping from her tone told him how much highly Harry thought of Death's proposal –that meant, not at all. The two animals actually halted midst fight and respectively gave Harry a scorned look at her words, which Skull found quite amusing –and a bit bewildering. "Don't mind them, Skull."
"That's good." Harry smiled at him and nodded. "I'll bring you some food. I have sustained your body's needs through magic the past week during your unconscious state, but relying on it for longer periods can be detrimental to your health. We especially don't know how magic can affect the artifact, so we should better stay on safer side."
Being reminded of the reason of his recent condition, Skull glanced down at the purple pacifier hanging on his neck, and suddenly felt an overwhelming feeling of outrage and helplessness come over him. Before he could once again drown in his thoughts, Harry ruffled his messy purple hair, letting just slight bit of her flames seep through him from their point of contact and told him reassuringly, "It'll be fine, Skull. We'll figure it out together, okay?"
For some reason, the overwhelming emotions disappeared, leaving behind un-describable warmth inside him and he couldn't help but believe her. For the first time since he had been cursed, he finally felt relieved.
Because he knew that as long as Harry was there, he had nothing to worry about.
They stayed at the cabin for a few months, during which Skull tried to gain back the proper control of his body- which often led to Skull getting more scratches and bruises. A few times (by few times he meant thrice) it even killed him –leading him to have an impromptu trip to the now empty train station, where either Harry or her new pets (he swore the two animals were telepaths, because no way would they just suddenly glare at him out of nowhere the moment that thought crossed his mind) would appear in the train station and drag him back to the world of living after patching him up. After the third time Skull accidentally killed himself –in the first ten days no less, Harry put her foot down and baby proofed Skull's entire room –and by babyproofing he meant transfiguring every single thing with a slight pointed edge into pillows which exasperated him to no end- and put a spell on him due to which every time he stepped into another room every pointy edged thing in that room would automatically transfigure into soft and squishy pillows of different sizes. Skull didn't know whether to laugh or cry –or even bored- after seeing purple and orange pillows spread across the room. It did lessen the chances of him accidentally tripping and splitting his head open against a pointy-corner of a table though like how he died the third time during the first ten days.
Just like Harry had said, the peanut gallery (ahem, he meant cat and the raven –Little White and Little Black respectively as Harry called them) were there to keep an eye on Harry –and by extension Skull- when the two of them were not fighting, that is. For some reason, Little Black and Little White never got along at all. Little White –the cat-could often be found pulling pranks on the raven (by either pushing it from Harry's shoulder with it's tail, or 'accidentally' throwing a butter knife at it, or hitting it's back with his rubber ball whenever the raven was perched on it's –newly conjured- bird stand) or taunting it –that's what Skull thought he did, what with the way Little Black's feathers would rise in irritation whenever Little white mewed something at it. The raven -Little Black- was an arrogant, prideful bird –it was obvious in the way it –he(?)- stared at everything and everyone (except Harry) with contempt- that wasn't as cunning as the cat, and hence would often fall into Little White's pranks, which either ended up with a scuffle, or a shouting –more like a hideously noisy screeching- match between them. They won't stop it until Harry either stupefies them, or throws them back into their dimension –from which they'd return hours later, seemingly quieter than before, but still glaring murderously at each other. After the fifteenth time that happened, Skull stopped keeping scores of their fights, and treated it as a normal occurrence.
Having Harry with him in the mortal realm was nice-but strange nonetheless. All these years, he had only met Harry every time he died –in her plane, i.e. the train station- so at first he had thought that maybe she was bound to that plane for some reason and couldn't move from there. Then after knowing Harry and listening to her regaling him with her adventures in different realms he realized that it might be because Harry must've lost interest in travelling to the mortal realms to experience life –having the same cycle of mortals lives and deaths repeating itself while she remained the only constant must've played a role in it- and had gotten much lazier as time went by. So, he had been thinking of dragging her with him to his world at least once and to let her once again experience the joys of living. He never thought Harry would actually appear in his world out of her own accord, and would even willingly stay with him. But she did.
He had been worried that Death would drag her back to his realm –he was an overprotective idiot like that (it had to do with some sort of accident Harry had unfortunately got into during her last trip to some otherworldly dimension a few centuries ago)- but that never happened. He didn't know what sort of deal did Harry strike with Death to actually make them let her go on her own –with just the peanut gallery to keep watch- but as long as it didn't include her selling her soul to them he didn't care as long as she stayed with him. He'd do anything to keep her with him.
(He had already lost so much, he can't lose her too. He'd do anything to keep her happy, and by his side as long as she'd let him stay under her all-encompassing Sky. )
That was why when Harry suddenly asked him to accompany her on a trip –a journey for 'self-discovery' and enjoying life at it's fullest, she said (he called bullshit to that)-at the end of the fifth month of their stay in the cabin, he only agreed after slight persuasion from her. He thought that she had suggested it because she knew that his wanderlust was acting up again, and the thought warmed his heart. So, they packed their bags, and got ready for their journey. It wasn't until they reached their destination with apparition that he realized that the peanut gallery –ahem, Little Black and Little White- were actually missing. When he asked about them to her, Harry just smiled mysteriously and replied that they were just "taking care of some pests".
For some reason, those words sent a shiver down his spine. But that was ridiculous. Why would her words induce terror in him? It's not like Harry's pets were actually terrifying, right?
Travelling with Harry was supposed to be fun. Well, it was fun- to some extent, at least. They got to visit various tourist sites, met new people, and got to try delicious food that were local specialties of Italy. Harry recognized some places, saying that they were the same in her world- like the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, Leaning tower of Pisa, Pantheon, Pompeii etc- and that is why she knew so much about them. They didn't need any tour guide around those areas, Harry herself would start ranting off facts and show him around as if she was the Boss who owned these place. Skull didn't mind that at all –even though he still felt a bit disappointed (because it should be him showing her around and not her, since he was an Italian resident, and Harry was well….. Harry. You know, his Sky who was also a witch extraordinaire as well as the Master of Death who hadn't stepped among the mortals since centuries ago?) but then he'd look at her green eyes sparkling (even with her face was stuck in her normal calm expression, he guessed her facial muscles must've frozen that way due to spending eons in the company of emotionless and antisocial deathly super-naturals) whenever she was showing off her knowledge about those places and he'd then squash those feelings back into the corner they emerged. Harry was enjoying herself and no way was he going to ruin this for her just because he felt a little a need to show off. Sometimes, a few treacherous thoughts would still appear in his mind, making him wonder if he hadn't been turned to a cursed infant, then maybe he would be the one showing her around, and vice versa –and then Harry would lightly flicker his forehead with the tip of her finger encased in warm orange flames and the dark thoughts would be chased away, leaving behind only a Sky-Drunk Skull with flushed cheeks and head full of Harry's warmth. But then he started finding joys in little things Harry did- like the way her face lit up when she tried a particularly delicious dish –Skull only noted then that Harry had a bit of sweet-tooth and especially loved Pumpkin juice, pies and pastries; the way her green eyes would soften whenever she glanced at any children (no, Skull didn't count, he was a genuine adult even if he didn't look like one at present) with affection and longing; the way she awkwardly tripped into social niceties was really hilarious. The impromptu trip was nice, he guess. He got to wander around –which satiated his wanderlust- and the best part was that he had Harry by his side during the whole trip. As long as she was with him, he didn't mind being an infant that much –even though it was a bit jarring seeing people treat him like a literal infant and cooed at him as if he were a literal baby and not an adult-stuck-in-cursed-baby-body.
However there were a few issues with the trip itself. The first one was money- which, fine….. it wasn't that much of an issue, since Skull had enough money to last him a lifetime –his job as a famous stuntman paid well enough, and the money from all the missions with the others of "I Precelti Sette" he had got before being cursed- and hence paying for Harry wasn't a big deal. No, the problem was, Harry herself didn't have any money of her own. For that, Skull just shoved his wallet to her and gave her three of his debit cards –courtesy of Viper, who thought having all his money in one account was like a disaster waiting to happen, especially with Skull's way too trusting nature and his tendency to lose his bank cards- which solved the issue! ….So maybe it wasn't that much of a big deal.
The second issue was a bit serious, and that was- Harry didn't have any ID proofs- and well, that obvious since why would the Master of Death even need ID proof for? (Just the thought of Death having to give some sort of ID proof in any mortal realm was an equally hilarious –and somehow terrifying- thought.) That made things a bit trickier whenever they had to book tickets for any kind of transport and Harry was asked to show her ID proof. Skull couldn't use his because- One, all his ID's were of adult!Skull, while he had been turned to an infant now and he had been too depressed to think of making new ID's for his now infant self; Second-he did not think anyone would even give them tickets with infant-Skull's ID proofs, especially with the various Age Restrictions. That made things difficult in their trips. While Skull could let Harry use Confundus charm on them to let them hand out their tickets, it wouldn't fool the computer itself. So, that only left them the option of depending on Harry's magic travel- aka apparition- which Skull hated with a burning passion. Because the feeling of being squeezed into a very narrow tube and the gut-wrenching terror he felt when the his limbs would be stretched and forced to shrink coz of apparition magic made him hate this particular form of travel. While Skull admitted that he might be a suicidal idiot, he had standards too, you know. He was an adrenaline junkie suicidal, not die-from-gut-wrenching-magic-of-apparition suicidal. There was no fun in apparition, at all, which made the actual act of travelling from one place to another quite hateful.
The third issue was something he hadn't taken into account- and he should have. He really should've done that. Because who could've imagined that adding Skull's brand of chaos –as dubbed by Reborn in exasperation after experiencing the umpteenth time how the situation went to hell one way or another whenever Skull was involved- to Harry's Potter Luck would result in such (mis)adventures?
"I am never. ever. going to any casino with you!" Skull hollered over the noise of gunshots and explosions behind him.
Harry huffed. "Not my fault they're sore losers who can't take loss too well."
"Not your fault?!" Skull screeched and almost fell down from his perch on her shoulder. Thankfully, Harry steadied him at the last minute, making him cling tighter to her as he grabbed a fistful of her led hair tightly to not fall down. "You were the one who won millions of euros by gambling against the casino master and actually drove him into a debt with your insane luck –which, well shouldn't be possible because since when had your Potter Luck started bringing fortune for you?!"
Harry dodged a bullet aimed at her left shoulder and ignored his latter comment with ease. She kept running through various twists and turns around the populated streets of Milan –which soon turned deserted when the civilians heard the gunshots and explosions following behind her, as well as the hoard of suited men aiming for her capture- "Hey, that's not fair!" She complained "How was I supposed to know you were bringing me to a casino owned by Mafioso?"
It's not like even Skull knew that. He had only heard about this casino once from Reborn, and remembered him saying "it was alright" –coming from Reborn, this was a HUGE compliment- and that's why he decided to visit it. Now that he thought about it, it was stupid to visit some place recommended by Reborn. Of course the place that sadistic hitman suggested happened to be crowded with Mafioso-whose eyes for some reason glinted as soon as they had seen Skull enter the building, which he just shrugged off. Damn mafia-cult for twisting his view of 'normal'!- why did he even think that damn sadist would ever suggest a quaint, non-dangerous, Mafioso-free place?
"Nevermind that." Skull quickly changed the subject. "We need to get out of here while we still can."
Harry narrowed her eyes when she realized that the crowd of mafioso following them was getting bigger and bigger. She looked forward as saw the path splitting into left and right respectively. An idea formed in her mind and she spoke, "Skull, we'll leave this place as soon as I turn the left corner. So, hang tight."
"What about your peanut gal- er, I mean Little Black and Little White?" Skull asked as he finally remembered the cat and the raven that always followed Harry.
"They'd return after doing damage control." Harry replied, her eyed glinted with ruthlessness that Skull didn't noticed.
"What do you mean by damage contro-wait I don't like that look on your face." Blood drained from his face when he realized what Harry was up to. "Nononono, don't apparate please, no-"
Of course, his protests were ignored because Harry had reached the end of the path and had already turned left and apparated, making Skull go through the unpleasant experience of apparition which upset his stomach.
"I can't believe you got us banned from Venice." Harry asked in disbelief.
Skull huffed. "It's not my fault they're a bunch of stuck-up misers who don't show any mercy to small animals, and they even had the gall to throw us in jail for refusing to pay the fine! Of course I'd be pissed for being wrongly accused and protested against it!"
"By destroyed the police station with your super-strength?" Harry deadpanned flatly.
Skull just glanced away from her. Harry pursued her lips and told him, "You were at the fault, Skull. It all started because you were feeding pigeons. At San Marco Square."
Skull rolled his eyes. "Yeah, so what?"
Harry glared at him and said in a tone that made it obvious that she was resisting the urge to throttle him, "Skull, did you not know that it is forbidden to feed pigeons in Piazza San Marco?"
"…Uh, no?" Skull shook his head and chuckled sheepishly.
"How could you not know that?" Harry threw her hands up in exasperation. "Did you not see the signboards?!"
"What signboards?" Skull asked dumbly.
"The ones in which 'È Proibito dare da mangiare ai colombi' was written in bold, neon red letters right at the entrance! There's no way you hadn't seen that!"
"Uh… can I say I can't read Italian that well?" he lied weakly. It's not like he could tell her that he had been checking out the hot girl next to the signboard, and not the actual thing, right?
"The words were also translated below in English. And they were in neon green." Harry answered, unimpressed.
Skull shuddered as he leaned against Harry's trembling form, as she repeatedly shook her head –and sometimes even smacked her head against a tree- as they both tried to overcome the trauma they had received in their recent visit to Pompeii.
To think it all started because Harry's hero complex reared it's ugly head –followed by her Potter Luck close behind- when she had saved a pregnant woman from getting hit by a speeding truck. The woman had been so grateful to be saved –especially by a fellow woman who had recently had a child (Skull was so offended when the delusional woman mistook him for Harry's child and actually told his Sky that her son was adorable and his cosplay was awesome. If she had not been a civilian –and pregnant- he'd have kicked her for that comment!)-that to repay her kindness –or so she said- she immediately dragged her savior to a kitty party her friends had invited her to that day, and the two of them had only agreed because of free food.
How were they supposed to know that the delusional woman would actually drag them to a cult of pregnant women who were the Roman Goddess Venus's fanatic worshippers?!
"I can't believe we actually met a cult of pregnant woman." Skull said hysterically.
"I can't believe we actually wet a cult of pregnant woman and survived." Harry mumbled as she slumped against a tree she had been banging her head against a few moments ago.
Skull shot her a sympathetic glance. At least Skull hadn't suffered that much since he had been left with a few toddlers –budding Venus' fanatic, the lot of them- to play with them. While it was annoying to be called "Fratellino" by toddlers who had no concept of privacy, (either they pulled his purple hair –marveling at it's "pwetty cololl" or dragged him to play with them. He was so adorable that three toddlers even fought over who would play with him –the only reason he didn't beat these brats in annoyance because well, they were toddlers and Skull wasn't a scum who beat actual toddlers.)
Harry had it worse than him. He didn't know what the women told her, but the way her face had turned red, then white, and then a strange shade of blue and green with every turn of the page of the book the women had enthusiastically thrust to her, he guessed it mustn't have been any good. He had once slipped out of the playroom, curious about the discussion going around Harry that made his Sky's face look so sick- it was a decision he'd regret all his life. He did not need to know about 101 ways of childbirth in ancient times –each method cruder than before.
Needless to say, they were mentally scarred for life.
It didn't take long for Harry to escape from those crazy women's clutches and grab Skull to apparate. He had never been as grateful for apparition as he had been that day. He was never going to complain about that vomit-inducing instant magic travel spell ever again.
"Ugh, I'm going to ask Verde to invent brain bleach just so I can erase those terrifying images from my mind." Skull moaned.
"Get me some too then." Harry said hysterically. Thankfully her shuddering had subsided by now.
It took the two of them a few hours to calm down. When they did calm down, the two of them shared a look, and Harry declared-
"What happened in Pompeii, stays in Pompeii."
"Agreed!" Skull agreed to her words fairly quickly. It's not like he'd object anyway.
He'd never be able to look at any pregnant woman without being reminded of the Venus cult incident ever again.
Both of them decided to stray away from cities and towns, and started travelling around less populated areas -especially after having been put the fear of god into them because of the Venus cult incident. They'd visit nearby villages, but often wander into forests. Hunting was becoming a new favorite pastime of his. Seeing him enjoy the thrill of chasing wild animals around, Harry would often refrain from using magic and let him do as he wanted. They'd camp in forests, get into all sorts of troubles –like poking a hornet's nest, playing with lion cubs while it's mother was out hunting, mistaking a poisonous snake for a vine –Skull would definitely have been bitten by it if Harry didn't order it to back off, which was so cool! He hadn't even known Harry could speak snakes' language!- and would even get chased by a pack of wolves for intruding in their territory. They would light campfires and share more stories that they hadn't earlier- Skull would then regale her with the tales of the chaos Skull and his mafia accomplices (oh who was he kidding, they were his friends even though he didn't want to face them so soon) always ended up with, and in return Harry would tell him about her adventures in different dimensions (the stories about the bloodthirsty stalker Alaude and his equally crazy friends were totally hilarious –though he sometimes wondered why the hell that name sounded a bit familiar to him). They would gather herbs and sometimes dare each other to swallow the nastier ones –it wasn't like the two of them would die from eating the poisonous ones anyways since the both of them were incapable of dying- and when bored they'd often go fishing. It was during one such fishing expedition that Skull found his familiar- Oodako.
Skull grumbled as he sat by Harry's side on a low cliff by the Po river, with a fishing rod in hand. They had been sitting for hours but for some reason, no fish had taken bait.
"Did you mess with the bait again?" Harry wondered out loud.
"One time," Skull sighed in exasperation. "Just one time I make a small mistake….." he grumbled under his breath. He then eyed Harry and asked, "You're not going to let me live it down, will you?"
Harry giggled in amusement. "Never."
Skull huffed and was about to retort, but then he felt a tug on his rod. They both snapped their attention towards the rod as the fish –whatever it was- tugged harder to free itself from the hook.
"Finally!" Skull exclaimed as he tried to pull the fish out, but whatever it was that had took the bait was strong, since it didn't come out that easily.
"Should I accio it?" Harry asked him, and he shook he head.
"No way! I can do this, alright?!"
Harry shrugged at his declaration and sat back on her rock, and watched the tug-of-war between Skull and the unknown fish with mild interest. After wasting five minutes just like that, Skull got fed up with the stupid fish, which is why he used his Cloud Flames to enhance his strength and then pulled the rod hard.
A red and black blob was forcefully tugged out of water, and before Skull could even give it a good look, the blob suddenly smacked him face first, making him tumble backwards. Skull tried to pull off the thing, but for some reason it was stuck. And so, Skull wasted another few minutes panicking like a headless chicken as he tried –and failed- to get off the sticky red blob from his head.
Harry –the utter traitor- found his misery hilarious since she laughed her ass off
"GetitoffgetitoffgetitOFF-!" Skull screeched as he flailed his arms and ran around in circles- destroying trees and bigger rocks in his mad dash due to impromptu blindness. In the end, he got so fed up with the sticky blob clinging to his head that he tried to punch the thing away with a fistful of cloud flames. to his surprise –and horror- the blob just seemed to absorb his flames and inflated from a tiny sticky-thing to gigantic sticky-thing, and with it's now humongous body it buried Skull's infant body under it with it's heavy weight.
Harry, who had just somehow stopped laughing, once again cracked up and this time she couldn't help but pound her fists on the ground as she laughed with tears of laughter in her eyes.
And so, Skull finally admitted defeat and somehow crawled to the side and managed to poke his head from beneath the inflated body of red blob and with a pitiful look he asked her, "Harry… help me…."
Harry did help him out –after laughing her ass off, that is. With a wave of her hand, the humongous red blob somehow deflated. Skull grumbled as he sat up and stretched his limbs. From the corner of his eyes, he saw the blob trying to make a break for it, and he quickly grabbed it before it escaped. The thing wiggled in his grip it's one…. two….- wait, it has eight limbs…. so, an octopus, huh?- eight limbs twitched.
"You've been such a pain in neck, little guy." Skull said scornfully as he remembered all the trouble he had to go through to catch this octopus. But only that, but this octopus somehow even absorbed his Flames and even managed to use it. How curious….
Skull contemplated whether he should grill it for dinner or send this octopus to Verde with a pretty ribbon tied as a bow over it –he was sure the mad scientist would appreciate a test subject for him to experiment on and would like to research all about it's reactions to different Flames of Sky and all that- but then he glanced at the octopus and faltered when he saw the octopus giving him teary puppy eyes. That type of expression coming from an aquatic animal shouldn't look so natural, and it was also-
Skull's scorn melted before that adorable creature, and suddenly he decided to keep this adorable thing to himself. Besides, it can inflate and deflate with the use of Cloud Flames, it's definitely going to be useful in future! Also, he was tired of being the only one among his group of mafia misfits who didn't have a pet. Even Harry had pet(s) and he didn't till now! How is that fair?
It's final then. He'll be keeping this octopus as his pet.
It was at that moment that Harry decided to open her mouth and comment teasingly, "Well, at least now we won't have to worry about tonight's dinner. Say Skull, what do you think about some Takoyaki?"
Skull gave her a flat look. She was doing this on purpose, wasn't she?
It didn't take long for the red octopus –whom he named "Oodako"- to get used to Skull. The fact that Skull doted on it did help. The two of them would often goof around –a giant Oodako never hesitated to act like a trampoline for Skull to jump around, it would also help them in fishing and sometimes would take Skull and Harry for a ride on sea. Oodako also got along fabulously with Harry's pets –Little Black and Little White. They would often play around together –it was less of playing and more of the cat and the raven brawling and Oodako trying- and failing- to meditate their fights; and sometimes they were definitely conspiring something –Little Black and Little White would often disappear (that usually happened whenever Harry decided they should move to their next destination) leaving behind Oodako to stare at him with a knowing look in his eyes.
(He had an inkling to what they actually did when they were on their secretive self-proclaimed –or so he thought- missions, but he didn't try to dig into it too much. He had a feeling Harry would tell him everything about it if he asked, but he guessed he wanted to stay ignorant –and happy- for a little longer.)
Harry also warmed up to the adorably goofy octopus, and could often be seen cuddling with it. Skull would get jealous whenever that happened –because Harry was his. Harry –with her super mind reading abilities (or so he thought)- would somehow catch it, then drag him to their cuddle pile –which would later be joined in by Little Black and Little White.
His life was perfect the way it was at present. Sure, it sucked to be a cursed infant and to be treated like a child when he was actually an adult, but well… as long as he had his loved ones with him, he guessed he didn't mind being stuck as a cursed infant that much.
(Then Viper somehow got hold of him the one time Harry wasn't there with him and Skull realized that he needed to go back. Back to the mafia, the world that had dragged a mere civilian and then cursed him for it's own stability. And while Skull could throw a tantrum like he usually did –he was the crybaby, after all- he didn't do that. Instead decided to face it with the recklessness and stubbornness his Sky was known for. Skull was an inverted Cloud –he wasn't as bloodthirsty and capable as other 'normal' clouds, nor did he consider places as territory.
But he was a Cloud nonetheless, and his territory that he protected -just like a greedy dragon protecting his hoard of treasure- were actually people.
So, how could he leave his mafia misfits–his territory- to suffer all on their own?)
During their trip to the mountains around Iseo Lake, Harry and Skull decided to split up. Harry then went back to her dimension to do whatever she had been summoned for, while Skull decided to wander Iseo town and looked around for a nice restaurant where they could finally taste some good food. Don't get him wrong, hunting was nice and all, and Harry was a good cook –even though her skills were a bit rusty thanks to eons spent in a realm where food wasn't needed- but to eat some delicious food every once in a while couldn't hurt, right? It was during his stroll around the market that Skull bumped into Viper, who had obviously tracked him down and from the impatience they were emitting, he was sure that they wanted to talk to him. So, here they were sitting at a corner table of the café, being shielded from suspecting eyes by Viper's Mist Barrier.
Skull eyed Viper who was sitting across the table, with Phantasma forming a halo-like ring over their cloaked head. Oodako himself sat in his lap, and wiggled it's limbs around him as if trying to comfort him. Skull patted him absently, before glancing back at Viper, whom he could feel was staring at him. The awkward silence suffocated him. Before they had been cursed, Skull never had any difficulty conversing with the others. But now, it was as if someone drew a line between them, and even though they were sitting in front of each other, Skull felt that the distance between them was even farther.
He cleared his throat and asked the first thing that came to his mind, "How are you?" He then cringed as soon as he spoke those words.
Viper gave him a dry look –he could definitely feel that- even though they didn't show any change in facial expression and said, "The answer will cost you."
Skull couldn't help but let a bark of laughter at their words. Typical Viper.
Viper observed him for a few moments. "You look better now." Viper said. "Happier."
"What can I say? I have good friends." Skull shrugged.
"Oh? You mean the mafia ones you haven't contacted in the ten months you've been missing or the civilian colleagues of yours who were fretting for your well-being because they didn't even know in which corner of the world you've disappeared to?" Viper jabbed at him, and he flinched at their words.
Even though their words were harsh, what they said was true enough. In the past ten months Skull had spent his time Harry, he hadn't contacted Martha and Marco at all, who must've been worried after getting no news of his. Even when he had been doing mafia-things, he had still kept in contact with them. Suddenly losing contact with him must've made them panic.
Viper and the others also had been worried. Well, of course they'd be worried. After all, he had raged like a Cloud during that cursed day and drove them away from him, and after that he disappeared from their eyes and didn't contact them at all in these ten months. Even if they always pretended otherwise, they must've been worried sick for him. It only made him feel guiltier.
But Skull didn't show what he was really feeling on his face. Instead, he put on the mask of Skull-the fool to get Viper off-guard.
"Oh? Is that worry I'm hearing? I knew you were a softie deep inside, Viper!" Skull crowed in delight.
Viper resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of their nose. "Mou, why did I get to deal with idiot lackey?" Muttering curses under their breath, they then cleared their throat and spoke, "I was paid to find you inform you that you have to be present on the next meeting of the Arcobaleno. You missed the first one, you cannot miss the next."
"What meeting?" Skull was startled when he heard their words. "When did the first one even happen?"
"You mean you don't know?" viper frowned. "That's not possible. Every one of us received the invitation letter for the first meeting, Skull."
"I didn't get any letter like that!" Skull protested.
"That's not possible." Viper shook their head. "Luce said the letter had been sent to each one of us. We were asked to gather in the Giglio-Nero mansion. Everyone was present there, except you."
Skull clenched his fists when he heard Luce's name. Her betrayal still stung him even now. He wondered how the others coped when they had to meet her face to face so soon after the curse was cast upon them. Did they get over the betrayal so soon, so easily?
"You actually met with her after what she did to us?" Skull asked incredulously, with a little bit of anger in his voice.
Viper scowled and gritted their teeth. "It's not like we had any choice." They hissed. "We were forced to do so."
Skull stared at her with wide eyes. "What happened?"
Viper stared at him skeptically. "Don't act like you don't know. You must've gone through the same thing, why the heck are you acting so innocent now?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Skull said with a shake of his head.
"How strange." Viper mumbled. However, seeing Skull's resolute attitude, Viper couldn't help but give in to his demands. "Alright, I'll tell you. But it will cost you."
Skull agreed easily.
"A few weeks after the cursed day, rumors started spreading in the Cosa Nostra about the chosen Strongest Seven, the 'Arcobaleno'. Someone even managed to find out our identities. At that time each one of us was still busy trying to adjust to being turned into an infant, so we were caught off guard when the attacks started happening. " Viper explained.
Skull's eyes widened when he heard their words. "What attacks? Why would the Mafioso try to attack you all?"
Viper stared at him as if he were an idiot, "Mou, are you trying to be funny? Because it's not funny at all, Skull. Don't tell me you don't know about the Arcobaleno and the prestige this title holds in Mafia world?" Seeing the dumb look on skull's face, Viper groaned. "You really don't know anything, do you? Why the heck did you even join the I Prescelti Sette, then?" Skull didn't answer her. He was sure that Viper would definitely throttle him if he said that he did it on a momentary impulse. "Ugh fine, I'll add extra charges for this information."
Viper then dumbed down the explanation for him, "The Arcobaleno is a mystery even for the mafia world. Every few decades or so, a group of individuals appear in Cosa Nostra. They are called the strongest, and the best of the mafia world. Just imagine, if even one of these elites join any famiglia, how much power and prestige that Family would get."
Skull leaned against the chair, feeling cold all of a sudden. He guessed he understood what she meant by that. Arcobaleno were the Elite among elites of Mafia. If anyone could get one to either join their Famiglia or even ally with them, they would benefit a lot from it. Humans are greedy by nature. Nothing they have is enough for them. They always want more. More money, more power, more prestige….. That is why they would try their best to lure at least one of the Arcobaleno to their Family.
But Skull's fellow mafia misfits weren't idiots- actually they were far from idiots. They were smarter than Skull, so if even Skull could find out their motives after just listening the bare basics from Viper, they must've figured it out too, and more. They were also all prideful idiots who wouldn't give any small-time Families even a little of their time, and must've rejected any sort of proposals to make them join any Famiglia. That must've pissed them off, and the Mafioso decided to force his mafia misfits to submission. And what better way to make someone submit than by hitting them when they're at their weakest?
Seeing the realization dawn on him, Viper continued with their previous explanation. "Of course, even at our weakest we're still stronger than the other Mafioso. But it was still annoying. The attacks never gave us any time to come in terms of our situation, and the invitation that we had decided to not accept was the only way out of this situation." Viper grumbled "Because other than Vongola, only the Giglieo nero had enough power to force stop this nonsense. As long as we were under the Giglio- Nero's protection, no one would blatantly harm us."
His gut wrenched as a thought appeared in his mind, "You suspect Luce to be the one who spread the news about Arcobaleno." He said.
"It's either her or Checker-Face who did that." Viper hissed as they clenched their fists. Phantasma sensing it's human's agitation, uncurled from it's ring-like form and slid over Viper's shoulders to comfort them. Viper uncurled their fists and patted Phantasma's head lightly, and told Skull, "I'm not the only one who thinks so."
So the others also suspected either Luce or Checker-Face to have schemed against them. He can definitely imagine the utter disaster that must've been the First Arcobaleno Meeting.
However, there was another thing that bothered him. "You said all of the Arcobaleno were attacked." Skull pointed out. "But these past few months I didn't face any attacks at all."
Viper stared at him incredulously. "Are you taking me for a fool? The corpses of mafioso you left behind, and seemed to carve a bloody path all around Italy. The body count of your head is the fourth highest. Reborn killed the most attackers, followed by Fon, Lal and then you."
Skull clenched his fists and then glared at them. "You're lying." He said as his hands trembled a bit. This isn't possible. Fourth highest body count among the Arcobaleno? How can that be?! He hadn't killed anyone! He had spent the past ten months with Harry and their pets. Who could've done that? Who could've killed those people in his name-
-a memory came forefront to his mind, the one where he had asked Harry where had her pets disappeared to the first time they had left the cabin, and Harry had replied that they were "taking care of some pests"….so by pests, she had actually meant the Mafioso who had attacked him, didn't she? Everything made sense now. Why Harry would suddenly suggest to change their destinations in the midst of travelling, or the reason why Little Black and Little White sometimes disappeared and would appear again with a minute stench of blood and death clinging to them –which he only managed to catch because of his sensitive nose whose senses are enhanced by cloud Flames. Harry was the Master of Death, so obviously her pets wouldn't be any normal pets. And she did say that the cat and the raven were given to her by Death, to keep an eye on her, so obviously they weren't harmless at all. They must be supernatural or immortal beings like Harry.
…..But Skull had known that a long time ago, hadn't he? He had already suspected the truth, and had always pretended to be naïve enough to not know what Harry was up to. He had played the fool and put a blind eye on every murder she committed in his name.
Skull should be angry at her, for killing so many people without any remorse…. but he wasn't. Instead, for some reason, warmth bloomed deep inside him, making him want to curl his toes in pleasure. She protected him all these months, she let him stay under her vast, all-encompassing sky…. she gave him a h o m e
She knew he was running away from reality, playing the fool and choosing the coward's way out. But she never scolded him for that or even advised him to face his troubles like many busybodies would do… Instead, she let him do what he wanted and accompanied him through it. She stayed right by his side all this time just because he needed someone –an anchor, a home, a loved one to hold on.
She was the Sky that let this Cloud to wander wherever he wanted. And for the umpteenth time in his life, Skull felt grateful for having such an amazing Sky.
Skull sent Viper back after paying that damn miser all the extra charges for their information, and agreed to be present at the next Arcobaleno meeting, knowing Viper won't leave until they were sure he would actually attend and not disappear off the face of earth –or so they said- a second time. He felt pleased that Viper really cared for his well-being, although the Mist denied it flatly, saying that they were just doing this because of the money they had been paid to track him down and make sure he did attend the second meeting. Yeah, right. Like he'd actually believe that. Viper might've changed a bit after the curse, but deep inside they were still the same.
Skull sat on a bench at the town square, the invitation letter regarding the second meeting in his hand. Viper told him that it had the date, time and venue of the meeting. The meeting was in a week's time. It was enough. A week was enough to get some things done and get over with.
His head was filled with thoughts but instead of feeling restless, he just felt himself at peace. It was nice, he guessed to not have that hollow feeling –that was a mix of claustrophobia, betrayal and pain- he had been feeling ever since he was cursed. He felt like he could finally move on.
A figure appeared before him, shading him the light of the setting sun. Skull craned his neck up to look at the figure. Before him stood Harry, in her usual dark robe that covered her body, looking totally out-of-fashion. He should really get her some other clothes. She'd stand out too much if she kept wearing that cloak everywhere.
Skull blinked his eyes when she suddenly crouched down before him, their faces facing each other at same height. Her green eyes flashed with agitation. He wondered why she was agitated. Did something happen back at Death's Realm? Wait, what emergency could make Harry agitated so much? The end of the world?...Nah, for some reason, he felt like Harry was the kind of person who'd just stare nonchalantly even at the face of dooms day.
Harry stared at his face as if she was searching answers. A few minutes later, she hesitantly asked, "Are you angry?"
…..oh, that's why she was agitated. She must've known that he knows everything now, after all, nothing remains hidden from her. Even with that facial paralysis she had –or so he thought- her eyes always betrayed her true feelings. She was worried that he was angry with her, and that he would take it out on her.
She truly thought too much.
"No." Skull said resolutely. "I'm not angry at all."
She still didn't look convinced.
Skull leaned forward and let his tiny hands wrap around her neck and hugged her. After a moment's hesitation, she returned his embrace to which he smiled.
"I'm happy, actually. I'm very happy." Skull told her. "I've never told you this before, have I? I think I should confess."
He hugged her a bit tighter and spoke, "Thank you for being my Sky, Harry."