Title: In Dependence
Characters: Chrome, Bianchi + others
Word count: 1,740
Comments: Gen fic. Written hastily and just in the nick of time for oh_shit_santa's summer round of Ride It Like You Stole It: Sidesaddle Edition!
"...what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another." ~ Anatole France
Chrome fingers the crisp edge of the bed sheet. The mattress creaks when Bianchi shifts on the bunk below her. Somewhere down the hall, a click and a whirr are audible, hollow and metallic and faintly resonant, as if the base itself is sighing. The vent hums to life, sending dull vibrations along the wall and Chrome's side where she is pressed against it, face buried in her pillow.
Staring up at the ceiling, she whispers, "Mukuro-sama?"
"Can you stir the soup?" Haru asks. She waves her knife towards the pot.
Chrome nods and fumbles the ladle. Ducking her head, she awaits the abrasive insults that don't come and flinches instead at the kind smile Haru flashes her before turning to chop enthusiastically at the onions. Chrome pretends she doesn't notice.
For all their verbal abuse and crude manners, Ken and Chikusa were... are Mukuro's family and, in turn, hers. The Vongola—Boss and his guardians, this new family—are still a bit unsettling.
A moment later, the boys tumble into the kitchen, noses leading leaden feet.
"How was your training?" Bianchi asks. Gokudera promptly slaps a hand over his stomach and mouth accordingly and flees the room to Tsuna's and Yamamoto's calls.
"Dinner isn't ready yet," Kyoko tells them, fingers clasped at her waist with a cheerfulness that Chrome finds difficult to look at.
The boys drag themselves back out, rubbing at various sore muscles and newly acquired abrasions. Kyoko and Haru trail after them with the intent to tend their wounds, and Bianchi assures them that she and Chrome will see to finishing dinner.
Chrome glances uneasily down into the pot.
An hour later, Bianchi and Chrome serve a curiously smoking concoction.
"Bianchi," Gokudera growls from where he is bent over retching in the far corner.
Bianchi turns a hitched eyebrow at Chrome and says, "I didn't do anything but direct Chrome."
"I-I-I'm sorry," she stutters to the room at large. She takes a step towards the door, and Bianchi presses cool hands to her flushed cheeks, delaying her escape.
"You have talent," she says, smiling like a proud mother hen.
Chrome flushes again and tries to look at anything but the way the boys gape at her in horror. In the corner, Gokudera gags miserably.
She remembers a voice, temperate but dismissive; a murmured 'Nagi' that wells to the surface of her mind like blood beads from a worried scab. The voice is from Before—before the accident, before Mukuro. She thinks, 'Father,' but it is just a word, one that passes without sentiment. She might have loved him, but she doesn't remember, because everyone from Before has lost consequence.
There is only Mukuro and the memory of his fingers curved around her own. His kindness is the only one she needs. It doesn't matter all the subtle cruelties Mukuro stows beneath, because they are not for her.
Curled around her pillow, her palm rests atop her trident; an illusion wrought by the ring that weights her hand, but no less an anchor. There is a yawning emptiness now where Mukuro had been, an aching hollow so acute that if she could reach into her chest, she'd expect to find just the dry husk of her ribs.
You have talent, Bianchi had said. Chrome wonders if she should perhaps resent the warmth that had stirred with those words. Such compliments inspire hope, they delineate higher expectations, and Chrome has only ever strived for Mukuro's ambitions; she has never had any of her own.
"Mukuro-sama," she whispers. His silence is unbearable.
The door opens, and the light from the hallway cuts a glowing block into the wall. The sharp corners of her trident wink in greeting.
"Training in the morning," Bianchi says. Chrome nods at her silhouette, and Bianchi retreats, casting the room again in soothing shadow.
Bianchi is a stern tutor. She insists on good form, always. Her attacks aren't wildly explosive like her brother's; they are direct and precise. Sloppiness will inevitably result in pain.
Chrome doesn't mind the pain. Her trident moves by her own direction now, no longer the airplane from which Mukuro maneuvered her puppet strings to dance around his enemies. She fills her burning lungs and tries not to think about it, his absence, the lack of him, persistent like the cobwebs that dress the cavern of her stomach.
Her back hits the floor and she gasps for air that takes a moment to arrive. Bianchi bends over her and smiles.
"Well done, Chrome," she says and offers her hand.
Chrome stares at it, memories overlapping, and slowly rests her palm against Bianchi's.
There are many things she has learned since she was brought here, the least of which is how to fight without illusions. Their manner towards her still leaves her grappling for a proper response. But they don't mind when she gives them none, and she doesn't know if it is acceptance they have given her or tolerance.
She tries to believe it doesn't matter, in the face of what she has lost.
Bianchi pats her back and says, "Try again. And don't hold back; I know your illusions are as strong as Mukuro's."
Even nestled underground and far away from the city life above, it is never truly silent. The base is a flutter of automated activity—turning cogs, blinking display lights, the drone of air rushing through singing vents. It is unnatural enough to remind Chrome that this is a temporary state. It is cold comfort, this false security, this pleasant purgatory between Mukuro and...
She doesn't want to believe that he might not come back. Waiting is something she has all but mastered, but it is no less weary for its familiarity.
When she finally sleeps, she dreams of him. But it is nothing more than that—an illusion fashioned from her longing. In her dreams, he whispers her name like a prayer to a secret God, inversely created in his image. "My sweet Chrome," he says, and she wakes up with a dry sob caught in her throat and Bianchi's hand rubbing soothingly at her back.
The baby drops in on their training sometimes. Bianchi's flame burns brighter in his presence. Her attacks rain faster and fiercer, scorpions swarming around her in a drove of brilliant red flames. Chrome can do little else but defend herself.
Before he leaves, Bianchi cradles him in her arms and cards her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck. Her lips find his cheek and she releases him with reluctant hands, always watching until the door has closed behind him before returning her attention to Chrome.
For all of this, Chrome knows Bianchi is dependent on Reborn for neither strength nor sustenance. Reborn provides her with nothing Chrome can noticeably detect other than his words and the consolation of his presence. It is a curious, envious, exchange.
Bianchi's scorpions leap from their boxes; Chrome's hands tighten around her trident.
There are many things she has learned from Mukuro as well, and while their codependence might have appeared to be in his favor from an outsider's perspective, she thinks his greatest gift to her is not the illusions her mind can now conjure but the simple act of living. Her life has been just as much for Mukuro's continued existence as her own, but now that she has failed him, now when she reaches out for him and encounters little else but teeming gray, she believes Mukuro would not forsake her the ability to choose her next step.
The soup is smoking again and becoming far more viscous than it probably should have been. Chrome pokes at it with the spatula.
"Looks great," Bianchi says from where she's preparing a bento for Reborn. The fumes rising in noxious green plumes don't appear to bother her, so Chrome tries not to wrinkle her nose or cough or inhale too deeply.
Poison cooking is a distracting pastime, and Bianchi makes for an agreeable tutor outside of their physical training. She is neither unnecessarily cruel (at least to Chrome) nor impatient. And while Chrome appreciates her company, it doesn't make her miss her other companions any less, or ease the gap where Mukuro should have been.
"Have faith in them."
Chrome starts and drops the spatula into the soup. "Ah!" She quickly fishes it out, turning her back to Bianchi to hide her burning cheeks.
Behind her, Bianchi says, "The best option now is to make yourself stronger. So when you see them again, you can fight by their side."
"Y-yes," Chrome says, because she supposes it could be true.
"It's okay to miss them." Faint bubbling noises indicate Bianchi has returned to preparing Reborn's bento. "But you're underestimating them if you think they're gone."
Chrome stirs the soup slowly (mostly because it is now too thick and the spatula is sticking). "Mukuro-sama..."
"There's no certainty Byakuran killed him. Have faith."
Firm hands grasp her shoulders. Chrome bites her lip as she turns to face Bianchi.
"I thought I'd lost Reborn once too. But he came back to me," she says, voice gentle.
Chrome tangles her fingers in the hem of her shirt and nods.
Bianchi rests a warm hand on Chrome's head. "What would you do if you were as strong as Mukuro?"
The question catches her off guard. Chrome's brows furrow; she has never considered herself to be Mukuro's equal. But if she were... The answer is startlingly, frighteningly clear.
She would shroud herself in illusions and walk through the doors of the Vendici prison; she would free Mukuro from his cell and bring down the walls of their fortress. But before Chrome can give voice to her thoughts, Bianchi grins with a shrewd tilt of her chin.
This, Chrome thinks, is what it feels like to possess an ambition.
When the appointed day arrives, Bianchi lays out a black suit tailored just for Chrome across the top bunk. Chrome runs her fingers along its pressed creases and tucks her hand inside one of the sleeves. She can hear Ken scoffing at the formality, Chikusa's silence that is neither malevolent nor indifferent. Mukuro's soft laughter at heading into battle dressed for a funeral. She thinks, maybe, he would approve.
"Are you ready?" Bianchi crosses her arms, and gives her an expectant look.
Chrome gathers the suit to her chest and says, "Yes."