Hibari Kyoya has never had a problem with the things he is asked to do. He is, if not the most popular of the Vongola, certainly the most efficient. A mere mention of the Cloud Guardian's name is enough to cause lesser men of the Mafia to look around in fear - after all, what if relations have soured between their family and the Vongola? Or what if they've simply, unknowingly, pissed him off?

When he bothers to think about it, Hibari is fond of that reputation. He has no particular love of his job or his supposed family, but Sawada Tsunayoshi provides him with enough freedom that he hasn't walked away in years (for some reason, every time he has chance seems to bring him back into the orbit of these annoying children - so why fight it, if they know enough to leave him alone?). Though he spends more time in Italy now, Hibari still enforces the discipline of Namimori - only now he enforces the discipline of the Vongola as well, however he sees fit, sometimes at Sawada's requests and sometimes... not.

He is content enough, and the looks of terror on the faces of his enemies when they see who has come to visit them is always satisfying. Because of that, he usually accepts the jobs he is given.

Hibari has even mellowed out enough to, occasionally, work with other people - other Guardians, as irritating as they can be. And it's not so bad, he's decided, since it's easy to ignore them.

Except Chrome.

Not that it's her, not really. He couldn't care less about iher/i. It's the one she carries with her, the one who watches from behind her eyes whenever Hibari is told to 'work with the Mist Guardian on this one'. Never ihim/i, he's locked away deep in some prison, never again to see the light of day - and anyway, not even Sawada is stupid enough to expect them to get along. So he's told to work with Chrome when their skills are needed for a certain job, even though she's not as strong, even though she's not nearly as brutal and is unable to hide that she doesn't like killing.

But Hibari knows. He can feel Rokudo Mukuro's presence like hair standing up on the back of his neck, like the electricity in the air right before a storm. He knows that even if he doesn't see Mukuro, Mukuro is always there.

He does it to piss Hibari off. Hibari is sure of this, because what other reason is there? Whenever he is forced to work with Chrome, Mukuro is there lurking just behind her wide, guileless eyes. He never shows himself, but Hibari knows. It's in the way her eyes narrow just a little, the way she holds her head at a slight angle, the way that - sometimes - he can see the faint traces of a smile at the corners of her lips when she sees him spilling some herbivore's blood.

That's why he hates working with Chrome. That's why he nearly refused this mission when Sawada asked him - but here he is now, crushing some pathetic drug runners who dared to upset the head of the Vongola. They were using children as drug mules, or something like that, and Sawada wants them saved. Hibari is no bleeding heart and really doesn't care, but he's had little to do recently, and he was growing bored - reason enough to accept the job, even if he must work with the Mist Guardian.

Things are different this time, though. Chrome does as she is supposed to, gaining them access, tricking the guards and security system with an illusion, but after that Hibari expects to be on his own. That is why he's there, after all. Chrome is not skilled at direct combat, so it's Hibari's responsibility to tear these fools apart and let them choke to death on their own blood. Chrome will provide backup and keep them hidden as long as possible so Hibari will not have to fight too many at once (not that he couldn't, it's just more entertaining one-on-one).

But it doesn't happen quite that way.

Once they are inside, Hibari fights - but so does Chrome. She stands straighter, doesn't look away when blood is spilled, even spills some herself. It doesn't take Hibari long to realize why. Chrome is not like this, never so ruthless or merciless, and it pisses him off. Isn't enough that Rokudo Mukuro amuses himself by overseeing Hibari's missions? Now he's involving himself in them, fighting opponents that are not meant for him, breaking the unspoken agreement where he stays out of Hibari's affairs and Hibari doesn't track him down and break his neck.

Well. That's how Hibari has always assumed their agreement goes, anyway.

Finally he loses his temper, grabs Chrome - Chrome's body - by the throat and slams it up against the wall. She is light and too small, all wrong, but it's the best he can do right now.

"What are you doing?" he snarls, tonfa inches away.

She smiles, a smile the real Chrome never wears. "My job?" It's phrased as a question, light and playful, just more and more obvious signs that this is not Chrome.

"Get out," Hibari says, bluntly. "You're getting in my way."

"No, I'm not," Mukuro says, and it is Mukuro now, a sudden change between one blink and the next. Even though Hibari knows this is still not real, it feels real. Mukuro's illusions, barely one step away from reality, and even though Hibari has trained to break illusions (for reasons he does not think about) he has trouble reminding himself that Mukuro isn't really here.

He glares and grips Mukuro's throat tighter, though he knows Chrome will be the one with the bruise later. "Don't play these stupid games in the middle of a mission. I'm not one of your toys."

Mukuro's eyes narrow slightly, and though he hasn't moved Hibari can sense his danger, that sharp edge that so few have, even in the Mafia. The one that says this man can kill as easily as he can draw breath.

They have that in common, Hibari and Mukuro. That much he can admit to.

Suddenly Mukuro laughs, though his eyes are still hard. "It's not always about you, Kyoya. I'm here for my own reasons." He smiles. "Not that I don't love watching you work."

Hibari stares at him for a long moment, then releases him. Whether Mukuro is lying or not, he doesn't know and doesn't really care. They are in the middle of an enemy's hideout, this is not the best place to argue. He can save it for later. "Just don't get in my way."

Mukuro doesn't. They continue, and Hibari has to grudgingly admit that Mukuro is good at what he does. The best. He kills without hesitance or remorse, and he even leaves most of the fights for Hibari - the one thing that makes Hibari think Mukuro might really be here for some reason besides pissing him off.

When they find the leader, Hibari learns more. Mukuro tortures the location of the children out of them - Hibari has not seen him do this before, though he knows Mukuro is in charge of most information-gathering for the Vongola. Hibari is used to the big talk of these kinds of men, small-time crooks who think they're the kings of their little fiefdoms. They are not easy to break, but Mukuro hardly bats an eye.

It's an education all on its own, watching Mukuro work, all the more disturbing because Mukuro does not lose his slight smile as he's turning the man into a bloody, screaming mess. He does not even need to touch the man, instead using his illusions, as relaxed as if he's taking a walk in the park.

When they have the information, Mukuro kills him. He turns to Hibari and smiles. "Chrome hates doing that, you see, and I hate seeing her upset. She doesn't like the way they scream."

Hibari doesn't think that's the only reason, but he isn't sure why. Something about the smile, a little brittle around the edges - not that he has studied Mukuro's smiles. There's something off, that's all.

They free the children, as Tsunayoshi instructed, leading them to the waiting arms of the Vongola men who have just arrived. They aren't in good shape, and some need to be carried - Hibari cares little for saving the world, but even he can see this is wrong. Children barely old enough to be in school, obviously abused and manipulated, and Hibari remembers bits and pieces he's picked up. Things Mukuro does not talk about, things few might know about, but word gets around, and Hibari has done his own research.

"Do you feel like a hero, Kyoya?" Mukuro asks from next to him, casual and amused. Hibari glances at him and there is no sign of fragility, no sign that he cares at all for the broken children being taken somewhere safe. No sign that he cares for anything, but that is Mukuro's way, bound by more than just the iron chains around him. But maybe it's easier to lock things up when you do it yourself.

"Don't interfere in one of my missions again," Hibari says, and scowls. "If you do, I'll find you and kill you."

Mukuro smiles, turning to face him, a strange challenge in his eyes. "If you can find me, you can do whatever you want to me."

Hibari wonders what that means, what game this is. He knows where Mukuro is - everyone does, but not a soul can get to him. Hibari has threatened him before, but this is the first time Mukuro has issued such a challenge. He doesn't know why things should be different because of this mission, or maybe he just doesn't want to admit that he knows why, that he sees Mukuro differently than he did before.

And Mukuro, it seems, sees him differently too. It lights a strange, angry fire in his chest. "I'll bite you to death," he says.

"I'm sure you can be more creative than that," Mukuro says, and his lips brush Hibari's cheek like a light breeze before he is gone, leaving Chrome in his place, blinking in the light. She steps back but looks at Hibari for a moment, and Hibari wonders how much she sees and hears when Mukuro takes control.

Not that it matters.

"I'll kill him," he says to her, and she smiles a tiny little smile that makes him scowl even more.

"I think he wants you to free him instead," Chrome says.

Hibari says nothing, turns and walks away. The mission is over, he won't think about this anymore, he won't care.

But he does think, and one of the things he thinks is: the guardians of Vindice are supposed to be strong. Perhaps he is stronger.

There's really only one way to find out.