A/N: Honestly? I'm terrified posting in a new fandom. Absolutely knee-knocking scared. But this is one of the most mindfucky pairings I've ever seen, and when you add all the religious symbolism...oh my god. So. Feedback would be adored.

Warnings: Some disturbing sexual (and otherwise) behavior from Mukuro.

Disclaimer: The ending poem is Rilke, and...um...Mukuro quotes Neruda at one point. And while I'm at it, KHR is not mine.

Enjoy!


Closed eyes. The far shore of a dream.

A funeral procession snakes from land to sky. Firefly lights coalescing on a hilltop and dissipating into the heavens, the spatter of stars an image half-remembered from some childhood legend. An urn of ashes upturned. Celestial bodies, charred dust, indistinguishable.

You've been here before.

Sunburnt sand. Children with seal-slick bodies stranded amidst foam and surf, seaside stories embroidered in whitewater on their torsos. Sun washing out the beach's edges to russet, poured gold, centrifugal white, reality bleeding out as a hazy illusion picks up the threads. Feminine laughter. Five wet pinpricks, fingers on her cheek.

You've been here before.

Some forsaken forest in the underbelly of the world. Blood seeping into down a matted fur coat, pistoning legs and clawed fingernails. Too many teeth inside her mouth. Several gilded in the heartblood of some creature lying before her with its throat torn out, the warm red anonymity of mutilation. Disembodied veins flapping wetly against her bared tongue.

You've been here before.

Open eyes. Screams.

~X~

He leaves her when she begins to fall apart.

Eventually, the jagged edges will be washed smooth as sea glass—the slow erosion of water: tears, saline, it doesn't matter. It was difficult for him as well, at first, or so he tells himself: it must have been, although he no longer remembers. He doses her with kindness in graduated spoonfuls, and like the wounded animal she is; she closes her little mouth around them, wears herself out returning for more.

But as with any new story, the problem is with the imagery.

The six-tier world is not—has never been—six tiers. He knows she began by expecting this, because that's the way it sounds: a universe in neat degrees, colors and sounds layering over one another like skin over muscle over bone over marrow. But there is nothing so methodical beyond the veil. Instead, the place behind his closed eyes breaks down in a swift cacophony of disintegration. Chaos. Everything existing at once within everything else. There is no order here.

It's not at all surprising that the first time she enters the space between dimensions, Chrome claws wildly at the eyes that are not hers and screams and screams and screams.

-

~one~

-

"What do you mean, unknown benefactor?" her stepfather roars, but it is exactly what it sounds like, however his flashed gold cards and hissed machinations may attempt to persuade the hospital staff otherwise. Mukuro's voice in her head tells her laughingly that the Family always has and always will remain adept at brushing over its tracks.

"Especially," he says, "when performing acts of kindness." His voice a long ladder of silk coiling down from a tower, slipping and slithering out of reach even as she catches it between her hands.

It's been a good year. A mellow spring. Statistically speaking, crime reports are at an all-time low for Namimori; the city was never exactly a hotbed of violence to begin with, so this affects its citizenry not a whit, concerned as they are with the advent of Indian summer—sprays and spreads for outdoor luncheons, thin red line of a thermometer on smudged glass. One blue night, she sits upright in bed at the sound of a stray police siren.

Dealings with known criminals, she thinks at hazy half-waking moments like this. Come for you—come for you—

"For possessing illusory organs?" says Mukuro, a smile she has only seen once percolating in his disembodied voice. "Indeed."

"It's not that," she says hurriedly. "I don't—I mean—"

"You forget that I am under the…care of the Vendici," he says silkily. "Enforcers of Mafia law. Hence, it would be most surprising were your so-called police officers to know of my existence at all. The Vongola we are contracted to, on the other hand…"

Vongola. Training. New being in her body, new names in her mouth. She can do this.

"Whenever you're ready. I have plenty of time."

He leads her into the Realm of Hell and it's the most beautiful place she has ever seen. Sugar-bladed grass. Sky wheeling, lowering to beat a gentle tattoo against her shoulderblades, like the sea. A sensual landscape, yet nothing there—just trees, the air, and the occasional shaft of silvery light. Somehow male in the wide, curved elegance of its skeleton. And this is fitting, because he is there.

"I can teach you all of this," he says. Inverse lightning in his eyes. Yet he is soft, faded at the edges; this is how he paints his landscapes.

When he lowers his eyelashes, she can hear the world stop on its axis.

Mukuro is proficient enough to weave the dream without preparation—the soft auxiliary movements of muscle and sinew that only a careful watcher could spot, subtle stretches of tension and relaxation in his shoulders and wrists. Still, that single slice of movement stops her short. The motion of a conductor raising his baton before an orchestra—weightless, suspended, portentious—and the truth is, Mukuro halts time for her in that split second before the illusion changes at all.

He asks, "Are you paying attention?"

"…Yes," she says. "Yes!"

~X~

She is startled by beauty, as he can see. She does not exclaim and run about laughing, as he has seen so many other fourteen-year-old girls do; she is silent, wide-eyed. He should think of innocence, but he has never known what is meant by this. So it is broken things that cross his mind instead. Silence in a stitched-shut mouth, in a crushed throat. Bloodied bodies against cool marble—but this is an old story, and for one who lives inside the mind, perusal of a memory is dangerous, dangerous. And indeed, already the edges of the illusion have began to change. White Ionic columns. A terazzo above the sea. Slowly the images gain color and depth, shadows rushing like water into the gunshot holes of a ship's hull.

"Where was that?" she asks.

"Nowhere," he reassures her, banishing it with one clean flick of his wrist. "Now, what would you like to make?"

She makes forest.

"Form," he chides her. "Shape. You're too focused on sensation."

And indeed, she is; the panorama they find themselves in is all flickery haze of light and leaf-shadows without the actual leaves. She is terrible at this, although the effect is rather beautiful. He laughs. An abstract painter, but oddly enough, realism is the greatest need of the illusionist. It will not do.

"Again."

She fills in colors like a child making lines in a coloring book. Bitten red lip, biting white teeth. Sometimes she closes her eyes and wracks her own memory, pulling forth trees and moss from snapshots that exist only inside her head—but he knows this is the only real thing that exists, in the annals of the world; he is not one to judge the incredible realness of the mind's secret places.

"The First Realm," he tells her, "is the only Realm possible from which there is no escape. Hell is nothing more than the absence of worlds beyond it—for as long as your victim can conceptualize anything else, he retains hope. And that, my darling, is the single thing which can destroy your illusion."

"Absence of things beyond it," she murmurs.

"That's right."

She lifts her hands again. She's still inexperienced enough that she uses them to weave form from the ether, as if she is a musician at a great piano. Her fingers come down on invisible keys. Motes of colored light flicker into being, whirling faster and faster into a shape clearer than any of them have been thus far. And then the form flickers—a figure, complete, firm at the edges and real to every last wet touch on the sclera of the eyes. It's a figure he knows well, although he hasn't physically seen it in years, bound as he is inside a prison where his own reflection is beyond his line of sight.

Well. Quite the flattering likeness.

"How interesting," he murmurs. "Well done, indeed."

She does not know how to react to the praise. The doppelganger flickers out of corporeality for a moment.

"Am I your own personal Hell, then?"

She flushes, pale skin breaking out in a siren song of red. "I didn't mean—I…"

He waits for her words, which come so quietly the illusion barely ripples with the intrusion. She is an artless creature. She does not know that her words should be hidden away in those dark places of her mind, because she has never had anyone to hide them from. What she does is crack open that pale chest, move aside the glistening striations of muscles and show him a raw red heart, its juices tart and viscous under his tongue. Hers. His.

"There is nothing beyond you, Mukuro-sama," she says.

He is proud that he has taught her, then—what exactly it is to be in Hell.

-

~two~

-

He eases her into the Realm of Ghosts in increments. She is sitting on her porch, tapping sugary dregs of lemonade into her glass, when all of a sudden she is stunned by a craving that swells inside her bones so painfully she knows it is not hers at all. Her eyes are seized by a blinding sun, her arms suddenly alight with a tense shiver of need, and she battles for the light with desire a searing weight in her stomach. Then there is a jolt; mind wrenched out of its halter, and she looks up from the floor to see a moth careen wildly into the lantern and sizzle into death against the electric bulb.

"Desire," says Mukuro. "Need. I could, perhaps," and his voice curls lower, sweeter, "teach you this more clearly were you a little older."

She flushes, not knowing whether this is from his words or the sudden flare of longing that arpeggiates up her back, stoking a careless heat in her stomach and cheeks.

There is desire, Mukuro shows her, in every facet of nature. And yet, it is all accompanied by vertigo and a certain sense of gluttony—the desire to gorge, to slake her thirst on the poisonous fruit of the wood, to vomit it back onto impersonal earth and thrust the loamy dirt into her mouth once again. This is what it means—not to be human, but to be alive.

"To tame another's skills, you must tame his desires," he tells her. "Master them. Map them as he cannot, and then take his accomplishments and make them your own."

He moves her through life forms like slides flicking past in a projector. She is a bear in the forest, sinking her teeth into a deer's neck. Afterwards she spends the night hunched over the toilet, gasping and retching as she remembers not the taste of blood on her tongue, but the taste of her own desire for it, caught between her molars like a secret. She is a hawk wheeling above the city, searching for further and further sight.

Sometimes it is terrifying, knowing that she has been and will be all of these creatures. Sometimes she wakes up screaming.

One day she is one of her own classmates, and this is the most jarring to her—in the moment before she assumes the girl's abilities, she scans her desires, and oh! so many, fear, hot regret, the trembling, jittery, almost hysterical desire to be liked. Nervous tenor of a laugh. She acclimatizes herself to this, stunned. Then she apes the girl flawlessly: speaking loudly, waving her hands, angling hips downwards and eyes upwards to trap some male in a net no less effective for its invisibility.

"Lovely," Mukuro smiles when she settles, shaking, back into her own mind. "I had no idea you could be so flirtatious."

She squeaks. "Mukuro-sama!"

He laughs, waves one slender hand. "Desire, Chrome," he says. "Learn it. Learn to ride the ceaseless hunger of others, and you have learned all there is to the Second Realm. What is it you desire?"

She looks at his face. He has a strange aura of convalescence about him, and this creates the odd misconception that perhaps they are similar in some way, although they are not and never will be. He defies mathematical reality; the curve of his neck an unmappable line, the secrets of past journeys an arterial map beneath his skin. Verses memorized for school recitations flit across her mind—old tales of gods and heroes—beauty great enough to blind. And yet—

And yet

She longs to see his skin pale under flourescent light. His lips, parted over one of the orange popsicles she buys from a vendor outside the school gates, a grace note of juice trickling down his chin. The zigzag part in his hair, gilded in the neon light from Namimori's entertainment district. His voice in open air. Patter of shoes on concrete, rain on a shared umbrella, coins in the metal intestines of an arcade game. Nonsense images. An future laughable in its implausibility. She is ashamed of her desires.

And yet.

~X~

He watches her quietly as she cuts her hair. She goes to Kokuyo and procures herself a military green uniform. In the mirror she twists and turns, proud for once of her appearance. She fingers the spiky upsweep at the back of her head and smiles.

His laughter is a cool dark thing that seeps under the bottom of the glass cylinder, reaches the Vendicare guards and makes them look uneasily at one another. A clear liquid, insidious, corrosive. For this he is capable of waiting.

It is only after he has seen her dressed in the uniform, tying a new eyepatch over her missing eye, that he realizes what she is trying to do. He is prepared when she asks the question.

"Mukuro-sama," she says, naïve enough to fix her eyes in his. "What is it you desire?"

He had wandered through the Realm of Ghosts in the first days of imprisonment. Some of them had torn at his skin, suckling at his veins and screaming as his blood burned like acid in their mouths. After this he never forgot to ground himself. A few moments of meditation—a link to sanity. Between dimensions, a void like a gaping maw, and himself, adrift. Once it frightened him. Now it is cool and clean, a fact like a wet cloth smoothing away a bit of dirt: the Realm of Ghosts can be mastered when one realizes everything is like this, even human beings. Especially human beings.

"I would like to take you to the other side," he says, and this is honest. Where her body goes, so his mind does. And he wants her to see it. For himself.

Himself, unencumbered.

But this thought, he knows, makes it clear that he sees himself as encumbered to begin with—and he did, once, before making himself understand that his reality was not black water, chains, sealed mouth. Dark hair floating about him like a wreath rising to the surface of a lake. For an illusionist to feel entrapped by reality like this is the greatest of failures. The desire for freedom, after all, is at its most honest an acknowledgment of captivity.

"Mukuro-sama?" she says, and he realizes she doesn't understand what he means.

"It was a good question, Chrome," he assures her. "But you don't need the answer. You have my skills for as long as you want them. We are contracted, and the entire world is aware that mafiosi are known for honoring their contracts."

This strikes him as amusing and he laughs and laughs. She does not smile back.

-

~three~

-

"Personally, I have never seen the point of differentiating the Human and Animal Realms," he says to her. "Ideologically, this is perhaps understandable, but in practice, there is no clear delineation."

"The Animal Realm is—slavery, right? Bonds of servitude." The words sound bizarre in her voice. She flushes and quiets.

He laughs. "Something like that. In any case, I have summoned a guard of honor for you, my darling. Whether human or animal is up to you to decide."

And indeed, they are a strange pair. Snarling and spitting offset by a seamless silence. The bitten consonants of the Bologna dialect regurgitated from between the one's mouth, stripped bare in clean flowing vowels from the other's. Distrustful sideways-flicking eyes. Castaway boys. She remembers the feel of the cat in her arms, and knows she is in the right place.

"You may call this girl Chrome," she says to them, her voice lower than it has ever been before. "You will escort her to the battleground for the Mist Ring, and she will fight in my stead."

She expects them to argue, but she already knows that argument with Mukuro is an unthinkable waste of time. They move in front of her, green-clad backs washed grey in the twilight. On the bus, they speak to one another in quietly flaring voices and ignore her entirely. A stroke of jealousy touches her vision like a wet light.

"You were with him," she says as they walk. "When—when the Estraneo were killed."

She doesn't know much about it. He has mentioned it briefly in a waking space, nudging a delicate strand of hair away from his face. His face an artist's sketch of a castle—slim spires and cheekbone buttresses underrun by steel wire, the smooth plane of his forehead touched by the same light that congeals over the Duomo, in that far-away country she has never seen. Two eyes, veiled red, liquid blue, stained glass throwing water-warm shadows onto a cathedral floor. Indeed, the delicate architecture of Mukuro's bones is all she knows of Italy. But from what she has heard, from her acquaintance with the Family—blood on white suit-cuffs, a city sinking under cloying, candlelit water—it seems fitting as the country of his origin.

One of her escorts snorts. "Yeah," he says. "We don't talk about it. Only to him."

"I am him," she says immediately, a response without conscious thought.

Harsh scrape of a laugh. "Right."

And then—

Steel in her hands, satin-slick over the long extension of the pole. Curved silver blades. The symbolism is so powerful it nearly drives her to her knees, in the throes of a mutilated hunger, but when she ghosts a hand over the trident her hands are steady.

"Servitude," murmurs his voice, somewhere beyond the alleyway, "This is the truth of the Third Realm."

"I am Rokudo Mukuro," she says, her voice a knife slipping from its silk sheath. She learns: she does not need to summon an animal to exercise the power of the summoning. "You will treat me as the Guardian of Mist."

A taut, bestial fear spins inside their eyes, but no respect. Familiar.

It is only when she stands in the center of the stadium, her teammates' sullen stares turning her shoulders to sand under her jacket, that she realizes of whom he spoke when he spoke of servitude.

~X~

She does well. As can be expected. She calls on him, and he will need to reprimand her for it later.

But it feels wonderful to stretch his arms, to open the eye that is, in the Vendicare jail, sewn shut. His lashes flutter on her cheek. How exquisite; no wonder the lovers sing of this—he has seen this sort of unity in the dreams of great poets: so close that when I fall asleep, it is your eyes that close…

Their union is perfect in its reciprocity.

As he fills her spaces, she is thrust backward into the prison of his corporal brain—the gag slicing open the thin curvature of her mouth—she screams without sound, eyes wide-open at the dark place in which she has found herself. A prisoner within a tilting plane of glass, wide and unfathomable as a still sea. She thrashes inside the chains.

"Mukuro-sama!" cries her voice, fractured underwater. He muses; she should conserve her breathing. She should be pleased, since she was so curious to know of his past life—now she knows, and he gently tells her this before turning his attention to the Varia illusionist before him.

"Mukuro-sama, help me!"

The Vendici guards see her writhe and stride up to her, eyes narrowed at the thrashing form within the cryogenic cylinder. And even as Chrome-in-Namimori swells to accommodate his reaching bones, his dark-gloved hands, Mukuro-in-Vendicare shrinks, the gag bubbling up from her feminine lips, chains clanking down around the small beskirted figure in the cylinder. She thrashes. Screams and screams as the cold electricity of drowning overtakes her nerves. So breakable, so obvious. He has not taught her well, he thinks. It will have to be remedied after the fight.

"You were a good little soldier," he tells her in the end, when she is dry and clean and safe where she belongs. It shall never be said, after all, that he was not a kind master. "But next time, try not to draw so much attention to yourself. The guards were quite suspicious. 'Rokudo looked smaller,' they said. 'His voice was higher.' Most fortituous that you cut your hair, hmm?"

She says nothing. She is curled up on one of the battered Kokuyo chairs. How different they appear, though they are two caged things—his form like a preserved legend under museum glass, and hers laid bare like this, smashed and crumpled like some used doll. The sight of her brokenness is breathtaking.

"Come now," he says. "Are you angry?"

Like this, she jerks. Like a drowning thing. Beautiful.

"Never with you, Mukuro-sama," comes from between her lips. Soft dead voice, soft as her the spread of her hair in the dark water of his prison cell. He has always been perceptive to the aesthetics of murder, as the incredible beauty of his illusions will attest. This is, perhaps, something remembered from his childhood with the Estraneo family: the penciled lines of a stone fountain, dark blood from some forgotten head wound boiling between the decorative minerals, but still lovely. His own reflection in the water, serene and delicate even as he peeled a festering bandage from his right eye. Oblivious picnickers in an expensive garden. The sunset above his head the russet color of a flipped penny. Chance. Beauty in the falling.

It appears that mafiosi, in the end, will be mafiosi. He laughs. He will ensure that the moment of their deaths is the loveliest of all.

Within Chrome's mind, he creates a gentle violet flame like a draught of liquid. He becomes the flare of light at its tip, dancing about the inside of her skull. "That's right," he breathes, when she closes her eye. He can feel the ache of remembered sight inside the missing one. Slowly he extends his consciousness inside her, just pushing at the edges of possession, the nerves in her body alight with the sensations of two beings, breath caught together.

"The Third Realm," he murmurs inside her, and a small sound escapes from her throat. "Do you understand, now?"

Within her, he swims. Water gilds his body; it is an element he understands. Careful, veins and arteries like harpstrings releasing entire chords of her body's secrets in a lush discordant key. He sends little shocks to her shoulders, her lips, her breasts. When she gives in and tips her head backward, falling into the illusion, he laughs. A mouth that does not exist meets her throat. For the first time, she reaches out to touch him, slipping curious palms under the collar of his white shirt. Under the pads of her fingers, his collarbones gain the smoky smoothness his skin must have had once, before it was rotted by water and lightless days.

"The Animal path," she says in a low voice. "Hopelessness and…reliance on what causes it."

His pleasure snaps and sparkles within him like fine champagne. "Well said!" he praises. "Perceptive of you. Chrome."

When she rocks against him, turning her face away even as her small hips work themselves into the rhythm of his, he can feel her pulse humming like an inchoate scream. An assertion that she is alive. He brushes a kiss over her wrist before sinking his teeth in—her blood is lovely, lovelier even than the taut movements of her limbs as she struggled inside that airtight chamber. She is a watercolor study in fragility, his Chrome. Desirable and breakable, for these are at once facets of the same refined want.

He hopes she will say his name as she said it in the prison—a scream, helpless, abandoned, lost—but in the end there is only one half-whispered "Mukuro-sama," cirrus wisps of pain and pleasure ushering storms across her face as her thighs tighten around him, not real, nothing real, but so much like it. The yearning and the fulfillment, granted within his body as he is granted within hers.

It shall never be said that he is not a kind master.

-

~four~

-

"You will understand the Asura Realm best in melee combat," he says easily, standing across from her in a plain, clean illusion—pine floorboards, wide windows. Beyond the windows, blue sea and blue sky inseparable. She wonders if he has ever been here before, and he chuckles at her thought.

"A borrowed place," he says. "From our charming friend, Sasagawa Ryohei-kun. Apparently, this room is part of a training center on the other side of Namimori. He hasn't had time to visit since his training with Colonello commenced, but we, of course, have that luxury. At any rate, the Asura Realm—"

The beings of the Asura Realm are more dangerous than the Animal because they know their poison, and love it. They are well aware that the sin and misery they feed on will someday feed upon them, but they give of themselves anyway, sacrifice upon sacrifices in the name of leering gods.

"Do you understand?"

She understands.

Violet fire burns around the single character four in his eye. She runs a hand nervously along the shaft of her trident.

"For the purposes of this discussion, I will make you an eye," he says. "Ready?"

And she gasps, grinds her teeth in grateful revulsion as blood vessels and coiling muscles fill the empty space between her eyebrow and cheekbone. Arteries untwine. The illusory eye inflates with vitreous liquid.

"It suits you," says Mukuro. "Shall we, then?"

She purses her lips in concentration, and an answering fire kindles in her own, new red eye.

Hand-to-hand combat with Mukuro is difficult. She doesn't understand where he learned—the Estraneo, after all, had apparently kept him in a laboratory and let him out to exercise, but exercise doesn't translate to this, gyroscopic grace and a speed almost too fast for the eye to see. For the ordinary eye to see. In the illusion, hers is no ordinary eye.

"You will do very well when you use my eye in battle," he says at the end of their session, obviously pleased and not sweating at all, despite his thick green jacket. "Of course, in the event that that does happen, I will be there to help you."

"Thank you, Mukuro-sama."

He smiles. Never with teeth. She wouldn't have any reason to assume he even has teeth if she didn't feel small delicate bites on her neck sometimes, always in the twilight of illusions, when all matters of business are complete.

"Not at all," he replies. "It is fortunate that you have a space saved for me, isn't it?" He taps his right eyelid, smirks.

Fortunate.

But sometimes she ghosts a fingertip over the edge of her eyelid and wonders, wonders…

In her now-perfect illusions she goes back to the memory, an asuraherself, lured by her poisons and yearning for the acid that powders the inside of her veins, gold dust, relic from an accident that is all but forgotten now. But this Mukuro has taught her: between dimensions, nothing is forgotten. Everything is as it was, and as it might have been. The car responsible—an ordinary car, the driver—an ordinary driver, a middle-aged woman with hair falling from a bun, sticky-faced child next to her, tired lines rivuleting around her eyes. Ordinary eyes.

Except that one is blue, and one is red.

~X~

She is too much of a lady to weep.

Within their illusions, Mukuro sometimes recreates for her the world she is expected to join: caverns of wood, vaulted ceilings and low cherrywood tables. He lets her hands, callused from his trident, refit themselves to silver cutlery and long cigarette holders. Her mother was a society woman. She knows these movements.

"You will be the crown jewel of the Vongola Family," he says, smiling as he tips a wine she is not old enough to drink into the cut crystal of her goblet. She prefers the lighter tastes, the Zinfandel over his offered Pinot Noir, but she calmly sips whatever he offers her and runs her tongue over her lips after, taking every last drop. He relishes this. He will destroy them all with her, a heartbreaking irony, when she is such a perfect embodiment of the women with which they decorate their homes. Chrome, he already knows, will grow cool with age. Someday she will be a scarlet drink in a crystal glass herself, and that day—that day—they will dine upon the flesh of his enemies with a silver fork and the correct knife, circling around polite conversation watching the reflections of one another's eyes in a single goblet.

"It is fortunate that you found me," he says, careful to reverse the order of what actually occurred. "You were born for this life, my darling."

She nods. Her hand makes a small hangman's noose about her glass. She picks it up, parts her lips above a gilded rim.

"Fortunate, Mukuro-sama," she agrees. And she drinks.

-

~five~

-

When she is taken, she is unsurprised. Time travel, with its loud spangles and rippling orange waves, is clearly the work of an inferior illusionist. Mukuro's illusions bleed in and out of the world without seams. He has already taught her that she has nothing to fear from what is obvious. Craftsmanship, above all, is what distinguishes the deadly.

Huddling in the ruined Kokuyo of the future, she brings her knees to her chest and reviews lessons. "The Realm of Humans," she recites like a schoolchild, although Mukuro has never made her complete any such exercises. "Hope." Tiny distances between the mortal and the perfect, and the hope of crossing this distance—this is what distinguishes the human world. But this requires sacrifice, pain of some sort. She fingers her eyelid. When her time comes, she already knows what she will sacrifice. For since he first breathed life into her, dragged her soul backwards through each of the realms of this universe and the next, she knew that she would pay for each ounce of kindness in a pound of flesh and a million drops of blood. Shakespeare did not measure correctly, she thinks, allowing a little smile to stretch her cheeks. The first sacrifice tore the last along with it, drew it from its warm body like a thief in the dark. Hope is—

She doesn't need Chikusa and Ken to defeat the Milleflore captain. She already knows this. Once the illusion is bolstered by Mukuro's voice, he is all she needs. When the mist rolls down from unseen mountains and covers the room, and she sees him there, she already knows that, as far as need goes, she has everything covered. Still, she shapes them with her memory anyway, because when she sees them, the living seals of Rokudo Mukuro's word stamped in flesh and skin rather than wax, she is able to believe that his kindness is—in his life—the single thing without consequence. The single interaction that is not illusory. He saved them without reason, after all. He contracted his life away. And for this reassurance, she would sell hers for any of them.

He takes the trident from her hand with an unwavering gentleness, and tears fill her eyes. For he is Rokudo Mukuro, master of every world and every time and every memory, but when he takes the trident from her—same weapon, same hands, glove against her skin more sensual than anything he has done before—they are equals.

Hope is—

~X~

"Well done," he says, when she collapses against the wall. "There was never a doubt in my mind that you would be able to do this."

Of course, there is only one small measure of distance left to her.

Before he vanishes, he kneels before her prone body. She is trying badly to stay awake, and he can see this by the way her drowning eyes fix on his, hopelessly clutching. So he does what he knows he should not, and slips his hand into hers.

"My sweet Chrome," he says, lullaby voice as he shifts his trident from one hand to another. "Sleep."

The Fifth Realm, he knows, hurts. The eye, globe like a small and miniature world, and then the puncture—sharp, exacting, taking a fine level of control to make the correct mark and a finer level still not to burst into screams. A few tears chasing one another out of the bloody cavity, as if fleeing the end of days. And then—

Power. Power. Endlessness. Satiation.

He will give her all this, and more. Before he goes he lifts her jacket and probes her stomach gently, the same quick probe he uses on his own eye before he tears it out, eliminating the binary between himself and the ultimate being. A cursory movement. Checking his lifelines, ensuring that his illusions are still real to her. Eventually, she too will use the technique of the Fifth Realm, and that day, he will be there to smudge the blood from her cheek, smile, whisper whisper whisper poetry that cuts into the aching hollows of her mind.

He is the best of teachers, and she will learn.

-

~six~

-

Bianchi is clear that Chrome will die, although the older girl's businesslike demeanor is in no way indicative of this. But it is her very efficiency that makes this fact clear to Chrome, even as she removes the bedpans and dims the base lighting in the little room, trying in vain to ease the spangles of color that flash across her vision.

A hand in hers, a hand—

"Chrome! Chrome!"

"Mukuro-sama?"

His voice, washing away at the edges and leaving in its wake all kinds of tenderness, rolling and laughing and coiling upon itself like endless oceans. His feet and hands, frail and protruding from the clothes he wears in illusions. Battered jeans. A white shirt. Magician, conjurer—no, nothing, he is Rokudo Mukuro, and somewhere in the world, he is dying. She will meet him now in the Realm of Gods, the Sixth and final Realm she has never learned, and he cannot die, cannot, because he never taught her how to find him again—

"Mukuro-sama!"

"Chrome!"

It is not Mukuro at all, but her Boss, eyes unblinking as he jostles the edge of her bed, despite Bianchi's reprimands. Sawada Tsunayoshi has crossed time to be here, and Mukuro has crossed time to guard him, and she, Chrome—what has she done? How is she worthy of being here, amongst men who have earned greatness?

It is only then that she realizes that she has conceptualized herself and Mukuro separately for the first time since the accident. It is only then that she realizes she wants—needs—to make a contribution of her own.

Needs, perhaps, to be free of him in the only way left to her.

Hibari Kyouya, cupping her head in his hand, grips her ring and glares into her eyes, and she knows what she must do.

hell is the absence of anything beyond it—

Fire, from hell or from heaven, it doesn't matter, simply that there is nothing in the world as strong as that fire, and if it doesn't exist, that's fine—she is an illusionist—she, not Mukuro, she herself, Dokuro Chrome, and she will draw that violet flame from nothing in defiance of the void, in defiance of the world. The room grows dark, but her eyes see nothing but fire.

learn to ride that ceaseless hunger—

A fire bright enough will consume anything, this she knows, but her eyes are not afraid to look into it. Hibari turns his eyes away from her roaring Mist flame, and she smiles, cups her hand over it even as her body spasms. She can touch it. She is not afraid of hunger, for she is hunger, itself, and in her all things are consumed as she rises.

whether human or animal is up to you—

"I am the Guardian of the Mist," she says to the fire in her palm, and this time, the correct words slip off her tongue. "My name is Dokuro Chrome."

know your poison—

The power burns her and cauterizes her from the inside out, veins popping and small bones crackling within the blaze, but she needs nothing more than this, and never has—power that is her own, the untaught inferno. Poison must be drawn into the mouth before it is spit into the world, and this she does, swelling with fire until her insides are clean as the vault of the sky.

hope is—

She locks eyes with Hibari Kyouya and plunges her being into the craters of his spirit, dives through the layers of muscle and vein until she finds his organs—liver, intestine, stomach, glistening secrets laid bare as she possesses him, the Sixth Realm skill that Mukuro never taught—that she learned. She analyzes their composition. Allows herself to laugh. So that's how it's done, she smiles to herself, amid the pain. I can build that.

And this is the one place--among all the wandering through minds beyond minds, fields beyond fields--that she hasn't yet been.

Mukuro-sama—

Spirit, ghost, animal, demon, human, goddess—

—and she has made herself in her own image. She is free.

~X~

Her voice reaches him everywhere he is: entombed in water at the Vendici jail, sprawled and broken on Byakuran's study floor, still young and running about the sunny Estraneo grounds, in possession of two blue eyes. Space and time. He knows the meaning of this. Herself, she has earned her independence.

"I've journeyed through the six worlds, and come back," she says. "I've done it. Mukuro-sama."

She has made the journey he made before him, and now, he knows it is only a matter of time before she has no need of him at all. But for now, this is an acceptable state of affairs—he is a teacher, she his student, and he will exist in her until the very cells of her body can no longer tell his breath from hers. She is his. There is learning still to be had, and he will stretch his hand out to her with empires crumbling in the curves of their lifeline; how can she resist? She will never leave him, even if, someday, she can, but he knows better than to hope for an eventuality like this. Even as his mind allows a strange fear to seep in, insidious mist, he banishes it. There will always be another. He can hope for this. Hope is—

—hope is—

Hope is for the human world, but they are gods.

-

-

with unrest I want to inundate you,

want to brandish you, you vine-wreathed stave.

want, like death itself, to penetrate you

and to pass you onwards like the grave

to the All—

-

to all these things that wait you.

-

-

end