RATING: T, because of...uhm...kissing? And the existence of Squalo.
A/N: After all this, there's only one thing I can say: I'm sorry if you think there's too much Bammon in this chapter. I just love them...and in my fannon it's a huge part of Mammon's growth so eeeeh. Who doesn't like Bammon, anyway? You'd just be insane.
By the way, this is the last chapter. Feels a little sad, don't it? Don't worry, I plan on doing...more. Anywaaaay.
Oh yeah! And special thanks to the usual culprits~ I love you guys.
I don't own anything but my own writing or something to that effect. KHR, the English language, strawberry milk, and adorable bunny rabbits are all property of their respective owners.
A Study In Indigo
Chapter Three: Mammon
By: Indigo Avarice
I guess this is where it starts to get interesting for you, right? This is where I answer all of your questions. This is where you find out how a jaded, soulless creature such as myself learns to care about others. To be honest with you, I myself don't truly know how to answer your question. I don't know why or how or when I started caring about him so much. I don't know when I started thinking of this group of misfits as family—albeit a little dysfunctional. I'm not sure when the line started to blur, between me doing these missions for money and me doing these missions because I enjoyed the time we all spent together, or because I was worried about what might happen to the others if I wasn't there. I've since then used the money as a front, of course, I still say that I'll only work for a price. I still get paid. I'm not cheap, and I'm certainly not free. But there's more to it now. It's complicated.
If I didn't know myself better, I'd say that I finally learned to enjoy living.
The Arcobaleno looked up from his pile of coins, which he'd been stacking into neat little increments. The blonde behind him was grinning—not an unusual sight—and holding two cups.
"Hnnf. Bel, I'm busy right now." He focused back down on the coins, but that didn't stop the other from coming over and taking a seat. It rarely did. People in the Varia did whatever they wanted to, whenever it struck their fancy. And Mammon wasn't about to complain, not really, anyway. He knew what was in that cup and he wanted it.
"The Prince has brought his annoying little baby an afternoon snack~" he set the glass down, the pink liquid settling after a few seconds. Mammon eyed it, trying not to let his mouth twitch a single centimeter from his usual deadpan frown.
But for some odd reason, Belphegor seemed to realize that Mammon was smiling on the inside.
"Ushishi~ The Prince knew this one was your favorite~"
Annoying, Mammon thought. This whole week, Bel had made it his single-handed quest to find out which drink was 'his little baby's favorite~'. After a barrage of alcoholic drinks, (none of which the child touched. He wasn't fond of alcohol. He'd always had a low tolerance for it, even more so now that his body was smaller. Not to mention it made his powers act up in unusual and hard to control ways, often leading to unwanted illusion worlds filled with adorable bunny rabbits) and a collection of different teas, juices, and finally, flavored milks, Bel seemed to have found the one that the baby couldn't resist drinking.
He reached out and accepted the glass, sipping it as slowly as he could convince himself to.
"...thank you." Mammon said, scooting a stack of coins over to Bel. "You win."
Bel seemed silenced by his own sense of self fulfillment for a moment, before pushing the coins back towards Mammon and grinning. "The Prince wants a better prize."
Mammon made a noise and stared at the other. "What..." he sighed, "...would be more suitable?"
Bel didn't say anything, just plucked the little Arcobaleno up and carried him off away from his precious coins.
"Bel!" Mammon argued, but he didn't appear to be getting anywhere with this. Besides...if he struggled too much he'd spill his strawberry milk all over Belphegor, and the last thing he wanted to do was waste the drink. "Put me down."
"Put me down."
"You can't order the Prince to do anything~"
Mammon sighed. This venture seemed pointless, so he stopped struggling and let Belphegor drag him to his room, and plop him on his bed.
"So what's your price?"
"The Prince would like to know what the baby looked like as an adult."
Mammon's eyebrows arched. It seemed like such a pointless request, so terribly strange.
"No," he responded, "it's impossible."
The blonde sat on the bed, folding his legs underneath himself and leaning in close to the arcobaleno.
"But The Prince thought that Mammon was one of the best illusionists there is."
Silence fell for a moment. An illusion? Why had the thought never occurred to him? He leaned back a little on the other's bed, staring at the sheets in thought. An illusion. He made replicas of himself all of the time, it was one of his favorite tricks, but he had never thought to use illusions to alter his appearance...at least, not to alter his appearance back to how it once had been.
The theory was intriguing.
"Fine. I'll try it, just this once...but if I don't succeed, you'll just have to settle for another—"
"The Prince wasn't done." Bel fought back with a pout, folding his arms across his chest in defiance.
He looked like more of a child than the baby ever did. Mammon let out a little sigh, and stared at Prince the Pouter from behind his hood. "Alright, then, what's the rest of your price?"
"A kiss. Once the baby looks older."
The arcobaleno tried not to let color flush onto his cheeks. What a strange request indeed, but...he couldn't say he was surprised. Belphegor was perhaps the most puzzling member of the Varia—maybe the most puzzling person in the entire world—that he had encountered so far. A sociopath of some degree, for certain, the bloody prince had absolutely no mercy in battle. His ways were often cruel and unusual, like a wild cat playing with it's food before the kill. His past was dark, and just as bloody as his present, and yet...and yet...
Despite all of that, Bel had been the first person Mammon could call 'friend' in a long while. His possessive nature in regards to the arcobaleno was almost endearing. Even though Mammon rarely used his own physical form in a fight, he could always count on Bel to have his back if they were partnered for an assignment. Even though Mammon could easily levitate or teleport throughout the Varia mansion, he could always count on Bel to pluck him up after meal times and carry him to his room—and although the illusionist would've usually found actions such as these to be annoying and overbearing, Bel seemed to have a certain way of knowing that sometimes he had to leave the arcobaleno alone.
Or that sometimes sitting together in silence was the best way for them to spend their days.
This favorite-drink-finding-antic was a little annoying, sure, but even this seemed to be done out of affectionate jest rather than a true want to wear on the illusionist's nerves—which was more than could be said about Belphegor's every action in regards to a particular long-haired commander they knew.
"One kiss." Mammon finally agreed.
"On the cheek."
"On the lips."
"A quick one." Mammon shot back, furrowing his brow.
"The Prince agrees to these terms~" he patted the little arcobaleno on the head and leaned back, "Now try."
He sighed. He had promised. The theory was interesting. But the pressing thought of the kiss that would follow kept flushing his cheeks, which caused his mind to be very...elsewhere. It took a few good tries. One. Two. Three.
He focused...and then...
"As beautiful as I thought." Bel declared, "I'm definitely getting that kiss."
Mammon sighed, looking down at himself. The illusion was solid, like the perfect casing over his actual body—an alteration of his actual appearance rather than a projection. That could be altered, played with, changed. He could use this to his advantage...
"Mammon," a hand clasped over his, pulling him closer and closer until he could feel two bodies pressed together, "...that kiss now?"
"Ahh...alright." There was no other choice. It was just a little kiss. He'd done worse than that with strangers for a small price...so why did this feel so...different?
Why were his cheeks bright red under his hood?
Carefully, he leaned up, trying to make sure that his hood didn't budge, didn't give away the pink flush it was hiding. Once he'd extended to eye level, he let out a shaken breath against the other's lips.
"Brace yourself, this is only happening once."
"I mean it." He fought back, and pressed their lips together in a swift motion.
Well, it was meant to be a swift motion, anyway. But that was kind of hard, because the second their skin made contact, the prince wrapped his arms around the arcobaleno, holding his waist, and then the back of his head. For a moment, Mammon felt a sense of panic creep up into his being. What the hell was Bel up to? He tried to jerk backward, but the hand on his head was unrelenting. Using the leverage he had, the blonde tipped Mammon back just slightly, moving his head to the side to get better access to their already melded lips.
Mammon pushed against the other's chest gently, trying to urge him off, but once again to no avail.
And that was when the other broke the kiss. He didn't let go, didn't move away, just hovered. Something inside the illusionist fluttered, a warm, awkward sensation pouring into his chest. And, as if guided by it's own second mind, his hand moved up to the prince's cheek. It rested there for a moment, thumb brushing soft skin, feeling familiar cheekbones under the tips of the other's bangs. And then...and then...as if possessed by the growing warmth inside of him, he gently brushed those bangs back.
Bel didn't say anything. He just blinked, not making a single movement. For a second, things seemed frozen in that awkward aftermath. For a second, the only sound that Mammon could hear was the loud fluttering of his own heart. The only thing he could feel was that fast, dull thump.
And then he felt warmth. A gentle connection of skin as their lips met again. Only this time, the arcobaleno didn't try to push away. In fact, he tried to move closer. He was so lost in the connection, so occupied with the gentle nibbling on his bottom lip, that he didn't notice or care when the blonde pulled back his hood. He didn't mind when he broke the kiss and moved back, the eyes that the both of them hid from the world locking in a moment of sincere...
...Mammon was unfamiliar with the emotion behind either of their gazes. The only thing he could find similar was to say that it was happiness. They were both...happy. But deeper than happy. More than happy.
"The baby's eyes are just as beautiful..." Bel suddenly latched onto Mammon, pulling the other's head into the crook of his neck, rocking him back and forth, "...they're mine, okay? Just mine..."
There was something in those words. The hints of someone who'd been hurt, badly. Like recognized like. Mammon knew that tone, as much as he hated to admit it. Viper knew that tone. Innya knew that tone. It was desperate. Needy. Wanting.
When Mammon didn't respond, the prince pulled him backward and locked eyes with him again. "Just mine, okay?"
The illusionist's lips curled into a gentle smile, and he bumped noses with Bel, touching their foreheads together.
"Just yours," he whispered against the other's skin, "only yours."
And he knew that he meant every word he was saying.
Everything was different after that first kiss. I know you'd probably rather I spare you the details, but I think it's just as important as anything else I've told you. Me and Bel...we trusted each other. More than I'd ever trusted anyone. Eventually, I laid all of my secrets bare to him. Let him inside my very self.
And he never, never made me feel any less for it.
But that's not the point, at the moment, no. The point is, after I learned to trust one...it was easier to trust all. I grew to care for the Varia like they were my family. And they were. In a way that I don't think any of us really realize, we care for each other. Sure, not in the conventional way that other people care for one another but...enough. Enough for how broken we all are.
Maybe that's why it was so hard, when I started to deteriorate. I tried to hide it from all of them, especially Bel. But I couldn't, not forever. And although no one but him would say it outright, I think a lot of us were scared, myself included, for what would happen if I...
The dull throb of pain was crushing in around his skull, his skin crawled with the complete not rightness of it all. Every moment was a labor. Every second he could feel his life crashing in around his heart.
He hadn't ever liked pain. He hated it...
There was a voice somewhere beyond that pain. He stopped leaning against the wall for a moment and turned, catching sight of the troubled prince that had bent down to meet his eye level.
"How much longer?"
There was something so wrong about the slight quiver in that voice, the smallest hint of fear. Far worse than the physical pain of degrading like this, was the emotional shot to the heart that voice sent coursing through the arcobaleno.
He tried to sound the way he always did. Tried to be disinterested, almost rude. But it was more of a whisper. The musings of a scared, hurt child. He lowered his head even more, trying—hoping—that his hood would cover the way his lip trembled, the way his eyes stung.
But looking down made him miss it, the look that flashed across the other's face as he picked up the baby, holding him close to his chest. The elevation didn't last long, though—soon enough the blonde was sliding down the wall, Mammon still held to his chest, drawing his entire self around the child as though that would protect him from the harmful world outside.
"Does my annoying little baby want...something to..."
A pause. A heave of a chest. A small quiver. A single breath.
The signs of someone trying to regain their calm. Trying to cling to their sanity. For one more moment...one more moment...
"Shhhh." He moved and pressed a small hand to the other's lips, raising himself so they could bump noses, "We don't have to talk. We can just sit."
"The Prince usually likes death..."
"...but this time it's..."
"...there's absolutely nothing..."
"...you need to stop thinking about it..."
"...there's nothing you can-"
"...I care about you so much."
It was a whisper. So soft that Mammon hardly heard it. Impossibly quiet. As though Bel himself wasn't sure what the words really meant, but knew that they had to be said. That they were true.
The child stretched up again, hand gently moving to the other's cheek. The trail of wetness was surprising. It wasn't what he'd expected to find. His little fingers moved to the curtain of hair that always covered the other's eyes, and brushed it back gently. He stretched up even more, straining despite the pain coursing through his veins, and his lips found the other's cheek.
The illusion was simple. He'd done it multiple times. He just hadn't tried since the pain had set in. But it didn't take much focus or thinking. It was as natural as a second skin, taking his old form. He leaned against the other's chest, closing his eyes for a moment and just listening to the soft thump of Bel's heart.
"I know," he whispered, "I'm going to try...not to leave you."
The pain was a reminder of how hard that would be. Each movement was labored. Somewhere inside of himself, he already knew it was too late. But he could keep lying to Bel a little bit longer.
"Let's go to your room."
No matter the situation, I always felt my age. I remembered that under the exterior I was cursed with, I was the adult. And my time of weakness well...it was his, too. He felt it with me, pained over the thought of losing me. Some...probably you included...would argue that it was nothing more than the feeling a child experiences over the loss of a favorite toy. But...I know better. I was his friend. We accepted one another, for everything we were. He didn't care that I wasn't male...wasn't female. He wouldn't have cared if I had told him I was part octopus. One of the more favorable aspects of the insane is that they aren't very judgmental.
But there was only so long I could protect him from the harsh reality of it. With the others dying, I began to feel the pressure of what was happening. Began to realize that I had no choice. We were going to have to do something.
I never wanted that something to take me away from Belphegor. Please believe me when I tell you that I do love him...so much more than I love anyone else. I suppose prattle like that is lost on you, probably just makes you sick to hear. But I've never had to make a harder choice than the one I made that day.
I never thought it would be so hard. Never thought it would be Colonnello. I never thought that anything would change the way I thought about the world. I never thought something would mean so much more than my own life...
It came too fast. Everything was moving too fast. The strain of living, the strain of the fight...he was too far drained. There was nothing he could do. He was already on his hands and knees. He was going to die. This was the end. It was over.
"Viper! Watch out!"
He couldn't obey that command. It was too fast. It was too...
It happened faster than he could see it. Movement, yellow and green and then...red. Impossibly red. Too much...red...
The rain arcobaleno looked up from his place on the floor, face contorting into a gentle smile. A smile. At a time like this, it seemed so strange. So foreign. So wrong.
"Viper...you have to know..." the words were strained, heaved through the labored breaths of someone who was quickly fading, "...I never...no one could...Innya, Viper, Mammon...they're all..."
Why was he trying to say this? Why now? Why, when he should be trying to live? Why was it Colonnello? Why, when Innya was the wicked one? Why, when Viper was the one who had abandoned him? Why, when Mammon had never learned to care? Why...why...
"...it's just...don't forget...no matter what you call yourself...no matter...what you say you are...people do...care about y-"
The sound of laughter, and the hit of a second attack ended it. Colonnello was dead before he could even gasp out his last words. The smile was still transfixed on his face, gentle and just as right as it ever had been. He never stopped...always...brighter...
It was somewhere right then. In those final moments, I thought. I thought and all I could think about was that lifeless pacifier on Colonnello's chest. All I could think about was the fact that it was going to be with the very people he had tried so hard to keep it away from. All I could think about was the fact that I had enough energy in me to teleport one more time. All I could think about was the fact that it could be me, or it could be him. I could save myself, and die somewhere else, safe and undefiled...or I could save the memory of Colonnello. I could protect what he stood for. I could save something that was good and pure in the world.
I forgot how to be selfish for one moment in my life.
Mammon was dead. The coward that had run from his responsibilities, from the first people that had ever tried to care about him. The selfish, greedy creature that had hidden behind lies. This was Viper now, crawling across the ground, pitiful as can be, just trying to reach the body of his friend. In a moment, he had made it. He pressed his body against the lifeless corpse of the other, one hand moving, finding the cold metal of a gun. Remembering how to use it. Knowing what he had to do.
"It's so cute how you think there's anything you can do to save yourself, little baby~"
He opened the box, using his own body to obscure the motion. Hid the pacifier within. It was safe now, locked up. He wouldn't let that bastard have it, wouldn't let him defile everything that Colonnello was, everything he stood for. The existence of this pacifier, the burden that should've been Lal's to take, the story of a life full of smiles and sacrifices.
"Hnf...I never said..."
The metal is warm. It's like a heartbeat. It's kindness, a smile. Viper's sure that Colonnello wouldn't mind. He's just borrowing it. Just for a minute.
"...I never said I was going to try to save myself."
The moment he sent the pacifier, he let go of his selfishness. He killed Viper now. All that remained was a scared little girl, Innya, drifting through the lonely spaces of death.
She put it to her head and pulled the trigger.
I can't explain death. I feel that no matter how hard I tried, no words would make you fully understand the state that I was in. And who knows if it's the same for everyone else. Maybe this was a special death—the death of an Arcobaleno. This was a mind lost in the spaces of existence.
And then I was no longer wandering. But once I was back, I didn't know what to do. I didn't know who I was. Mammon had died. Viper had died. All that was left was the girl. All that had been brought back was her.
I wonder, now, if it's because she was who I was meant to be from the beginning. Maybe Viper was just my excuse to hide what I'd done, just as Mammon was a cover for the relationships I'd built with the other Arcobaleno. Or maybe, more to the point, there was no difference between any of them at all. I was just lying to myself. I said that Innya was too weak, and built Viper to replace her...but she was always at the core. She was always the weakness hiding in my heart. She was the one who remembered how to trust, the one that held Colonnello close one night and spilled all her darkest secrets. She was the one who remembered how to love, the one who had crawled into bed with a prince just for the sake of being held. The one who smacked an old friend on the head and reminded him that the life he was living would not make the one he loved proud. The one who avoided seeing the rain as often as she could, ever fearful that he would remember her favorite drink, or her favorite color, or the fact that she loved stuffed animals more than anything in the world.
Innya was the keeper of the soul. Of the heart. Of the whole being. But that didn't make Viper and Mammon any less real. They were just parts. Parts that I'd kept separate. Parts that needed to come back together again.
And that's how it happened. I never mentioned it to anyone other than Bel, never made the verbal distinction that I was a girl again. But I decided at some point that I was. Even if the parts were all different, even if I was male on some level, I decided that I was going to accept Innya a little bit more.
And you know the amazing thing? It hasn't made me any less. I still feel like the person I've always been—Viper, Mammon, whatever you want to call me. I just feel like myself. I'm not the mask I choose to wear anymore.
I'm just me.
A hand came down on the bed next to the Arcobaleno, shifting the bed that she had so comfortably curled up in. She blinked her eyes up at her commander, tilting her head.
"Can I help you, Squalo?"
"You've been back for four days and all you've done is lay here in your bed! Start earning your keep again, you brat!"
Mammon pulled herself up and tilted her head once more, blinking at Squalo from behind tired eyes. For the most part, she was okay. Just a little tired and recovering, that's all. She rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hands, pulling her hood further down once she was done.
While she didn't always feel the need to hide her eyes anymore, it was a matter of habit. Besides, Belphegor loved her eyes, liked keeping them himself...not to mention he had commented on the fact that they were the only part of her features that usually gave away any of her gender ambiguity. She liked to keep it simple—since she really was neither male nor female, she didn't want anyone to have any hints. Be they correct or not. It was for the best if, for the sake of remaining a Varia officer, she was just the same old male Mammon she'd always been.
"Listen!" Squalo leaned in closer, which wasn't necessary because he was already yelling, but obviously it was just how he wanted to be, "Even if Fran is still around, we all would much prefer you at least keep working! You're not as-"
"-annoying?" Mammon asked, lips curling into the quickest smirk possible. Fran did have a way about him—like he was constantly aware of what the worst possible thing he could say at any given moment was. Or maybe it was that he was unaware. Mammon still hadn't had enough time to figure out if the boy enjoyed everyone wanting him dead, or if he was just unable to filter his comments.
Either way, Mammon only found it amusing.
"Get your lazy ass out here and accept a mission or two, you freeloader!"
"Hnf." She pulled herself to a standing position, using her levitation to hide the fact that she wobbled just a bit, and straightened up. "No need to be so bossy. Feed me and I'll take a mission or two."
"Voi! I'm not going to-"
"Carry me to the kitchen."
"No way in hell!"
"Then I guess I could just lay back down..."
Squalo picked the child up roughly and shoved her under his arm like a sack of potatoes. "Just this once." He commented gruffly.
"Of course." She snickered, wiggling to get a little more comfortable in his abrasive grasp.
The second they reached the table, he dumped her.
"Be gentle with that!" a voice from across the table snapped, "That's the prince's Mammon."
"Then you carry it around the house!"
Arms clapped onto her shoulders and she looked up to see Lussuria in an apron. "Don't mind them~ I won't let either of those shit heads ruin our nice family dinner~"
"Yeaaaaah. Lussu-nee is making sleepy-predecessor-san a welcome home cake..."
"VOI! You weren't supposed to give that away, dumbass, it was supposed to be a surprise!"
"The only thing surprising in this room is that you're even more annoying than usual, commander."
"Hnf...that toad is ruining Mammon's welcome home party."
"Geeze, senpai, could you keep your knives out of me at the dinner table?"
That night, while everyone was busy being their usual, clueless selves, I was thinking. Every time someone got angry, or made Lussuria laugh. Every time Squalo shouted obscenities at Bel, or got nailed in the head with something thrown by Xanxus. Every time little things like that happened, I remembered that I really, truly do love this place.
As stupid as that sounds.
We're dysfunctional. But we're the only family I've got. The only people that care about me, even a little. The only people I care about, even a little. I realized that, if I had to continue living this pitiful existence, there was no where else I would rather be.
No one I'd rather be with than my boys. And just so you know, you're included in that. Now...I think you're ready to leave, so go. You've heard my story. Don't ever share it with anyone.
"Lussuria isn't home." she said with a sigh, coming over and running her fingers over the knife wounds in the young boy's back. "But I can at least disinfect these and wrap them up."
"No need, Mammon-san." Fran said with a shrug, voice muffled by the couch. He bent an arm awkwardly to give the Arcobaleno a little wave, and a thumbs up, "I'm A-OK."
Mammon sighed, hiking up Fran's shirt anyway. "I'm dressing these, tadpole, just hold still."
"Not going anywhere, predecessor-san."
She grabbed a cloth and some disinfectant, and started going to town. Part of her considered having a talk with Bel about his blatant abuse of the poor little tadpole...but a different part of her piped in that it probably would have absolutely no effect whatsoever. In fact, it was more likely that Bel would decide Fran was a bad influence on 'his sweet little Mammon~' and torture him even more.
Predictable. Mammon let out a sigh, frowning, and went back to focusing on cleaning up those wounds.
"Heeeey, Mammon-san," Fran had yet to move his face from it's 'comfortable' position of planted straight into the couch cushion.
"What's your story, anyway? Tell me about your life."
She thought about it for a moment. Tell him the story of her life? So few people knew it. But, strange as it may be, she felt that maybe he wouldn't be such a bad choice in the way of people to tell. She stopped cleaning out his wounds, and grabbed some gauze and soothing antibacterial cream to finish dressing them.
"You really want to know?" Mammon asked with a soft laugh, and Fran managed to turn his head a little more, seeming to be actually attentive, "Let me start this off by saying that, in the beginning, I never meant to hurt anyone. I was just a child—hurt, abused, confused beyond words. I never understood. I couldn't fathom why everyone hated me so much, why no one wanted anything to do with me. I didn't realize that my mother's soft words were laced with hatred, didn't realize that what my father was doing was wrong. I didn't understand that the other children were just acting as their parents would have them act.
I didn't get any of it. I was just trying to live, and no one would let me. All I wanted to do was exist."
A/N: DID YOU SEE THAT COMING? Haaa, if you think about it, this story goes on forever and eeeveeer. Reviews if you feel like it~ I'd love to know how you felt about my rather...colorful head cannon. Any questions/concerns I'll address as best I can.