Who: Mukuro, Fran, Verde. Others are mentioned.

When: canon, present, Arcobaleno Arc; compliant with everything that's been going on in the manga lately.

What: humor/gen

Warnings: none

A Lesson In Humility

-/-

"Dear Mukuro," said Verde in an oily voice that did little to mask the insincerity of his words. "For a human being as exceptionally talented as yourself, you demonstrate an unfortunate lack of judgment."

"Esteemed professor Verde," replied Mukuro, adopting a tone that was so syrupy sweet just hearing it would give anyone a toothache. "Reluctant though I may be to admit the fact, it saddens me greatly that an acclaimed genius such as yourself appears to be so bereft of vision."

Somewhere in the background, there was a slightly disturbing noise that suggested that the others were listening as well. Not exactly eavesdropping, not exactly hiding, but being quieter than usual and offering no smartass comments. The last part was actually good because Mukuro privately believed it to be one of his sidekicks' major downfalls. Even without turning his head, he knew that M.M. was probably trying to conceal her giggling behind one of her well manicured hands, at the same time making sure everyone could admire her atrocious new nail polish properly; while the sickening gurgling sound meant Ken was struggling to decide whether he had to cough out the excess of ice-cream he had bitten off or try to swallow it anyway. No one should ever make an attempt at snorting with one's mouth full.

Mukuro eyed the Arcobaleno with an expression of well-practiced benevolence, shamelessly happy with the additional advantage that Verde's small height gave him. Oh, he didn't need such a cheap victory, of course, never that, but it was still nice to be able to loom over someone. There was nothing wrong with deriving satisfaction from simpler things in life, especially after they had been denied to him for such a long time. And besides, he was already more than just good at complicated.

"In my opinion," he said, aiming a fake smile down at the scientist, "you're letting your emotions take control. I find myself surprised, to say the least, at this – ah, how should I put it? – this unexpected display of childish behavior. Although perhaps I shouldn't judge you so harshly? This curse of yours might very easily be causing this otherwise insignificant flaw to seem so exaggerated. However, I can assure you that I understand completely and will not allow it to hinder our collective progress."

Verde inspected him from behind the glasses that looked entirely too big and out of place on his small baby face.

"I confess that it pleases me to be in the company of such a remarkably forgiving individual," he drawled finally, putting on a smile that could give Mukuro a run for his money. "And in the light of that particular fact I would absolutely hate to point out you have a tendency to become, to put it mildly, quite unsettled, as well as unnecessarily violent, whenever a certain someone likens your hairstyle to a certain tropical fruit. But, being aware of your personal history, I am, of course, prepared to overlook this little detail."

Mukuro's smile became frosty. Too many people seemed to have a problem with his hair lately. It was beginning to upset him a little, and that in itself was a worrying sign. if only because such a minor, insignificant thing shouldn't warrant negative reaction at all. Definitely not from him, who'd been to the border of transmigration and beyond and had managed to return, despite everything that had been done to ensure he never found his way back. But it did irk him anyway, and he knew who was to blame for this ridiculous pineapple comparison.

He turned his head slightly and, for the first time that day, cast a sideways glance at the culprit.

It was a truly discouraging sight. Fran, seated cross-legged on the dirty floor of what served as their living room in Kokuyo Land, was vigorously picking his nose. He was so engrossed in this disgusting activity that apparently the whole conversation between Mukuro and Verde had fallen on deaf ears – or rather, hadn't reached his ears at all. He was still wearing a coat big enough for him to drown in and boots that, by the look of them, used to belong to Chikusa. And he had his illusionary apple-shaped hat on, complete with a cheerful green leaf. His expression was that of innocent idiocy.

Apparently, similar thoughts were going through Verde's over-sized head because the Arcobaleno adjusted his glasses and said in a mild tone.

"To be completely honest with you, Mukuro, my dear temporary partner and colleague," there was a clear emphasis on the word temporary, "I find myself questioning the usefulness of having your apprentice here with us. He has no respect for any authority and he seems to be under the impression that he can do as he pleases. And so far, only very strange things have occurred to him."

"Just because my apprentice has yet to display any sign of respect for you, dear professor, doesn't imply he is stupid or lacking in any department."

"I wouldn't say that he holds you in high regard either."

"The relationship between a master illusionist and his pupil, no matter how dumb the latter may appear to a casual observer, is a multilayered concept incomprehensible to those gifted with nothing but the most mediocre perceptive ability."

There was more sniggering from M.M. and Ken, but at least they refrained from joining in and offering what they considered to be useful insight and Mukuro, in the privacy of his mind, deemed to be naïve crap.

"He tends to underestimate the gravity of the situation at hand," Verde pointed out placidly, his expression indicating that he was fully aware that he'd just been fed a bucketful of bullshit and wasn't impressed by it.

Mukuro made sure his smile stayed glued to his lips. "It might be because the situation is only grave for you, professor Verde, as well as for the rest of the Arcobaleno, of course. We... I have only agreed to become your representative in this battle because of the equipment you promised to provide."

"Hm... Be that as it may, I do believe I kept that promise. So in turn, I would like you, dear Mukuro, to deliver on yours–"

A deep sigh followed by a rhythmical thumping sound interrupted the Arcobaleno mid-sentence, and made them both turn around.

Fran was still sitting on the floor in exactly the same position, but now he was wearing only one boot. The other one he was holding in his hand, tapping it gingerly on floor. His mouth was slightly open, and the vacant expression on his face had become intense. He looked as if he was going to keep up the boot activity until the day he died.

Verde made a small, not-exactly-coughing sound in the back of his throat and shot Mukuro a smug meaningful look that clearly said and just how are you going to explain this, eh? without any words being spoken out loud.

To himself, Mukuro admitted that he had no idea. But the tapping was beginning to get on his nerves.

"Fran," he said quietly. "What are you doing now?"

"Oh?" Fran looked up, blinking. He paused for a moment, then resumed the tapping. "Ohh! I'm trying to exorcise the evil spirits."

The slurping in the back of the room stopped Ken and M.M. forgot about the ice-cream. Verde's silence was so loud it rang.

"What spirits exactly?" Mukuro asked in his special gentle voice that promised torture and madness.

"The evil ones!" Fran dangled the boot in the air, pointing at it with his other hand. "This thing is full of them." He directed a disappointed look at Mukuro. "If you hadn't been so busy talking about phony stuff with the stupid professor, you'd have felt their presence too."

"Begging you pardon," said Verde, "but are you saying that something is possessing this boot?"

"Oh yes. I sensed it this morning when I put it on." Fran raised a finger to his lips. "Something moved inside it!"

"It must have been a cockroach," Ken snorted from his corner.

"Or a spider." M.M.'s voice was dreamy. "A poisonous spider. A big one. I hope it bites Fran."

"Anyway, it's Chikusa's old boot."

"And it stinks. Eww."

"So it totally fits Fran, right?"

"As long as he doesn't take the disgusting thing off!"

Fran gazed at them reproachfully. "You are both unbelievably stupid, " he said matter-of-factly. The green leaf on his apple hat seemed to have wilted slightly to emphasize the point. "But how d'you know, W.W., maybe next time your panties'll get possessed?"

"Fran! You little dickhead!"

Such a shame, Mukuro thought longingly, watching M.M. go red in the face as she desperately tried to scramble up words insulting enough to fling at Fran, it was really such a shame that his apprentice was so uniquely talented – and therefore a useful asset to his anti-mafia plans – that he couldn't afford to dispose of him. Such a shame indeed that the boy was also so adept at being annoying that Mukuro found himself forced to resort to primitive physical violence. To think that he actually had to stick his trident into Fran's head to make him listen! It was quite unbecoming of him, especially when there were much worthier targets out there in the world, like Tsunayoshi Sawada's Guardians, for example. Hibari, for example, would always be his first choice of a victim. The simpleton had no finesse, no flexibility. No cunning. What use was the brute strength if you had no precision?

Mukuro eyed Fran contemplatively, and the kid met his gaze and beamed.

"Hey, Master," he droned as he waved the accursed boot in the air again. "You and me can exorcise the demons by ourselves! We don't need those morons! Well, we should let Verrypoo join, I guess, so we can be a fearsome threesome!"

"Excuse me?" Verde stepped back, obviously eager to put as much distance as he could between himself and the boy.

"Three is a really powerful magic number!" said Fran excitedly, apparently unaware of the fact that Mukuro's fingers had tightened on the trident at the mention of a threesome. "But we'll need to disguise ourselves so the demons won't recognize us when they come back for vengeance! I can take care of it, you know. Fruity style!"

The air moved – or rather, it seemed to move although there was no real wind – and then, almost immediately, Mukuro could see it shimmer around the Arcobaleno's head as well as on the edges of his own vision as it reshaped itself into what – in Verde's case – appeared to be a giant strawberry. It was very red.

There was no mirror in the room, but Mukuro knew without a doubt what kind of illusion the little bastard had created on his head.

"That pineapple is even uglier than your real hair, Master!" Fran announced cheerfully. "Let's ro–"

Mukuro's eyes narrowed furiously.

Snap.

The idiotic, disgusting illusion disappeared in an instant. Mukuro swung his trident in a wide arc and stuck it firmly into Fran's apple-shaped hat which produced a faint puff as it got pierced, like a balloon.

"Ohhh!" complained Fran, finally dropping the boot and trying to free himself with the least amount of damage.

"Now you see what I meant?" screeched Verde indignantly, feeling his head to make sure there was nothing fruity about its shape anymore.

Not for the first time during the last several months, Mukuro regretted that he hadn't been persistent enough during his fateful conversation with Squalo. He should have never agreed to be the one who took Fran, no matter how useful the boy was in the Representative Battle. It just wasn't worth it. Mukuro was certainly going to make Fran go through some really hellish training, but a terrible suspicion was already creeping up on him that it might not solve the problem. It made no difference how hard you hit Fran – he always bounced back up.

Pulling the trident free, Mukuro wondered how the Varia – the Varia from the future, that is – had dealt with this. He couldn't recall Fran daring to cast any stupid illusions on Xanxus or even Squalo, so they must have been able to knock the idiocy out of him somehow. Maybe he should ask them himself while they were still hanging around in that posh hotel. They had their own memories of the future too, so they should remember what it was they'd done to enforce the discipline on his apprentice. Normally, Mukuro wouldn't even consider seeking the questionable wisdom of the Varia and it irked him that some mafiosi had been able to succeed where he was at a loss, but Fran was taking annoying to a whole new level, and Mukuro was quickly coming to a conclusion that he had less patience than he had previously thought.

Besides, if the Varia were truly going to rent Fran out when they needed him, as Squalo had proclaimed, they might be inclined to share the secret without demanding a fee, at least if he was careful enough to avoid their greedy Arcobaleno.

"You can't punish me for complimenting you, Master! That pineapple brought out the best in you!"

Yes, he wished he had left the kid with the Varia. They of all people deserved him.


A/N.: no idea where that came from, seriously. :D Anyway, I hope you like it, random though it may be.

Please tell me what you think! :D