Chapter 1

Skull groaned, rolling over in his bed. He had had that dream again, and for the life of him, couldn't figure out why he was still being haunted by his past. How long ago was it when that night occurred? When he walked away from his fun filled family, despite him being needed the most?

A sharp knock on the door brought him out of his thoughts.

"Get up, kora! We're going shopping with Luce!" Skull heard Colonello shout through the door.

Groaning again, Skull reluctantly got out of bed to get dressed. He took extra time to make sure his makeup was perfect. No need to have everyone questioning him about his scars. He pulled on his heeled boots, fighting off the memories that threatened to rise, before stumbling down the stairs, straight into Verde.

Verde turned to him with a glare in his eyes.

"Watch it, moron. I need a new test experiment."

"S-s-sorry sempai!" Skull stuttered out.

Verde glared a bit more before he walked away, grumbling as he went.

"Hey, lackey." Skull jumped sky high before whirling around to see Reborn standing there with a smirk on his face.

"Get in the car. Luce is ready to go."

"But I haven't eaten yet!" Skull protested.

Reborn smirked before turning towards the door.

"And whose fault is that, Lackey?"

Skull walked to the car, muttering the whole way. It's wasn't his fault everyone else rose early. A smack to his head sent him sprawling towards the door.

"Shut it, maggot!" Lal shouted at him.

Skull dragged himself the rest of the way to the car in silence, fearing another assault to his head.

"Okay everybody," Luce started, "I made lists of things everyone needs to buy! Reborn, can you go get the fresh produce with Fon? Lal, Colenello? You two are going for clothes and ammunition. Verde and Viper, you guys are going to get the meat. Skull I'm sending you to get a birthday present for a friend. It needs to be for a girl, but other than that I don't care what you get for her. Any questions?"

Silence answered her.

"No? Good. Meet me in front of the fountain at noon."

And with that she headed off to get the rest of her required items.

Slowly, the group began to disperse, heading off in pairs, and leaving Skull alone by the gate of the mall. He sighed, knowing he was going to disappoint Luce because of his terrible skills at shopping for others. Normally, he would take the "special person" out to eat and then head to the mall to let them pick their own gift. Too bad that wouldn't work now. Again Skull sighed, this time bombarded with memories of his siblings, and the childhood they had shared.

Shaking his head, he headed to the nearest "girly" store. The only thing it had was clothes, and even Skull knew never to get a lady clothes for a present, especially when he didn't know what size to get. The next few stores yielded the same results, and even in the next couple of stores he found nothing. Finally, Skull headed towards a jewelry store. Looking around, he found only rings, but he figured it would be weird getting a ring for a stranger. What if the birthday girl took the meaning in the wrong way? He could end up with an old lady thinking they were engaged!

Sighing, Skull headed towards the first employee he saw, determined to find at least something suitable for a gift. As he explained his situation to the employee, he was interrupted by a shady looking person, who wore a dark blue cloak that covered everything except the bottom half off his face. Immediately the assisting employee immediately began to explain Skull's problem to the newcomer, who nodded his understanding. The hooded figure gracefully glided towards a door that Skull had somehow failed to notice, before beckoning the customer inside.

Hesitating for just a moment, he followed. Something seemed off. Something was making him uneasy.

Sure enough, as soon as he was inside the room, the door slammed shut, causing warnings bells to go off in his mind. Subtly, he leaned against the door, testing its strength against his own.

Nothing.

Not even a door.

Well, damn.

"So," the employee-who-was-definitely-not-an-employee began, sending chills crawling across Skull's back. "What can I help you with? We have pins, necklaces, rings, barrettes, watches, bracelets, and more. Can you tell me exactly what it is that you are looking for?" His voice was smooth, as if it had been greased, and yet there was some not-so-hidden malice behind it. "Or perhaps you would like one of our special readings? They're even half priced, just for you." Here he chuckled. "But really! What can a measly palm reading tell me about the mighty Skull's past?!"

Skull turned and leaped, feeling a sharp edge graze across his hip. He again turned, searching for an exit, but he failed to locate one. In fact, he failed to locate anything. The room was empty, save for the two persons currently occupying it.

A cackle alerted the goth child to further peril, and he whirled towards a shadowed wall, away from the immediate danger. He dove, trying to avoid yet another blade, but was stopped when chains sprang from the shadows, wrapping themselves around him so tightly, he could hardly breath.

Again, his now captor giggled, before he waltzed towards his captive, hand outstretched. Skull squeezed his eyes tightly, knowing he could do nothing to prevent whatever was about to happen, but they flew open when he heard his opponent scream.

A masterfully carved dagger was sticking out of said enemy's chest, blood glistening on the blade.

And, standing in front of the now dead body, was yet another cloaked figure. He was draped in black, standing tall above the previous man, with a cloak that grazed the floor, soaking in a puddle of the spilled blood.

Then newcomer removed the dagger from the body, wiping the blood on the victim's blue clothing, before snapping his fingers. Instantly, the chains disappeared, leaving Skull to crumple to the floor.

Skull tensed as his savior reached towards the gruesome corpse. He wasn't going to be caught off guard again. He was ready for a fight.

He was not, however, ready for a silver pendant to be flung at him.

"Oh! Um, thanks! For saving me! And stuff! And for, uh, this." Skull stammered. "How much do I owe you?"

The figure said nothing, merely tilting his head slightly.

"Ummm, well, um, I don't really wanna steal from a corpse, and stuff, cause bad juju, so I'm just gonna give you my wallet, and uh, take what it costs?" Skull ground out.

The man frowned, shaking his head.

"Well, um. Yes?," the stuntman responded, not quite sure of what to say.

Another shake of the head.

"But-but-but why not?!" Skull stuttered, not expecting a refusal.

The hooded figure gazed at him, and the flame user felt as though his soul, his very being, was under scrutiny. It was as though all of Skull's thoughts, all of his secrets, his hopes, his dreams, were suddenly on display.

Skull shifted uneasily from where he still sat on the floor. He glanced up, only to notice that the cloaked figure's mouth held a small smirk.

"Family doesn't charge Family."

One sentence. Just four words. And it blew Skull's mind.

Skull's eyes widened. "But-"

The figure waved his hand, and the door-that-definitely-wasn't-there-before flew open.

"What the hell, kora! Why didn't you meet us at the fountain, kora?" Colenello shouted.

"We've been looking for a while now," Fon stated. Even he sounded a bit agitated. "It's now three."

the stuntman's jaw dropped. "But it's not my fault! I swear! There was this one hooded dude and-and-and he brought me into this room and he tried to kill me! But then this other hooded person came and killed him and then that dude threw a necklace at me, and then he wouldn't let me pay for it and-and-and"

"Shut it, Lackey," Reborn growled, glaring at the incompetent moron. "You had Luce worried and had better come up with a better lie for her than the one you're telling us!"

"But I'm not lying!" the cloud user protested.

"Then where's your hooded figure, kora!" Colenello shouted out.

Skull whirled around in indignation."He's right th-".

Skull froze. Both hooded figures, living and dead, were gone. There was no blood to be found, and the room had turned into a janitor's closet. In fact, it was amazing that Skull hadn't noticed the change before, especially because his fellow Arcobaleno were standing outside the door, as they couldn't fit inside.

Fon sighed, "Come on, all of you. We have places to be."

The trio moved away from the doorway, leaving the youngest to scramble to his feet. He started forward, before remembering his assignment. His eyes frantically darted around the small closet, before landing on the silver pendant that had been thrown at him. He crouched down, taking great care as he raised up to eye level. After finishing his inspection, he reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet, and throwing some cash onto the floor. He then rose from his position and staggered out the door.

"Hurry it up, Lackey!" Reborn spat, brow twitching in annoyance.

Skull was too lost in his thoughts to pay much attention to the trip back to the fountain. He simply followed the other Arcobaleno, trusting them to not let him die, which wasn't the smartest thing he could have done, but he was too lost to care.

However, that just made it worse when a sharp punch to his cheek brought him out of his daze.

"Are you listening, maggot!" Lal screamed in his face.

"Y-y-yes Lal-sempai!" the boy stuttered, fearing for his life.

His gaze drifted towards Luce, whose red and puffy eyes proclaimed that she had been crying.

His eyes drifted low. "Sorry, everyone," he quietly whispered.

"Let's just see that it doesn't happen again, okay?" Luce responded, sniffling and trying to muster a smile. "Now let's head home! We have food that will go bad if we wait to long!"

~X~

When the group arrived home, Skull was tasked with carrying all of the supplies in from the car. Viper claimed it was payment for making him wait, and the others just went along with it.

Skull mentally shrugged as he grabbed an armful. Oh, well. There were worse things he could be doing.

It took four trips, but once the supplies were put in there places, the cloud user headed for the living room, where everyone seemed to have down on the floor, Colenello refused to move his feet off the couch, he noticed everyone staring at him.

"Um-" he muttered, starting to grow uneasy.

"Skull," Luce began, "There's a letter for you on the coffee table, dear."

The boy jolted, not expecting that. He turned to look, and sure enough, there was a little red envelope with his name elegantly displayed. He slowly reached for the small package, feeling wary. No one should have been able to make it through the various traps laid around the grounds, let alone through the house. He carefully opened his mail, ignoring the intense stares of those around him.

He dumped the contents onto the floor, suddenly feeling so, so tired.

All of the money he had left in the room, closet, whatever, was there, along with a small piece of paper. It read-

Family doesn't charge Family.

-Shede