Skull de Mort was maybe not the smartest person in the room. It was widely said that people like him actually needed to be a 'special kind of stupid'. He was also, almost certainly, the least violent of everybody present as well. Consider his company.

First, there was Luce, the Boss of a Mafia Family. Now, mafia women, Skull was quickly learning, were much more inclined to be ruthless, cold-blooded killers than the civilian flavour of women, and sweet as Luce was most of the time... She was still the Boss of a Mafia Family and just as cold and ruthless as any of her peers. In fact, at the moment, she was worse. She was pregnant, and pregnant women were a whole different monster.

Then there was Verde. He was, arguably, the smartest person in the room. He was a scientist. Not the ethical kind either. Oh no. Verde was the creepy, ends-justify-the-means, thank-you for volunteering to test my experiment sort of scientist. Of course, by 'volunteer' he meant 'being in the room at just the right time, generally by accident'. Didn't seem to really give a damn about anybody – unless they got in between him and his science. Then he'd come up with some sort of painful revenge that likely involved using the offending party as part of an experiment.

After Verde in this little 'scary-ass fuck' convention came Viper. Viper was scary for more reasons than just because he hid half his face under that cowl. Lots of dead-beat wannabe-badass teenagers did the same thing with their hoodies. It was an intimidation tactic that only really worked if you had the presence to back it up. And oooooh fuck but Viper really, really did. That probably had something to do with Viper being really good at all that illusion shit. Regular magician, if a creepy one and not really 'regular' at all. Viper was a greedy little bastard too.

Skull had gotten to watch The Mikado on stage once. Not a bad musical, not that he really knew much. But Viper reminded Skull of the character Poo-Bah: he'd do anything, anything at all, but only as long as there was something in it for him. Viper was the type that, if he needed a whore, would insist on being paid, rather than paying.

Right behind Viper were Colonello and Lal Mirch, who had both come from the same organisation: COMSUBIN. The way they'd explained it, Skull had figured out that they were essentially the Italian version of America's Navy SEALs, only with more armaments, less give-a-shit, and a bit more amphibious. That is, they did just as much on land as they did in/on the water. Considering how the SEALs had been portrayed in Under Siege Skull felt he was rightly intimidated by the pair. (Skull had actually really liked that movie, then again, Steven Segal was always awesome.) Especially since, as previously noted, women who did the bad-ass thing did it ten times scarier than most men who were in the same business. They were just a bit more subtle about it most of the time.

Then there was Fon. Fon was actually a really nice guy. Ya know, for a martial artist who trained assassins for the Triad. Skull put it down to lots of green tea and daily meditation. Everybody else had a temper on them, even Luce (despite that she did her best to be sweeter than strawberries with them all), but Fon was pretty much always calm.

In an of itself, that this guy could be so calm through everything was actually pretty intimidating, but what was even more scary? The thought of what it would be like if that slightly-worrying calm ever left him. Skull didn't want to find out what it would take to make the man mad. The people with the longest fuses always blew up in the most spectacular fashions, when that fuse eventually burned down. And holy shit but could that guy move when he wanted too. Yeah, Chernobyl would probably be a cake-walk by comparison. If (or when) Fon eventually blew his top, Skull wanted to be far, far, far away – and definitely not the cause.

Last, but definitely not least, there was Reborn. The world's greatest hitman, he'd introduced himself as. World's greatest anything never claimed that title easily. They always fought their way up to that sort of ranking, and they always had people fighting them to take it away – naturally, using different methods depending on the title. With that kind though? If anybody who disagreed with the Italian heard a claim like that, then Reborn had better be able to back himself up, or he'd become a bloody smear on a wall somewhere. Considering the dangerous aura he carried around like a cloak, and the way he'd greeted them "Chaos", instead of "Ciao" like any of his other countrymen would have... Yeah, Skull wasn't really going to doubt the guy's claim any time soon. Especially not with how assured the guy was with any and every armament set in front of him.

Where Verde pushed the top of the 'scary-ass fuck'-o-meter, and Viper was not much lower... Reborn broke it with how high he was registering. Skull wasn't scared of much – he was the special kind of stupid needed for his line of work, after all – but Reborn scared him. Not so bad he was going to shame himself, Skull never got that scared (again: special kind of stupid), but the guy was definitely the most intimidating among the present company. Not even the pregnant Mafia Boss, terrifying as she could be when in the grip of hormones, really had a patch on the greatest hitman in the world.

But something that Skull noticed about everybody else in the room... They'd all killed. Either by their own hand or by handing down instruction... they had been the ultimate cause of death to more than just a handful of people. Always deliberately, never by accident, rarely in self-defence. It was just that was their line of work. It made Skull wonder just what the hell he'd ever done wrong to find himself in such company. Killing was not his business, not in any way, shape or form. Nuh-uh, no siree. Defying death was his business. Not causing it.

If it got him going faster than a pair of feet could get, he didn't care, he did it. Hell, he even did free-running, to make sure he could go as fast on his own two feet as it was possible to get without being boring on a flat surface like those sprinters and marathon runners. He did this in front of his crew and the ever-on-hand-just-in-case medics, he did it in front of live audiences, he did it in front of panels of judges to maintain his ranking as the very best at what he did, he did it in front of TV and movie cameras a time or ten (or twenty... fifty... a hundred), he even occasionally gave classes. And unless he was performing his own maintenance (because the best stuntman kept a crew so things could be done fast during the show, not because he couldn't do maintenance himself), he did it every day.

Death defying stunts, that was his shtick. Not killing people for whatever reason. Maybe he'd been called in to be the driver of the get-away car for these people or something. Great. Not!

He was the Immortal Skull, Skull from Hell, the man hated by the Reaper. As a toddler he'd been exposed (quite accidentally) to old video tapes of Evel Knieval and decided he was going to be better. He'd started competing in the X-Games the day he'd hit double digits, even if he'd had to run away from the orphanage to do it.

Now, almost a decade later, here he was. Surrounded by killers who, he knew, would not respect him, or his accomplishments, because he hadn't ever killed anybody and they didn't give a damn six ways to Sunday about all the ways he was actually awesome thank-you-very-much. Hell, he wasn't even twenty yet, which definitely made him the youngest of those present as well. Another reason none of them would respect him.

"What about you? Skull, right?" Luce asked, drawing everybody's attention to Skull, a sweet smile on her face as she cradled her cappuccino in her hands.

"Skull de Mort," Skull agreed with a nod. He didn't offer any answer to her other question though.

"Everybody else has said what they do, but you've been very quiet," Luce prompted.

"Yeah, none of my crew would believe it if they saw me," Skull said, and again didn't offer any answer in regards to his profession, which he knew she was fishing for, and now all the others were equal parts curious about and frustrated over because of the way he was dodging. None of them had, after all.

Luce pouted, and for all that Skull had only met the woman two hours ago, he knew that wasn't a good sign.

"Che," Skull grumbled softly, and stood. "You want to know what I do? Buy tickets and see for yourselves," he said, made a gesture to thepromotionalposter for his show that was pinned up on the wall not three feet from them (and like-wow they'd all missed something so bloody obvious. The poster was only two foot high and in full colour!).

"When the freak in the mask showed up, I agreed to meet all of you. Not take whatever 'job' he was offering," he declared firmly, and promptly left. Like hell he wanted to get roped into any kind of mess where he was going to be surrounded by creepers and killers, especially ones that would disrespect him when he was the best at what he did. He had a Swiss vault full of gold medals and trophies to prove it.

Something he was willing to bet Mr World's-Greatest-Hitman did not have.

Skull jammed his helmet onto his head, mounted his street-bike (it was important to make the distinction), and rode off back to the massive arena where his show was getting set up and his trailer was parked. He had better things to do than put up with people who would not understand, appreciate, or even respect what he did – things like preparing for his opening night in less tan two weeks' time.


"The hell, kora? We were supposed to go on a mission, and the brat just walks out, kora?" Colonello demanded, confused.

"No loss, I say," his superior, Lal Mirch, decided with a shrug. "He's just a brat after all, like you said. He'd probably have whined the whole way."

"I want to know if not having him means we can't do the mission, or if that means we will be splitting the pay differently," Viper stated, a contemplatively cruel twist finding its way to his mouth.

Luce was the only one who knew just why they'd all been gathered, but she didn't speak up. They couldn't form the next Arcobaleno without a Cloud Representative, a role which Skull had been supposed to fulfil. Clouds were notoriously hard to pin down though, so while everybody else would fall into line without too much trouble – they were all used to taking orders to some extent – Skull would be more difficult.

But no less necessary.

Because this wasn't about physical strength, or skills, or smarts, or standing. It was about gathering the most powerful Flame Users, and as much as the Mafia was just about the only place to find people capable of using said Flame... Somehow Skull de Mort, who had no connections at all to the Mafia prior to that day, was the strongest user of the Cloud Flame in the whole wide world. Luce couldn't help but wonder how that had happened.

And why he hadn't Harmonised with her at all. She'd been chosen because she was the strongest Sky Flame, after all. Even if it wasn't a perfect Harmony, there should have been something, a little Resonance to get them started on the right path. But no, there was nothing. Like she wasn't strong enough to pull him in. Reborn hadn't Harmonised with her either, but he had so many mental walls around himself that he had to be actively willing to Harmonise before there was even a thought of it. He was famously independent from any and all Skies seeking his attachment.

But Skull... should have Harmonised. He didn't have those barriers, so far as she could tell, so what had happened that she didn't even get an echo from him? Was it really that he was too strong, even for her?

Reborn, Viper, Verde and Fon were all members of the school of thought that said "knowledge is power", and had risen from their seats and moved to check out the poster. After a quick scan, Verde and Viper dismissed Skull completely, just as Lal Mirch already had. Verde because a stunt-man was no use to his scientific endeavours, and Viper because he had no intention of parting with his money to watch a person he deemed a useless idiot riding around a dirt arena. Fon focused his attention on the details of when, where, and how to get tickets, his curiosity peaked enough that he was willing to go and see for himself just what Skull did – but more for the entertainment value than because he believed the teenager's skill-set to actually be useful.

Reborn though was lost to thought. His eyes were fixed on the poster that showed Skull, all covered up in bike gear and helmet so that there were no distinguishing features at all, and doing a one-handed hand-stand on the rear-most part of the saddle of his purple dirt-bike. The picture was from such an angle and with such details visible that it was either a fantastic photoshop or the bike had been in the air at the time. Reborn wasn't thinking about that just then though. He'd certainly registered it all, processed what he was seeing, but what was on his mind was something completely different.

He wasn't the worlds greatest hitman because he was stupid or unobservant. Alright, he'd not paid a whole lot of attention to the poster before, and hadn't connected it to the purple-haired kid who'd only been drinking the complementary water. He was a bit preoccupied with lining up the knowledge he had of everybody else.

What was setting him a little on edge – not that he'd show it, ever – was that it looked more than a little like a gathering of Guardians. Luce was a Sky. Fon was a Storm. Verde was a Lightning. Viper was a Mist. Colonello was a Rain. Reborn himself was a Sun. Each one of them purely one sort of Flame.

Lal was able to use Rain, Cloud and Mist Flames, and she could use them to great effect, but Reborn was personally of the opinion that she'd brought herself along where her subordinate had actually been invited.

Which meant that Skull was a Cloud Flame, and judging by this poster, one of the very, very, very few Flame users not already involved in, or at least previously aware of, the Mafia and its inner workings. A very strong Cloud Flame, judging from the way he'd deflected Luce despite the strength of her Sky Flames.

Reborn was, by this point, very used to Sky Flames trying to get him to Harmonise with him. He knew how to tell how strong they were without ever letting his flames touch theirs. He was a hitman, a pro, and the strongest. He wasn't about to let himself Harmonise with just anybody – and apparently, neither would Skull.

Traditionally, Suns and Clouds didn't get along. Just like the sun in the sky, which tried to burn away the clouds, or the clouds that tried to block out the sun... Flame users of certain sorts just didn't get along. Sometimes it was a one-sided thing, sometimes mutual dislike, and Reborn knew, just knew, that he and the stunt man would be no different.

Then again, Clouds didn't generally get along with most of the other sorts of Flame users. Maybe it had something to do with subsets. Couldn't have a storm without clouds, or rain, and lightning originated with clouds as well. Another name for mist was 'low cloud'. Whatever it was, it didn't really matter all that much.

Well, except that Reborn was set upon by an urge to follow the young Cloud's example and walk out. Maybe he'd even go and see the kid's show as well. Maybe.

"You're going to have to work with him, and each other, regardless of your opinions," Luce finally voiced. Not that she'd ever admit it, but Luce was having her own doubts, despite her usual, helpful visions. She knew better than all the others that they needed at least a little unity, and as the only Sky present, providing that unity was her job.

The voice of the Giglio Nero's Boss snapped Reborn out of his thoughts and back into the world around him.

"Count me out," slipped passed his lips in response to this near-order from someone who wasn't his Boss, and sure as hell wasn't his Sky. He dropped enough Euros onto the table to pay for his espresso, gave Fon, Lal Mirch and Colonello each an acknowledging nod, and headed for the door of the café with the same certainty as the sun headed for the horizon at the end of the day. Just like the sun, no one tried to stop him either.

Luce hid a wince as she anticipated just how much Checker Face would rage at what she knew he would perceive as disobedience from these people, the next generation of his chosen Arcobaleno.

~The End~