Psychological Warfare

The Cradle Affair, this time with more Mukuro. For cliche_bingo, prompt: “Darkfic.” Part of the Firebrand ‘verse. Dark like a very dark thing.

They began with the Vongola itself, because Mukuro was well aware of the psychological asset that taking out one’s strongest opponents first could be, and because he wanted to test the mettle of his new acquisition. Xanxus agreed to the mission readily enough—had, indeed, been planning on a strike that would have installed him at the head of the Vongola when Mukuro had come in search of him. Mukuro stepped back to let Xanxus restore order among those members of the Varia who had survived Mukuro’s assault, and was satisfied with letting them get on with planning the strike.

He rather liked the pragmatic way the survivors accepted him without question when Xanxus growled, “He’s with us now,” at them. Such practical people, these Varia. It had been a good decision to seek them out. They accepted Ken and Chikusa, too, with only a minimum of muttering, especially after Mukuro had the two of them demonstrate how strong they really were by setting them against a pair of soldiers from one of the squads. After all, if there was anything the Varia did respect, it was strength, and they had a long tradition of new members making places for themselves by removing their predecessors from it by force.

And so they plotted their assault on the Vongola, with Ken and Chikusa as pint-sized mascots and Mukuro himself drifting among them, watching Xanxus’ scrappy little second conduct the planning as Xanxus himself brooded in the background, cultivating the detached, lordly pose he had created for himself.

Mukuro wondered, sometimes, whether his new tool was having second thoughts. If Xanxus was, he wasn’t showing them outwardly, or on the surface levels of his thoughts.

He didn’t let them show when they finally struck, either, as the bulk of the Varia’s forces struck at the Vongola’s army, while their most elite members punched through the defenses of the main house like a sharp knife driving through soft flesh. Xanxus and his second took the point of that force, driving through the mansion themselves and slaughtering anyone who stepped in their way. Mukuro followed after them, at a rather more leisurely pace, savoring the carnage and the running battles as he picked his way through the winding hallways. He kept a corner of his attention on watching the battle through Xanxus’ eyes, enjoying the taste of Xanxus’ unholy satisfaction at cutting down all the people he’d suspected of slighting him in the past.

It was amazing how well Xanxus could motivate himself. Mukuro hardly ever had to nudge him into the appropriate direction at all.

The Vongola were old, and canny, none of them more so than the old man who led them. Mukuro had been expecting that, even if Xanxus hadn’t, and arrived in the large vaulted room where Xanxus was facing his erstwhile foster father just in time to hear Xanxus’ furious denial of the old man’s true strength. “This is impossible!” he raged, and Mukuro could feel him straining against the Ninth’s Will, trying in vain to break the seals that the old man had placed on his Flames.

“It is,” the Ninth told him, inescapably gentle. “Xanxus, my boy, you can’t beat me. Stop this, and we can—”

That was quite enough of that, Mukuro decided, feeling the flicker, almost as of longing, in Xanxus’ will. “Perhaps he can’t beat you,” he said, stepping out from behind the pillar where he had been observing. “Fortunately, he brought me along, too.”

The old man did him the courtesy of taking him seriously despite the child’s body that he wore. “And you are?” he asked, raising his scepter.

“Oh, they call me Mukuro.” He called on his trident. “Rokudou Mukuro.”

He already knew that the old man was good from having watched him fight from behind Xanxus’ eyes. He was, however, an old man, and heartsick at his adopted son’s betrayal and tired from having battled him already. What was more, his Flame’s secret power was for use against other Flame users, which Mukuro was not. It was a lovely fight, really; Mukuro laughed when they finally closed with each other and the Ninth’s scepter bore down on him, heavy against the child’s strength of his body.

“Why are you laughing?” the old man asked him, frowning and wary. “You’re losing.”

“It’s because I know something you don’t know,” Mukuro told him, smiling, and drove Xanxus’ fist through the old man’s chest.

Really, he decided later, when Xanxus had finally stopped screaming, it was a good thing he’d come to the Varia when he had. There was no telling what kind of a hash of things Xanxus would have made of it if Mukuro hadn’t been there to nudge things along.

– end –