He wears his savagery like a second skin, an exoskeleton, and animal instinct that dug deep, deep, deep enough that the only way to dig it out again would be to cut him up into tiny pieces and burn whatever was left.
Mikhail knows that there will always be blood on his hands, since the day he was born.
It doesn’t really matter that he’ll scrub at his hands under water so cold his fingers turn blue and numb.
( out, damned spot, out I say )
Skin scraped red and raw under the brutal force of his blunt nails until he’s bleeding again but it will heal, heal faster than he can blink.
( what, will these hands ne’er be clean? )
He knows the people who know him flinch away when he shifts in movement, panicky little flickering glances to his twitching fingertips as if afraid that he might give in to the temptation to wrap his hands around their throats and squeeze, squeeze, stab them in their carotid arteries just to see how long they’d be able to breathe with a hole in their neck.
( I am in blood, stepp'd in so far )
Knows that even the people who call themselves his friends have put up barriers of their own when talking to him, touching him, tiptoeing around him like they were dancing through a field of eggshells, skipping through a minefield of animal traps and shrapnel explosives.
( should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er )
Knows that they don’t really understand him, not even Prospera, who had been with him the third longest out of all the orphans, who used to flutter about him like a mother hen even though she was the youngest and he was the oldest, who he can’t decide if he wants to put on a pedestal for all eternity or watch her bleed out slowly to the death through a hundred thousand shallow cuts.
“He's not dangerous.” She argues, even when he comes home drenched in blood that isn’t his, gray clothes dripping black, oozing the tinny smell of old change kept too long in a jar by the sunlit bay window of the study, raw iron and dirt and salt water, and leaves a trail of red ranging from maroon to scarlet to rust all the way from the lawn to his room in the attics.
(But he doesn’t miss the little worried glances she shoots at Basilio, at Nihcolo, at Jacian, when she thinks he’s not looking, because he might be crazy, just a little, but he’s not blind, not yet, not ever, and she might be special, kind of, perhaps, but he doesn’t need anyone when he’s so used to not having anyone to care.)
It’s the helpless sort of loss that takes root first in the bottom of his gut, winding its way up his stomach and trachea until he’s stuck with a permanent sort of nausea scratching at the back of his throat, the tip of his tongue, that leaves him edgy for days, because he’s trapped, trapped within four walls within four walls within a million other walls, breathing the stale air of electricity and the dizzying musk of books and mothballs while his hands grasp at nothing because he isn’t allowed outside either when Rolondo decides it’s too dangerous for any of them to leave his sight. His fidgeting makes Isaia and Chuck restless too easily, so he is shoved off to assist Nihcolo and Niesha in the archives instead.
( if it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well, it were done quickly )
“You’re insufferable.” Nihcolo admonishes, when he mulishly refuses to budge from the comfortable cubby he’s made for himself where the rest of the database should go, but Nicholo is smiling that half smile that tells Mikhail he’s not really angry, maybe just a little exasperated even though he gives up first anyways when Niesha comes over to drag him away.
(But he still feels like his skin is stretched over his bones too tightly even though he can tolerate Nihcolo the most, with his razorblade wit and ever sharper tongue, guarding his every expression, every move, like he wrapped himself up in similar barbed wire edges and not so different from Mikhail himself, and he still jumps at the opportunity to stretch his legs, his arms, his hands, and wrap them around the leather-bound handles of knives than the spines of ancient tomes and the bindings of scrolls cracked along the edges like the frayed ends of his own mind.)
It's the sharp acidic rush of adrenaline in his veins when he's met head on, face to face and barely separated by the few spare inches between his bloody breath and the black mask of a Trifecta member, the banshee wailing of metal and metal when his opponent is just slightly too slow on the draw to shoot him when he gets too close for comfort.
( my keen knife sees not the wound it makes )
The thrumming in his head when fights are left half undone, nowhere close to completion, bloodlust and molten fury alight in every square millimeter of his soul that makes him snappish and irritable to everyone and everything until even Prospera keeps her distance and he remembers what it was like, years and years and years ago when fighting ( surviving, his mind supplies, slick darkness tinged sinister and smug and disgustingly proud ) was all he had.
( nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, to cry 'hold, hold!' )
"He's adjusting." Basilio defends, even while his hands are like iron vices around the coiled, straining muscles of Mikhail's upper arms, fingers stained fuchsia and carmine from where he had grappled with bloodstained knuckles, and the snarky envoy from Capello is curled up, fetal position, at their feet, clutching a bleeding, broken nose and moaning piteously through clenched teeth and an unhinged jaw.
(But Basilio frowns while he swabs the scratches and shallow injuries with disinfectant again and again and again and frowns deeper when Mikhail shrugs off his attempts to bind his raw knuckles with gauze, flexing his hands as if welcoming the sting of pain almost listlessly because pain is all he has, all he knows.)
It's having to ground himself physically, when he can't rely on other people to keep him in check, when he doesn't know how to dig his heels into the ground when there's no purchase and it's pissing him off, the condescension just because he's barely of age ( because Prospera is only seventeen and Basilio's hardly any older and Nihcolo isn't here and Jacian's not a legal adult yet either ) and the other bosses are making it a point to talk down to them, underestimating them, and the violence is like an itch he's been told not to scratch but he finds his fingers moving of their own accord anyway. Basilio's pointed look is directed at the minute bounce of his knee because he can't sit still and be subjected to this absolute torture of a meeting and Prospera's hands clench and unclench under the table like she's fighting with herself not to reach out and stop him because it was only manners not to show such weakness to anyone outside the family. Mikhail just keeps his eye on the jumping pulse of the heavy-set man across the table, the one who keeps snarking at Jacian and talking over him, imagines him choking to death on his tongue, his cigar, a newly sharpened knife that just so happened to be in Mikhail's possession at the moment.
( fill me from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty )
The almost audible crack of his self control when the man leaps to his feet with the almost visible aura of malice, like the snap of a rubber band pulled too tight until its' elasticity gives, rebounds so hard it hurts himself in the process and suddenly he's standing too, before anyone can stop him, and he's already reaching for his blade before he regains his balance, glinting silver at that jackrabbit pulse when Jacian's mild voice cuts past the bloodlust like a bolt of white lightning ( "Mikhail." ) and he stops just shy of slitting the throat of a possible future ally (?).
( is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? )
"He's sensitive." Jacian smiles serenely, fingers still clasped over crossed knees, and he hasn't even moved from his original position like he's hardly bothered that Mikhail was on the precipice of murderous rampage even though Basilio's hands were on the hilt of his sword and Prospera had grabbed one of Mikhail's arms with a white-knuckled grip that he barely felt, and Mikhail doesn't know what to feel about Jacian's confidence in being able to get sense through to him in barely three syllables.
(But it's practically an unspoken agreement between the five of them that Jacian is their unchallenged leader, that his word is their law, because he is more complete than the rest of them, not divided like Nihcolo or Prospera, not indecisive like Basilio, not broken like Mikhail; because his darkness is something that is grey instead of the black that the rest of them had, and he knew them like the back of his hand.)
It's like going through the rabbit hole, through the looking glass, and not being sure if there is an end to free-falling forever in twilight glow and floating tea cups and grandfather clocks that didn't tell the time, because Mikhail knows those eyes that stare back at him through the slit holes of the strange mask and there is a chill at the ends of his frayed nerves that has nothing to do with the cold darkness of the damp basement where he can't tell the time. He can hear the self-satisfied smile in the ( wrong ) grating metal voice as he is told not to worry, they'll find you, and he knows they will but he doesn't want them to because it's dangerous, it's dangerous, and he can't tell them to stay the hell away because he's dangerous too, and they shouldn't worry about him as much as they did.
( and oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths )
He's not the one with the weapon this time but when he watches Prospera and Basilio stumble into his holding cell with eyes unused to light and half delirious with dehydration-inflicted pyrexia, he know their blood will be on his hands if they don't make it back out because it had so obviously been a trap, of course it had been a trap, why couldn't they see that? There is a smear of bright red on Basilio's sharp cheekbone that could've come from the cut just under his eye or a splatter from somewhere else and the sound of shouting and gunfire and empty bullet cartridges raining down in the hallway rattles loudly in Mikhail's fever-addled mind, but he can't find the strength to pry Nihcolo's fingers off his arm, shrug away Jacian's supporting shoulder, hiss at them to leave him and go now, right now, before none of them make it out alive.
( out, out, brief candle! life's but a walking shadow )
'You're important.' They tell him in their own way the month afterwards when they actually do survive, because he knows it's Prospera who spends the free afternoons she usually visits her half-brother on by his sickbed instead when he was recuperating, because Basilio accompanies him in training even when Mikhail knows he hates it, because Nihcolo asks him to keep an eye on Niesha instead of going through the library and vast database with the excuse that he'd mess it up anyway.
(Mikhail knows that there will always be blood on his hands, since the day he was born, and at the end of the day, in the silence of the starlight, when he's perched on the porch next to where Jacian is lounging, not-quite-asking 'why,' because it really can't be worth it to keep someone like him around the way they do, Jacian only smiles that mild half-smile when he says "We're family" and Mikhail thinks that it might not be so bad after all.)