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Chrome would really like to know who this door belongs to.

Waking up in a strange room and finding oneself locked in is very awkward. If she’s been locked in by an enemy, then she should just destroy the room. But what if the room belongs to the Boss, and he locked her in for her own protection? In that case, destroying it would be incredibly rude.

Although…locking her in without leaving a key? That doesn’t seem like the Boss.

It would be just like Ryouhei to forget to leave the key, though. And Ken and Chikusa have been known to do stranger things than inexplicably lock her in a room. Although Ken and Chikusa aren’t normally comfortable in places this…fancy.

Chrome taps on the door experimentally. No one responds. Should she crawl out the window? She rattles the door one last time, wondering how high she is, whether she’ll need to tie sheets together.

The door abruptly opens, and much becomes clear.

 

Bide your time, dearest Chrome. You and I have all the time in the world. Let them wait. Let them believe we’ve given in. Let them believe whatever suits them best.

 

The thing that puzzles her, when she stops to think about it, is that nobody seems to realize how closely she pays attention. They just take the illusions for granted.

Except for the Boss, of course. He’s constantly awed and amazed by everything his Guardians do. It’s cute…but a little meaningless. No, not meaningless, that’s not right. The Boss’s praise may not mean that what you’re doing is amazing, but it does mean he loves you. Which is worth a lot, personally.

It’s worth nothing professionally, though. Ah, the Boss.

Chrome called Yamamoto up from nothing but memory. Didn’t they ever stop to wonder how? She hardly knows Yamamoto, in the relative scheme of things. It’s not as if they’d asked her to call up Mukuro or Ken or Chikusa, or even the Boss or Kyoko or Haru. Those illusions she could have made quick as thought, she could have breathed real life into them. Those illusions would have fooled even the people who loved them best.

Yamamoto was more trouble, the final product flawed. Still, she doubts that, say, Gokudera could do as well. They don’t seem to realize that in order to produce an illusion even this convincing, she must have all but memorized Yamamoto. Which means she’s memorized all of them.

The current situation is even more puzzling. Julie uses illusions himself. He really, really ought to understand.

“Dear Chrome,” he says, a slimy parody of Mukuro, “be mine.”

Bright, acquisitive eyes that look right through her, and he doesn’t think she can see it. They never think she can see. Nagi spent her life surrounded by eyes like that. Nagi died of eyes like that, of course she remembers.

Even Mukuro’s eyes are like that, sometimes. In that case, it’s not that she doesn’t see, it’s just that she doesn’t care. She owes Mukuro her life.

She owes Julie of the Shimon family nothing at all. And she will punish him for daring to question whether she deserves Mukuro.

 

Don’t hold too tightly to this world. You know it’s nothing more than a disgusting illusion. We control illusions, Chrome. They do not control us.

 

“I don’t need the organs you made!” she screams, because it’s true, because it’s the last thing he’ll expect. “I don’t need them!”

Dangerously unstable female. We’d best calm her down.

Yes, calm me down, Julie of the Shimon family, who knows so much more than he ought to. Soothe me. Tell me things you shouldn’t.

And he does. Mukuro says humans are sadly predictable, and he’s right.

Play dumb is surely the first line of defense for any physically weak child. And for children who can use illusions, that defense becomes a weapon. Julie—Daemon Spade—ought to know that. Doesn’t he remember?

How long has he been on his own? Has it been years?

Please, Chrome prays, let it have been decades.

It’s not wise for anyone to spend years alone, but it’s fatal for illusionists. What’s real and what’s not? Illusionists must be the most brutal of realists, they must face the truth without the tiniest softening or bias. Things that are horrible, things that are hidden, things that are terrible in their beauty. Otherwise, the whole structure of the world they’ve spun for themselves falls apart like the house of cards it is.

Humans are social creatures, whether they like it or not. If Spade has spent several human lifespans alone, he may not have a firm grip on, well, anything at this point.

Oh please, Mr. Spade. What’s real? Am I? Are you? Did my organs actually disappear? And if they did, was I just testing to see how much of what you said was true? Which one of us is playing, Mr. Spade?

We’re all playing, she answers herself, blood running down her chin, eyes wide open. And God help the fools who don’t realize it.

Dear Chrome. Spade’s voice in her head, his eyes on hers, an invasion, a violation. Dear Chrome, don’t you want someone to love you? Don’t you want someone who will always be with you? I know it’s been hard. I can see how you’ve suffered.

It doesn’t have to be that way, dear Chrome.

I’ll protect you. I’ll be with you forever. You’ll never suffer again.

Ah. This trick.

Spade is trying to seduce Nagi, but Nagi is long dead. There’s only Chrome Dokuro now, and she already has people to love and a place to stand. And nothing else to give. A proper Mist Guardian should have seen that.

A proper Mist Guardian should also have known that there’s no point in promising someone like Chrome absolutes. When Mukuro found Nagi, he said, “I need you. I’m like you. I’ll help you become strong.” Mukuro had offered things she could believe in and accept. Nothing so absurd as forever.

Spade, Chrome realizes with a kind of breathless glee, is out of practice. And he honestly thinks he can fight Mukuro in this state?

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

And scary, too, which is sobering. A Mist Guardian this out of touch with reality is a force to be feared, because his strikes will be random. He won’t be in control. He needs to be kept calm for as long as possible.

Well, if he’s looking for Nagi, Chrome may as well let him find her.

Poor Nagi. She has her own space, her own corner of Chrome’s mind. A quiet place, nearly empty. Poor Nagi, who still doesn’t know she’s dead.

Spade gets control of Nagi in something under five seconds. From there, it’s easy. All Chrome has to do is let Nagi take over this body’s face, and then go along for the ride.

It’s too easy; Spade doesn’t notice anything strange. There are an increasingly upsetting number of things Spade hasn’t noticed. It’s flat-out disgraceful that he hasn’t caught on to Nagi—or at least, hasn’t caught on yet.

Well, even if he notices later, Chrome’s sure he won’t kill her; he obviously values her life more than she does. He wants her for something. He wants her. Which is a big part of his problem.

Chrome knows one thing that even Mukuro doesn’t: it’s dangerous to want things. She’s tried to explain this, but she never can make him understand. Look what wanting has done to him. He’s in a cage.

And look what wanting did to Spade. It kept him alive long enough to lose himself. It made him careless.

It’s best to want nothing. If you want nothing, then there’s no ground in you for anyone to stand on, and no lever in the world that can move you.

Chrome, docile and blank-eyed, trails after Daemon Spade, who is releasing her without a thought to the consequences. She’s free because there’s nothing he has that she wants. She really needs to find a way to explain this to Mukuro.

Mukuro’s illusions can’t make it into the island, but hers can make it out. Mukuro finds her instantly, and laughs when he sees what she’s done.

My dearest Chrome, he whispers. You have grown up. I think that after all your trouble, we really ought to wait for the perfect moment. Don’t you?

He’s a loose cannon, Chrome points out.

All the more exciting for us, Mukuro chuckles back.

Yes, Mukuro-sama. Chrome mentally sighs. Mukuro’s sense of humor is almost as much trouble as his habit of wanting things.

Spade walks ahead, murmuring happily to himself, oblivious. Already a dead man, but blinded to it by his own arrogance, impatience, and greed. And this was the first Vongola Mist Guardian?

Chrome is disappointed.