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Viper

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As far as they could remember, they had always had two talents: an eye for detail, and good imagination. So one way or another, they were convinced that art seemed like an appropriate path to follow. A bit too ambitious for an illegitimate child like them abandoned in the streets of Spain with no money, but ambition didn't scare them. Rather, it was the only viable way of living a good life.

“Loco!” a voice called from the other side of the street, and they felt their eyebrow twitch in annoyance. A tan youth with slightly wild features, deep golden eyes and slightly curly short hair, ran up to them and threw an arm around their shoulders with a big smile. A second later he even delivered a big smooch on their cheek and they had to forcefully back away a few meters.

“It's Luca and stop doing that, you clingy octopus!” They wiped their face a few times with the back of their hands and glared at the other all the while. The young boy, named Diego, aged around 14, not much older from themself, was raised by prostitutes, and although he somehow had remained innocent, he still liked to show his affection in excessively dramatic hugs and kisses. The boy smiled cheekily at them and Luca lowered their oversized hoodie over their eyes to make sure they couldn't get an urge to kick the other in the shin just by looking.

“Nevermind that. I found us a job!” the boy exclaimed happily and Luca had to raise their hoodie again to stare at him suspiciously.

“Don't look at me like that. I even did an interview and they said they could probably fit us in with the rest of the employees.”

“…What sort of job?” they asked cautiously.

“A sailor!” Diego practically beamed at them, almost shining with the intensity of his smile. Luca, though, was immune to the incinerating power of that look.

“And they’d accept a kid for that job,” they deadpanned, clearly not believing.

Diego scratched his head a bit sheepishly and spoke again.

“Well, we won't be doing sailor work, not really. It's mostly helping clean and helping lift stuff.”

“No.” There was an inch of finality in Luca's voice. But leave it to Diego to not notice it at all.

“Come on, Luca,” he begged and, oh, he was actually serious, even using their real name, “the ship agreed to take us to British soil, where we can start life anew, without the influence of your family trying to make your life miserable.” There was something angry in Diego's voice, anger born for them, and so they involuntarily felt their heart soften a bit.

“…Fine,” they agreed at last and Diego cheered. “But the employer knows that one of us can't in fact do any heavy lifting at all, right? I'll break a bone before any work is actually done.”

The silence of the other was very telling. They facepalmed, already feeling a headache coming.

###

October of the following year found them somewhere in England, with a mostly learned local language, somewhat thinner than they used to be, Diego lacking his healthy tan, and Luca themself wearing even baggier clothes and bigger hoods than they used to.

The first month on the new land was the hardest, but they both managed. Diego found himself soon apprenticed to a bartender, what with his charming and warm personality, and Luca, after spending some time learning painting tips and tricks, now used those quickly expanding abilities to do speedy portraits of tourists for quick money. It wasn't quite the entrance Luca wanted to their future career, but it's not like they had the money for tutors or art school.

Life was indeed hard, but thinking of the pressure their so called family had put on them when in Spain, they found that life here was also very peaceful.

Ah, but they had left their guard down too soon.

During one of their normal work days, while they were trying to convince a couple to pay for a portrait, they were surrounded by a group of gangsters. The expensive art supplies were thrown and ruined right before their eyes, and the group demanded Luca pay for using their territory for business. Luca noticed how the group scared off the couple, surrounded them from all sides and, before they could do anything, led them forcefully to an alleyway to rob them blind and beat them black and blue, before Luca somehow used a distraction caused by a street rat and a cat and slipped onto the main streets and ran through the crowd to lose the gangsters.

Luca headed for the abandoned building they shared with Diego and called home, only after the sun had set and not before having run a couple times around the city in fear of being followed. They collapsed the moment they reached the house. Fortunately, they weren't bleeding anywhere, but ugly bruises had formed all over their body and they had no more energy to move after running a marathon all afternoon. They lost consciousness at some point on the cold floor and an impossibly heavy rain took over the sky not soon after.

Luca only woke to the warm hand at his head a few hours later, an overly drenched and overly worried Diego at their side. They made to get up but their ribs protested so Luca just dropped again to the ground before meeting Diego's worried eyes.

“What happened to you?!” the other almost shouted.

Right back at you, they wanted to say, seeing the other's appearance, but their jaw hurt and their throat felt strangely dry. They remembered someone had held their mouth forcefully shut so that they wouldn't scream and deducing the pain was probably from that, they felt disgruntled and angry and maybe somewhat fearful, but they'd eat that feeling as a snack later when they didn't feel like a piece of overly beaten dough.

They, instead, met Diego's eyes, signed at him for some water, and then some help to get to the mattress they used as bed.

“What happened?” the boy asked again. Luca coughed a few times and then finally started to speak.

“Attacked by gangsters.”

Diego was immediately unsettled.

They both were vaguely aware of the underworld. They had lived on the streets more than they'd have liked, and the other side of the law had always been to them an open option to follow. Orphans never were not in abundance, and most of them ended up as part of this or that organization, of this or that human trafficking ring, addicted to this or that drug. In short, it was an option, but it was the kind of option they didn't even want to consider for fear of dying without even knowing how, and always being on the run. So they had tried very hard to avoid it. If they noticed anything resembling illegal or gang activity they would evacuate the area and move as far away as they could.

“I'll be laying low for a while,” Luca said after a few moments of silence.

“We should be leaving this place,” Diego refuted them immediately with furrowed brows, golden eyes fixed on him.

They shook their head and rose from the mattress. They hissed as their ribs protested and a hand was put a bit over their stomach before lighting up in a soft yellow flame. They looked at it as thoughtfully as the first time but continued speaking.

“No. You are under an apprenticeship and have good prospects of a better life in the future. This was a one-time thing. I'll hide for some time, then, change my area to continue. Or I'll just find another job.”

The boy frowned some more.

“But you like what you do, Loco.”

Luca didn't forget to glare.

“No, I don't. I just thought that it made sense for me to do this kind of job since it's where my talents lie.”

Diego didn't look like he believed them, but didn't argue much longer.

###

“Still not finished?” A giddily grinning boy seemed to jump in place at the same time he tried to remain still with little success. Luca, that exasperated and facepalming friend, glared at the boy after repeatedly telling him to stay still.

“If you don't stop moving, I'll superglue you there,” they threatened and Diego froze in place sheepishly before speaking placatingly.

“Please don't. These are the only jeans I have after you dyed the last three pairs all violet.”

They huffed, but continued to paint and add the finishing touches to their work. It wasn't long before they were finished.

“Done,” they announced and not a moment later Diego was at their back looking at the painting in awe.

Luca had just put down their brush, when they suddenly felt themself crash with another human body as arms enveloped him in a hug. They spluttered embarrassed and made to push the other away, but…

“It's awesome!” they heard and, well… they supposed five seconds longer would be fine.

###

Luca thought, they should have expected it, they should have seen it coming. It was what they were good at, noticing details and picking them up even when others couldn't.

But the enemy this time was too strong.

Nothing like their family back in Spain that acted too high and mighty to stoop low enough to actually harm them. Nothing like the small time gangsters they were used to seeing cause a ruckus every now and then. It wasn't like he could have expected, that the enemy would go as far as to try to purposefully get close to both of them, was someone Diego at this point considered a parent, someone who had taught him his own trade, who had led him through the confusion when the yellow flame appeared, who had taught him, taught both of them what it was and how the boy could control it.

“You want him back?” a voice taunted in his memories, and it was like an eternal echo in Luca's ears. “I sold him for good money.” And then a mocking laughter. “He started learning quite a bit faster after I got my boys to continuously injure you. It'll probably go to waste though, what with where he is now.” A vicious never ending laughter. “Ah, I sold him for good money. Good money! Maybe if you give them enough pounds they'll give him back to you. His corpse I mean. Huhuhuha.” And then the laughter stopped.

Maybe something screamed.

Maybe it didn't.

Luca only remembered running like mad towards somewhere. They just. Couldn't. Seem. To. Find. It.

They stopped abruptly in front of a map of the city. A tourist one meant to help those not familiar with the roads. Their eyes roamed from one corner of the map to the other. Searching. Searching. And searching. Stopping at last on one particular private property with a strange glint on them. Something beat with their heart, and it was colder than even revenge.

Two months later, Black Mouse, a mafia family with long history and known in the underworld for many dark dealings and even human experimentation, was attacked by a unified army of rival families and razed to the ground. They had no chance of retaliation, because it was as if the enemy knew their every weak point and their every movement. Trying to fight, they died. Trying to run, they got found within the hour. Giving up wasn't even a choice in the face of rainbow burning rage.

And Luca stood. Just stood still. As if nobody could see them, as if all eyes would just pass by and not notice the frozen figure.

In front of them the only remains of a once bright sun, the only remains of their brightly-shining friend: a stack of papers, documents depicting experiments, and the fate following failure.

They weren't sure how long they stood there, untouched by the calamity wrought with their own hands, ignoring all explosions and curses and flames that flew. Especially ignoring brightly burning yellow. They took with them all traces of Diego in the facility, clutched them tighter than they even knew, closer to their heart than they'd ever allow again.

And when the fighting died, when all that stood from that filthy building was just a single wall amidst all rubble, Luca painted on that wall.

Unnoticed by anyone.

One last time.

The Snake that devoured the Mouse.

Normal people wouldn't understand. The only one to understand would be the underworld, the ones who received every last bit of information from them, and that achieved with that information the complete annihilation of a mafia family. They would understand and they would know and they would recall:

The Viper.

###