Archimedes’ Lever – Two

Squalo bonds with Xanxus, and none too soon as Xanxus finds out some things the Ninth had kept from him. Drama with Angst and Sort-of Romance, I-4

Squalo strolled around the edges of the wedding crowd beside Xanxus, keeping an eye out for any unattended cake they could nail down. He didn’t have all that much of a sweet tooth personally, but it was a way of keeping score among the kids. After all, twelve year olds couldn’t rack up kills yet, or negotiations concluded in their Family’s favor. “Vieri are here,” he observed. “Furetto, too. Guess that means Bertoldi’s dad made him stop sulking and come along.” He snorted a little; as if Bertoldi had ever had a chance with Dianora Leone.

Xanxus just grunted, and Squalo grinned crookedly. Sounded like Xanxus was in a bad mood. Again. He just kept chatting. Xanxus brooded a lot; Squalo hadn’t been sure what the word really meant until he’d met Xanxus, but Xanxus was practically the definition of it. He came out of it eventually, if you just stayed close.

Well, and didn’t lecture, which was where the grown ups always seemed to go wrong.

“Orsini, too,” he observed idly, watching Giotto and Ignacio maneuvering for the punch bowl—good luck on that.

His head snapped up at the sound Xanxus made this time, low and ugly. “Xanxus?” His friend’s face was dark and hard, lips curled up a little over his teeth, and a tingle slid down Squalo’s nerves at that signal of a threat or fight on the horizon. Xanxus wasn’t looking at the Orsini boys, though. His eyes were fixed straight ahead where Pino Tomasso and a few of his friends had come to stand.

Oh, great.

“Wedding isn’t the place to start a fight,” Squalo sing-songed under his breath, not that he thought that would do a bit of good if Xanxus lost his temper. The only answer he got was a snarl. Squalo sighed and stuffed his hands in his pockets and followed along, because Xanxus wasn’t turning aside a single centimeter. He never did, and Squalo liked that, no matter how many lectures from the grown ups it meant.

“Hey, Xanxus,” Pino called, crossing his arms. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”

The only answer he got was a stony stare. He plowed on anyway.

“Doesn’t seem like the kind of place you’d be comfortable.” He grinned at his friends, who grinned back and nudged each other. “I mean, a wedding. Must be kind of new to you, huh?” His smile turned vicious and his voice lowered as he finished. “Since your mom never had one, did she?”

Brightness flashed around Xanxus’ clenched hand, and something very dark twisted his face. Squalo felt like that twist was in his gut, too. A few heads turned out among the crowd of grown ups, but damned if Squalo was waiting for them.

A man took care of his own business.

And wiping the smirk off Pino Tomasso’s face with a fist to his stomach and an elbow across his jaw was damn satisfying business. Pino spat blood and straightened up with the help of a hand under his arm, glaring at Squalo as a few more boys materialized out of the crowd at his back. Squalo could see Xanxus staring at him, from the corner of his eye, but he kept his gaze on Pino, daring him to say more. “You’ll regret standing by a bastard like Xanxus,” Pino told him, low and vicious, and then there weren’t any more words, just fists. Squalo could hear Xanxus snarling, behind him, and the memory of how his face had looked at Pino’s words drove Squalo’s feet faster and his fists harder. By the time Rafaele and two of the Tomasso’s men arrived to pull them apart there was only one of Pino’s friends still standing.

“Honestly… can’t even stay out of trouble at a wedding…” Rafaele muttered as he swiped at their faces with a wet handkerchief.

“They asked for it,” Xanxus growled, twisting aside.

“Even if they did, this wasn’t the place for it,” Rafaele told him severely. Squalo didn’t think that was entirely fair.

“You’d have done it too, if they’d said that about your mother,” he pointed out.

Rafaele paused and sighed. “I see.”

“Besides, I was the one who punched Pino first.” Squalo grabbed the cloth away from Rafaele to clean his own face with, frowning. “And you were right.”

Rafaele blinked. “Excuse me?”

“It is different, when you’re fighting for… for a reason.” Squalo didn’t look up. “For Family.” He glanced at Xanxus, who had stopped still and was looking at him very oddly. Squalo shrugged and finished wiping the blood off his chin and offered Xanxus the handkerchief.

After a moment, he took it, not quite meeting Squalo’s eyes. “Yeah. Whatever.”

Squalo snorted a little, and winced at the way it made his ribs hurt. He was still amused. Xanxus was really bad at the people stuff.

Rafaele was shaking his head. “The two of you,” he sighed.

Squalo considered that for a moment and smiled. “Yeah,” he agreed, flashing a grin at Xanxus.

Xanxus finally met his eyes and took a slow step closer.

Squalo leaned back on his un-sprained hand and gave his mentor a satisfied look. “The two of us. That was what you wanted me to do, wasn’t it?”

Rafaele put a hand over his eyes and laughed helplessly.


Training with Gianni was kind of like training blindfolded, only worse, because you saw things all right, but you couldn’t trust any of them. Squalo absolutely hated it, and badgered Rafaele to convince Gianni to come more often, because anything he hated that much was obviously a weakness. Today there were real obstacles among the illusions, which was a particularly nasty touch that Squalo appreciated. Or, at least, he would appreciate it as soon as his head stopped ringing.

“Urgh,” he said, and rolled over on his back to see what it was he actually tripped over. A footlocker sat where none had a minute ago, and the opponent he’d been chasing after had disappeared.

No wonder the Ninth’s right had was supposed to be so good at negotiations.

By the time Gianni called a halt for the day Squalo was covered in bruises and Gianni didn’t have a mark on him, the bastard. Squalo grinned at him. “I’ll be better when I come back.”

Gianni smiled just a little, but whatever he’d been about to say slid out of Squalo’s mind as one of the shadows along the wall stirred.

“Xanxus!” Squalo trotted over before his friend could slip away or do any of the other stupid things he’d been doing this whole week. “Here to train or just to watch?” he asked. Xanxus’ answer was a particularly inarticulate grunt and Squalo’s smile quirked. “Well, anyway, come on.” He took the precaution of towing Xanxus along with him as he racked his sword and nodded to Gianni, and didn’t let go until they were out in the hall. They walked together silently, and Squalo waited.

“You’re really going?” Xanxus finally asked, head down, hands shoved in his pockets.

“Yeah,” Squalo said quietly. “Tyr thinks it’s the right time. That I need to see and fight more styles than I’ll find here. Feels like he’s right.” He glanced up at Xanxus’ dark expression. “It’ll probably only be a year or so.”

“Mm.”

Squalo rolled his eyes silently and tried another approach. “Well, how am I supposed to be able to keep up with you, if I don’t keep advancing?”

That nudged Xanxus into an equally familiar but different response, one brow lifting as he eyed Squalo. “Think a lot of yourself, don’t you?”

Squalo laughed. “Wherever you go, I’m following.” He grinned as Xanxus’ stride hitched; Xanxus never expected things like that, it was almost too easy. “I have to be the best to keep up, right?” He looked up to find Xanxus staring at him and shook his head, jostling Xanxus’ shoulder companionably with his own. “Come on, you know that by now, don’t you?”

Xanxus looked away and walked on. After a few more strides he said, quietly, “You want to train a few rounds before you go?”

Squalo smiled. “Sure.”


Squalo expected to be welcomed home after a year away, but Rafaele had greeted Squalo with such a fervent “Thank God you’re back,” that Squalo was instantly suspicious.

“What’s going on?”

“It’s Xanxus.”

Squalo narrowed his eyes and sat down at Rafaele’s kitchen table with folded arms. “Okay, what did you guys do wrong this time?”

Rafaele gave him a stern look for a moment before sighing. “All right, perhaps there’s some justice in that.” He poured two cups of coffee and sat down across from Squalo. “There’s been some factional trouble brewing, a few of the under-bosses starting to say that Xanxus should be heir, not Federico. What we’re afraid of is that they aren’t moving on their own.”

“Outsiders stirring up trouble?” Squalo had seen that often enough in school.

“Maybe. The Cetrulli, Gianni thinks.” Rafaele took a sip of his coffee and leaned back. “The problem is that Xanxus has heard and seems to be taking to the idea.”

Squalo shrugged. “Well, why wouldn’t he?”

Rafaele coughed on a swallow of coffee and frowned at him. Squalo leaned back and frowned right back at him.

“Look. I follow Xanxus, okay? That doesn’t mean just calming him down so he’ll go along with whatever you and the Ninth think is good. If he wants to compete with Federico to be the Tenth, it’s him I’ll be helping.”

Rafaele set his cup down carefully. “If you follow him, and intend to aid him, doesn’t that include protecting him from the manipulation of outsiders? It won’t serve him if the fight just breaks the Family apart for the Cetrulli to pick off. This is why the Family must come first, Squalo.”

Squalo thought about that. “Yeah, okay. I guess you’re right.” Of course, if Xanxus still thought it was a good idea, some other month when it wouldn’t just stir up trouble some other Family could take advantage of, well that would be another time.

Rafaele breathed out. “Good. Help me keep this from getting out of hand, then.” His mouth quirked wryly. “You’re probably the only one he’ll listen to right now.”

Squalo snorted and pushed himself onto his feet. “That’s because none of you understand him.”

At the time, even he didn’t know how right he was, but they all found out six weeks and four days later. Squalo remembered that day very clearly for a very long time.

It started with an explosion.

Squalo ran for the Ninth’s office, and at first everyone around was running in the same direction. The closer he got, though, the more foot soldiers were retreating just as quickly, and Squalo had to shove his way past to break out in the clear area around the office door. Which was when he could hear who was shouting.

Xanxus’ voice pulled him in the door like it was a rope tied around him.

The room was a wreck. The bullet-proof glass of the window was shattered and blown out. Chairs and a table were overturned. As Squalo came in he had to duck the vase Xanxus had just hurled at the wall, and was pelted with shards as it burst.

“All this time!” Xanxus shouted, pointing at the Ninth, and Squalo could see why Gianni was standing in front of his boss looking tense; Xanxus’ Flame was flickering in and out around his hands. “What the fuck, were you just laughing at the idiot who fell for it?!”

The Ninth pulled Gianni gently back, brows twisted. “Xanxus, no…”

Xanxus laughed, harsh and raw. “Telling me I was your son so your goddamned Family could use me! And all this time it’s a lie, and I’m nothing!” Squalo’s eyes widened, hearing that.

“No! I didn’t ever mean to use you, and I never wanted it to be a lie…!”

Shut up!” Xanxus screamed. This time it was a chair he picked up and hurled against the wall with wild strength, cracking the back and two legs off. The rage and outrage and raw fear in his voice made Squalo flinch.

“Xanxus,” he called, trying to break through.

“Nothing,” Xanxus grated, glaring at the old men like he didn’t see them, like he hadn’t heard Squalo at all. Squalo took a breath.

Boss!

Both the Ninth and Xanxus looked around at that, but Squalo only had eyes for Xanxus. “Boss,” he said, more quietly. “What does it matter?”

“…what?” Xanxus really looked like he didn’t understand the words, and Squalo told the crinkle down his spine to go away and stepped closer.

“What difference does it make?” he asked as he came to stand in front of Xanxus, holding those blank eyes with his. “You’re still you. You’re Xanxus. That hasn’t changed. That’s all that matters.”

Slowly Xanxus’ eyes focused on him properly. Very quietly, hoarse from screaming, he asked, “Are you telling me the truth?”

Squalo stomped down a wince at that. Man, when the Ninth fucked up, he did it in style, didn’t he? “I am,” he answered, flat and sure, and reached up to grip Xanxus’ shoulder. He didn’t move as Xanxus’ own hand flashed up, though he did relax when it clamped down on his wrist, holding his hand in place.

Xanxus took a slow, shuddering breath and looked up at the Ninth. “Why?”

“Because I wanted it to be true,” the old man said, and even Squalo could hear the ache in his voice. “Because it was true in my heart. Not to use you, I swear it. If you’d chosen to leave the mafia and go be a citrus farmer, I’d have still thought of you as my son.”

Xanxus had that blank look again, but his voice was more normally puzzled and exasperated when he asked again, “Why?

The Ninth sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Finally he said, quietly, “Because underneath the angry, sullen child I first met, I could see the man you might become. And I wanted very much to know him.” He looked up, and Squalo glanced away, embarrassed by the raw emotion in his face. “I still want to know him.”

A shudder ran through Xanxus, under Squalo’s hand. “I’ll… I need to… I’ll just…” Xanxus spun around abruptly and stalked out the door. Without letting go of Squalo’s wrist.

Squalo waved his fingers at the Ninth and Gianni in what he hoped was an It’s okay, I’ll handle it, stay there sort of way, and let himself be towed along, down the halls as people ducked out of their way, and back to Xanxus’ rooms. Xanxus slammed the door behind them and stood for a moment, half turned away from Squalo.

“You called me ‘boss’,” he finally said.

Squalo shrugged. “You’re the one I follow. Doesn’t matter to me whether you’re his blood or not. You have the Flame. You have the strength.”

Xanxus looked around at him, eyes dark, still breathing fast from the fight and their retreat here. “But not the right.”

Squalo smiled, crookedly. “You have the right to me.”

He didn’t quite realize the double meaning of what he’d said until the agitation in the set of Xanxus’ shoulders, and tightness around his eyes, changed. “Do I?” He pushed Squalo back up against the closed door, grip on his wrist shifting, and asked again, lower. “Do I? Are you really mine?”

Squalo swallowed; there was hunger in the way Xanxus looked at him, and more than one kind of hunger. He thought he could answer the part that wanted a place and reminders of his worth, but the other… He’d only just started getting to grips with all this hormone stuff and still wasn’t entirely sure about the whole women thing, but… this was Xanxus. And that was different. Slowly he reached up with his free hand, winding his fingers in Xanxus’ jacket. “Yeah.”

Xanxus’ mouth covered his, hot and wet and a little awkward. Squalo didn’t care, because it felt good to have Xanxus’ body pressed against his; it felt right. When Xanxus’ thigh slid between his legs it felt better than good.

“So,” he said, breathless, “if being the Tenth is out, how about the Varia?”

Xanxus lifted his head. “With you, you mean?”

Squalo shrugged, looking up at him. “I’m yours, right?”

The tautness in Xanxus finally relaxed and he leaned against Squalo, letting out a slow breath.

“Yeah.”


“He’s still in there, huh?”

Squalo leaned in Xanxus’ doorway, arms crossed. “Yeah.”

Rafaele sighed. “I guess we have to come to him, then.”

“Not yet, you don’t.” Rafaele blinked and Squalo glared. “Not until he’s ready to talk to you.” And he closed the door firmly.


“Still not yet?”

“No.”


“We can’t just wait on his brooding forever,” Gianni said over the maid’s shoulder.

Squalo took the tray of food from her and raised his brows at Gianni. “Why not?” He closed the door.


“Are they still out there?” Xanxus asked as Squalo sat on the edge of the bed.

“It is the main house,” Squalo pointed out. “I don’t think they’re going anywhere.”

Xanxus ran a hand through his hair. “Why?” He sounded at a real loss and Squalo cocked his head.

“Guess you won’t know until you ask them,” he said quietly.


“Okay, go get the Ninth, you can come in,” Squalo told Rafaele, and ignored the things Rafaele muttered under his breath. He just went back to stand at Xanxus’ shoulder.

Once the Ninth and Gianni and Rafaele had gotten themselves settled, there was a moment of uncomfortable silence. The Ninth finally broke it with a cautious, “I’m glad to see you’re doing all right, my boy.”

Xanxus twitched. “Quit calling me that. It’s not like I’m really your son.”

Squalo thought the Ninth almost flinched.

“You’ve been my son in my heart,” the old man insisted.

Xanxus’ hair was a complete mess from how often he’d been running his hands through it. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” he demanded. “You said you didn’t lie to me just so you could use me, but why else would you do something like that?”

The Ninth looked down at his hands. “When I first saw you I saw a child who’d been hurt and denied far too often. I didn’t want to deny you again, and you’d been told you were mine. If I was to take you in and raise you as my own, what harm in letting you, and the rest of the world, believe you were mine by blood, too? At least,” he finished, quieter, “that was what I thought then. I…” he sighed. “I’m sorry.”

Xanxus just stared at him, face blank. “I don’t get it.”

Rafaele stirred, glancing between the Ninth and Xanxus and… Squalo? “Look,” he said, “Squalo doesn’t care where or how you were born, does he? He follows you anyway.”

Squalo’s spine straightened at that and he gave his mentor a hard look. “Damn right.” He glanced down at Xanxus, and settled a bit as he saw the hard line of Xanxus’ shoulders relaxing a little.

“It’s like that,” Rafaele went on. “Timoteo doesn’t care about those things either. He wants you to take a son’s place in this house, regardless of whether you were born to it or not.”

Xanxus’ eyes on the old man were dark, now, and confused Squalo thought. “But why me?” he finally said, voice low and cracking a little, and Squalo couldn’t help reaching out to close a hand on his shoulder.

The Ninth smiled, gentle and maybe just a little wobbly. “I told you that already, didn’t I? I saw some of what you might become. And I think I’ll like that man, and I want to know him.”

A shudder ran through Xanxus, under Squalo’s hand, and he bit his lip. “But I… I’m just…” He bit down harder, stopping himself.

Squalo considered the tension he could feel and made shoo-ing motions at the old men with his free hand. After a judicious look at Xanxus, Rafaele nodded and stood. As the Ninth and Gianni followed, and turned toward the door, Xanxus said, low and rough, “Come back tomorrow…?”

Squalo felt like he might need to squint in face of the Ninth’s sudden smile. “Of course, my boy.”

Squalo listened for the door closing before he came around to kneel between Xanxus’ legs and pull him close. Xanxus’ arms locked tight around him, and now Squalo could feel his whole body shaking. “Hey,” he said, quietly, not adding any idiocy about was Xanxus okay, just letting him know Squalo was there. They stayed there for a long time.

TBC