Archimedes’ Lever – Four

Squalo is growing into his place at Xanxus’ side, and starting to look around them for some support. Drama, I-3

“Here.” Gianni handed Squalo a second wineglass. “Take Xanxus a drink before he sets something on fire with his glare.”

Squalo snorted. “If you think another drink will make him glare less…” And here he’d thought the old men had finally figured Xanxus out better than that.

“No, but you’re bringing it to him and that will,” Gianni noted with dry amusement.

Okay, maybe they had gotten it.

“Hurry up, before we have another incident like the Mondial wedding,” Gianni added.

Squalo laughed, remembering the Tomasso heir retreating like something a lot more important than a bit of his hair had been singed. “You sure?” he asked a bit wistfully, recalling the satisfaction on Xanxus’ face as he’d reholstered his gun.

“Yes, very.”

Squalo rolled his eyes a little at the repressive tone. “All right, all right, I’m going. Mom.” He strolled off though the shifting after-dinner crowd, mouth quirking as he listened to the grumbling behind him about insolent brats with no respect. He’d had two Family mentors, ever since the day Xanxus had said yes to the Ninth, and he understood why. Everyone knew exactly who Xanxus’ right hand would be, and Gianni was the one who could show him how that worked. But the man really needed to loosen up, now and then.

Besides, between Gianni’s indignation and Rafaele’s snickering, he figured his teasing was pretty much right.

“Hey, boss.” He slid up onto the windowsill beside Xanxus and offered him the second glass.

Xanxus grunted and took a swallow, eyes still tracking restlessly over the crowd. Unfortunately, there weren’t any Family enemies to terrorize at this party. Eventually Xanxus sighed and glanced over at him. “So, what are we going to do about the Varia, anyway?”

Squalo grimaced. It was starting to be a familiar conversation. “Still isn’t anyone I’d call ready to take it over, even if Tyr is getting old. Not besides you or me.”

“I can’t run the Family and the Varia too.” Xanxus tilted his glass, frowning at the wine in it. “Have you seen the crap that lands on the old man’s desk?”

That, and what landed on Gianni’s too. Squalo leaned back against the cool glass. “I can probably handle most of it, if I have to,” he said quietly. “We’ll just have to keep looking for the right person.”

“And that’s another thing.” Xanxus crossed his arms, glass dangling from his fingers. “The old men run on about how my Guardians are supposed to be the ones closest to me, but I don’t have people close to me!” He glanced at Squalo. “Not besides you.”

“Well, you know who your Rain will be, then.” Squalo smiled at his boss’ irate grunt. “Don’t worry so much. The more you have to do with the rest of the Family, the more chances to meet the ones you need.”

Xanxus downright glowered at him. “If this is a trick to get me to agree to more goddamn parties…”

Squalo laughed. “Only if there’s more idiots you can shoot, promise.” As Xanxus settled down again he added, thoughtfully, “What about Levi?” Levi was definitely loyal to Xanxus, and gave him the respect Squalo knew his boss still craved.

Xanxus made a dubious noise instead of rejecting the idea outright, which Squalo figured for a good sign. He added Levi to his mental list along with Enrico’s oldest boy.

“Speak of the devil,” he murmured as a confused scuffle broke out on the other side of the room and Tazio appeared out of the crowd, strolling toward them with a perfectly innocent expression.

“Hey, Uncle Xanxus, Squalo,” he greeted them, easily.

“What’d you do this time?” Xanxus asked, eyeing the brief hubbub as the girl Dino Cavallone had escorted flounced away.

“Not a thing.” Tazio gave them both an angelic smile. “I was all the way over here, wasn’t I? I couldn’t possibly have gotten Camilla to tell her big sister that Dino hadn’t wanted to go with her in the first place, could I?”

Xanxus snorted with dark amusement. “Sure you couldn’t.”

Squalo watched the way Tazio grinned for Xanxus and recalled the way Tazio had always called Xanxus “uncle” despite only being three years younger, and nodded and silently checked the Sun off his list. The only question now was how long it would take Xanxus to realize.

“I don’t like you leading this one yourself,” the Ninth… fretted was the word, Squalo decided, and settled back in his chair with a sigh.

“If it’s going to succeed for sure, I need to be there. And if it isn’t going to succeed, why the hell are we sending it?” Xanxus told him bluntly.

“At least don’t go in first, then.” The old man was starting to look stubborn.

“How are we supposed to get in, then?” And Xanxus was starting to sound exasperated.

“What if someone else goes first to breach the walls?” Rafaele put in.

“Like who?” Xanxus snapped.

Squalo shrugged and elaborated. “There really isn’t anyone else we have right now better suited to blowing things up.”

Rafaele’s lips quirked. “I’m not surprised. But I was thinking of an outside contractor. Do you know Gokudera Hayato?”

After a moment Gianni said, cautiously, “Isn’t he a bit of a… lone wolf?”

Loose canon Squalo translated to himself, and sat up, more interested.

“So maybe he and Xanxus will have a topic of conversation,” Rafaele murmured dryly.

Squalo glared at his mentor, but couldn’t quite put as much force behind it as he wanted; it might be true.

“Isn’t he rather young?” the Ninth asked, frowning.

“A bit perhaps, but he’s very good at what he does.”

“Mm,” Gianni nodded, agreeing. “Word is that he was trained by Shamal.”

Xanxus waved a hand. “All right, we’ll take him.” He cast a look at his father and added. “And now will you stop worrying?”

The Ninth smiled wryly. “I’m afraid not, my boy, but I will stop objecting.”

Xanxus looked satisfied for a moment, and then gradually more uncertain. Squalo caught the suddenly softer smiles on Rafaele and Gianni and clapped Xanxus on the shoulder to distract him from noticing. “Let’s go get everything together, then, okay?” He paused on their way out only to grimace at his mentors; why was it so hard for everyone to understand that Xanxus just wasn’t good at the whole warm and fuzzy thing?

Fortunately the team they were taking in against the Tomasso holdings in Catania was about ready to go; Squalo had made sure of that. Contacting their “contractor” was the most time consuming thing left, and Gokudera agreed to meet them in the city.

When they met Squalo understood why the Ninth had hesitated. The kid couldn’t be more than fifteen. But that was the age he’d been when he went on his training journey, after all. Squalo looked at Gokudera’s eyes instead of his age.

That was when Gianni’s hesitation made sense to him. He’d seen eyes like those before. His boss used to have them.

“…so we want the walls down here and here,” Squalo finished explaining, watching too-sharp eyes track over the building plans as he pointed. “Can you do both at the same time?”

“Yeah, I can do it.” Gokudera slung a small pack over his shoulder, fingers drifting over the canisters at his belt, gave them a jerky nod and vanished into the falling evening.

“Well.” Squalo looked after the kid, brows raised. “Guess we should get ready, then.”

Squalo barely had their people positioned when the explosions started. Kid worked fast. Xanxus made an approving sound, and Squalo had to smile wryly. They had impatience in common, that was for sure.

And then he set those thoughts aside for later, because it was time to move and his mind was divided into the him that kept track of their people, of who was where, of whether they needed to slow down or speed up, and the him that ran at Xanxus’ back, guarding it, exulting in the speed and fire and grace of destruction. This didn’t have quite the edge of a Varia mission; this was a warning to the Tomasso. A sharp one, but only a warning. The men with them were regular foot soldiers of the Family, and they were here to destroy property not lives. Except for the unfortunates who got in their way.

Squalo listened to the reports from the watchers spread blocks away. “Boss! Time to be going,” he called. Reinforcements were coming thicker and they really would be in an all-out war if they didn’t go now.

Xanxus looked around the shambles of the building and everything in it with some satisfaction. “All right. Guess so.”

Squalo called for everyone to pull back, watching with some amusement as Xanxus fired on a few gaming tables and reduced them to finer splinters on his way out. Xanxus’ edge wasn’t as whetted on these trips, when they went out for general destruction, but he seemed to get more enjoyment out of them. Squalo suspected the Ninth’s desire to have his son not lead from the front was doomed to disappointment.

More of his mind was taken up, now, with their men, with the pace of the withdrawal, and his eye tracked over the small squads as they regathered, counting up. Only a few casualties, that was good. And here was their contractor, slipping out of the shadow of a broken wall, hard eyes passing without really seeing over the gathered Vongola. Squalo shook his head, thinking absently that the kid needed to keep a better eye out around him.

Later, when he had time, he wondered if the universe just waited for him to think things like that.

One of the early, scattered Tomasso reinforcements came running heedlessly through the flickering darkness and broken concrete and straight into Gokudera, sending them both down. The Tomasso man’s eyes were dark and blind with rage, and he didn’t seem to notice the people just beyond; his attention was all on Gokudera, and he had a gun already in his hand.

Squalo hissed, without even time to swear as he turned, feeling for footing for a lunge, and he wasn’t sure even he would be in enough time. Gokudera had one of his slender explosives in his hand, but the gun was trained already…

A line of Flame cut the night and blew the Tomasso man back through one of the remaining walls.

Squalo breathed out. For a second he wondered if Gokudera had been hit anyway, because the kid was just kneeling there in the rubble, staring at them. No. At Xanxus. Squalo saw his lips shape the word “Why”.

“Well, what are you sitting there for?” Xanxus asked, and jerked his head at the waiting vans. “Come on.”

“I… But… Yes.” Gokudera stammered, and rose and followed after Xanxus, eyes still wide.

Squalo strolled after, mouth quirked. If he was reading this situation right, there was some potential here.

“So,” he murmured to Xanxus once they were all rolling, “we could probably use an explosives expert for this kind of job, don’t you think?”

Xanxus cocked a brow at him. “Thinking of recruiting the kid?”

“Thought I’d mention it, yeah. See what you thought.”

Xanxus snorted. “I’m not the one you should talk to about bringing people into the Family.”

“Yes you are,” Squalo said with absolute surety and then had to come up with an explanation that would make sense in face of Xanxus’ startled look. “Look, you’re the heir. You’re going to be the Tenth. It’s about time you started building up your own people.” Which was also true.

Xanxus gave that a generalized grunt of acknowledgment and Squalo sat back, satisfied. It never took Xanxus long to act once he’d made up his mind.

Today it didn’t take any longer than the drive back home. As soon as Gokudera had been passed through by the medics, Xanxus cornered him. “You’re not affiliated, right?”

Gokudera looked a bit wary at that. “Yeah, I’m not.”

“Good. Any problems with coming into this Family, then?”

Squalo nearly laughed out loud, both at Xanxus’ bluntness and the kid’s stunned expression.

“But… You mean… You want me?” Gokudera sputtered.

“Yeah. I could use you.”

It took the kid a few swallows to speak. When he did, his voice was husky. “You saved my life.” He bowed his head formally. “I place my life in your hands. Boss.”

Xanxus blinked a bit at this evidence of high manners. Or maybe just at Gokudera’s utter sincerity. “Well. All right, then.” He set a hand on Gokudera’s shoulder to steer him toward the house, and Squalo was nearly blinded by the brilliance of the kid’s smile as he looked up.

He followed along after them, wondering idly what Gokudera’s alignment was. Definitely potential, here.

Squalo watched Xanxus knock briefly on the Ninth’s door and casually boot it open, and shook his head, amused. Xanxus was always going to ignore manners and forms, and unlike the stray they’d adopted he didn’t have to work to do it.

“You wanted me?” Xanxus slung himself into one of the chairs and Squalo came to lean against the back.

“Yes.” The Ninth was smiling. “Reborn is back from the Cavallone Family assignment, and I wanted you two to meet again.”

Xanxus nodded at the baby in the suit sitting in one of the other chairs, just a bit warily. After all, they’d both worked out now and then with Lal Mirch and you tended to respect the kind of people who came up to your knee and still pounded you into the mats like a tent peg. Squalo was wondering about something, though.

“The Cavallone?”

“Indeed.” The Ninth was smiling into his mustache, Squalo thought. “Reborn does… tutoring, I suppose you could say, at need. The Cavallone heir needed some personal attention to settle him down.”

Squalo snorted. “Dino? Didn’t need settling down as much as stirring up. He drove me so damn crazy…” And then he woke to the implication of Reborn being back, and straightened. “You mean he is?”

“Dino is taking up his responsibilities in an acceptable fashion,” Reborn said calmly.

Squalo was impressed.

“More than just acceptable,” the Ninth murmured. “The Cavallone are making a strong recovery under his leadership. Nevertheless, I’m glad you’re back with us, Reborn.”

“So?” Opaque black eyes raked over both Xanxus and Squalo. “You need me for your own heir?”

The Ninth waved a reassuring hand as both Xanxus and Squalo stiffened. “Only in that he will need to have confidence in you when he takes the Family. I would like Xanxus to have your support.”

“It’s the same thing, isn’t it?” Reborn sipped a tiny cup of coffee. “One way or another.” He hopped down and strolled over to stand by Xanxus’ boot. “I’ll watch them.”

For some reason that made the Ninth smile. “Try not to inspire my heir to shoot you, please.”

Reborn smiled faintly. “We’ll see.”

“The hell is this?” Xanxus asked, eying Reborn.

“We’re seeing what kind of boss you’ll be,” Reborn told him.

“One that’s too busy for idiocy,” Xanxus said, brusque, and looked up at the Ninth. “Was there anything else?”

The Ninth was still smiling, and his amusement gave Squalo a bad feeling. “Not immediately. Though I must say, I’m pleased to see how well young Gokudera is settling into the Family. He’s had a reputation for being untamable for years now.”

“Wouldn’t say I’ve tamed him,” Xanxus muttered, and Squalo had to roll his eyes. Since Xanxus apparently didn’t notice these things until they hit him over the head a few times, no, he probably wouldn’t.

“Gokudera Hayato?” Reborn mused. “Is he really the kind you want in the Vongola?”

Xanxus focused back on him sharply, eyes narrow, and his words picked up an edge of growl. “The decision was mine to make.” Squalo automatically eased forward onto his toes in response to that tone, started to ease himself back when he remembered where they were, and hesitated when he recalled who they were dealing with.

Mayhem was not forthcoming, though. Reborn looked at Xanxus for a long moment and nodded. “Possessiveness can be a good trait in a boss.” He nodded again at the Ninth while Xanxus was staring and Squalo was trying not to gape. Who the hell was this guy to come in and read Xanxus that well with just a look? “We’ll get started, then.” He sprang lightly up to the chair arm and then the back and then Squalo’s fucking shoulder, and gave him a companionable smile sharp as a knife.

Squalo was getting the feeling it was going to be a long month.

Shouting and crashes were not unusual things to hear from the rooms the regular Family members used to train. Explosions, however, were. Squalo strode quickly down the hall, wondering if one of the Varia had wandered into this wing and why.

It wasn’t one of the Varia he found, though. It was Gokudera.

Gokudera and Dangelo Ceirano, one of the rising young hitmen, were being pulled away from each other as smoke cleared. Squalo’s eye traced the scorch marks and the hide-out knife in Ceirano’s hand, reconstructing the fight. Gokudera had attacked first, he thought.

“What the hell?” he asked conversationally, strolling over to Gokudera and taking his shoulder, gesturing the other men away with a jerk of his chin.

Gokudera’s glittering eyes never left Ceirano and his spine was stiff. “He has no right to say that about the Tenth,” he snarled, completely ignoring the line of blood starting to trickle down his jaw.

“I say what I see,” Ceirano snapped back, gesturing with the knife. “Xanxus doesn’t give a damn about the Family, about the mafia, about our traditions or rules. Not really. And if that’s true, he has no place as heir.”

Squalo cocked his head, considering. If this was just disaffection, he would take Ceirano down himself and be done with it. But there were murmurs running around the room, just on the edge of hearing—not agreeing but doubtful and that was just as much of a problem in its way. He sighed, briefly damning Rafaele and Gianni for teaching him to think about these things. The Varia were so much easier to deal with.

He squeezed Gokudera’s shoulder, quieting him as he sucked in a breath, probably to yell back some more, and stepped forward. “Someone who’s only watched from a distance has no business having an opinion.” Which should get Ceirano’s mind off Gokudera and onto Squalo, seeing as Squalo had basically just insulted his profession as a sniper.

Sure enough, Ceirano’s lip curled up and he glared at Squalo. “It doesn’t take being up close and personal to see this.”

Squalo’s eyes narrowed at the unmistakable emphasis on “personal”. Yeah, he went to Xanxus’ bed, and no one was damn well going to comment on it unless they wanted a very personal fight indeed on their hands. Before he could invite Ceirano to that very fight, though, a tall shadow stirred in the doorway opposite and Xanxus stepped into the room.

“If I’m so out of touch, then when you surrender after I beat you I should just kill you instead of accepting it, right?” he said casually. “You still have the guts to say that shit to my face?”

Ceirano’s glare tracked around to Xanxus, never wavering. “Damn right I do,” he answered, voice flat.

A corner of Xanxus’ mouth curled up. “Well, then.” He crossed the room, stride easy, and opened the door to the outside before looking over his shoulder. “Come on,” he said softly, eyes bright.

Ceirano stalked after him out the door, and the people in the room and the hall drifted after, including Gokudera who was looking vengefully pleased.

“Hmm. He still has a very short temper.”

Squalo looked down to find Reborn beside him, and wasn’t really surprised. He showed up in the damnedest places, and always when Xanxus was around. Squalo shrugged. “He’s strongest when he’s angry.”

Reborn looked up at him, eyes dark and unreadable. “Do you think that’s the way it should work?”

“That he’s strongest when he’s angry? Don’t see why not. It works that way for a lot of people, as long as they can stay focused.”

Reborn shook his head. “No. Do you think it’s right that he’s angry so often?”

Squalo sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “There are a bunch of things I don’t think are right. That doesn’t usually change them.”

Reborn sprang up to his shoulder, ignoring Squalo’s exasperated glare. “If you’re his right hand, it’s your business to change them for him, just as it’s his business to change them for the Family. Let’s go see how he does with that.”

Squalo muttered under his breath about not being Reborn’s damn chauffeur all the way outside.

Xanxus and Ceirano were squared off at either end of one of the terraces, and they both had their guns out. Squalo was actually a little interested to see how this went; Xanxus didn’t often face someone else who used guns with the kind of precision he did. Xanxus was practically lounging against the stone balustrade, smiling darkly at Ceirano, daring him to shoot first.

Ceirano loaded calmly and did.

After the first few shots, Squalo sighed. Xanxus was playing with the man. He hadn’t aimed a single shot of Flame at Ceirano himself, only using it to dodge. He was laughing, by now, with that exhilarated and just a little crazed note in it that always made Squalo smile and a lot of other people back away slowly.

“He spends too much time fighting his past,” Reborn observed in Squalo’s ear.

“There’s a lot of it to fight,” Squalo said quietly, glancing over at him.

“If he loses track of which is past and which is present—” Reborn broke off, leaning forward as Xanxus finally left off his game and drove in on Ceirano, coming hand to hand. Ceirano’s knife flashed out again, glanced off the barrel of Xanxus’ gun, caught his shoulder as Ceirano was thrown back by a kick to the stomach.

“Stubborn little shit, aren’t you?” Xanxus asked, conversationally, and aimed a gun straight at Ceirano. He smiled, teeth showing as startled protests started to rise around them, and pulled the trigger.

“He forgets less, these days,” Squalo told Reborn, leaning back against the outer wall and crossing his ankles.

Ceirano, smoking a bit, slowly hauled himself up from the crater Xanxus’ shot had left in the lawn, and looked up a little blankly as Xanxus stood over him, second gun pressed to his forehead. For a long moment neither of them moved, and the watching crowd seemed to hold its breath.

“Well?” Xanxus prodded, and not just metaphorically. The blank waiting cleared from Ceirano’s eyes at the brief jab of the barrel, replaced by startlement and then anger and finally a rueful twist of his mouth.

“You win,” he said.

“Damn right I do.” Xanxus holstered his guns and put his hands on his hips. “And you get what you paid for, Ceirano. You serve me and I’m stuck with you. Imagine how overjoyed I am.” He turned on his heel and strode off the impromptu field, gathering Squalo up with a gesture, leaving Ceirano staring after him.

As the door closed behind them, Squalo heard Ceirano start to laugh.

Xanxus eyed Reborn as they moved through the halls. “Have a front row seat?” he asked, sarcastic.

“That would be Ceirano’s,” Reborn noted, sounding perfectly serene. “Mine was close enough, though.” He hopped down without a word or wave and trotted off down the hall toward the Ninth’s wing. Xanxus growled.

“You know,” Squalo murmured, thoughtfully, “one of these days I think I’ll start wearing spikes on my shoulders. Could we say that was a new part of the Varia uniform, you think?” He was satisfied when Xanxus relaxed enough to laugh, even if it was just a snort.

Change things for Xanxus, huh? If Reborn couldn’t see the ways Squalo did that every day, he could just go suck eggs, legendary hitman or not.


Last Modified: Feb 10, 12
Posted: Dec 25, 09
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    He was satisfied when Xanxus relaxed enough to laugh, even if it was just a snort.

    This one was cute*
    I didn’t expect Gokudera at all, but I’m glad you included him in such a nice way.
    It’s not a character I think about much if I have to say the truth, but you portrayed him in a way that kept me interested.
    I’m looking forward to see how this develops in the next level!

  2. tiny_turtle

    I am intrigued by the notion of Gokudera being one of Xanxus’ people. Intrigued and a little frightened.

    Also, Reborn riding around on Squalo’s shoulder = WIN.

    1. branchandroot Post author

      I have this bunny hanging around, which involves Gokudera getting taken to bed by Xanxus and being every bit as glowy for him as canon-Gokudera is for Tsuna. It amuses me to no end.