All characters © Amano Akira

Summary: Squalo first experienced fear at age fourteen, when he met Xanxus.

Author's note: I wanted to play with writing in a different tone, so forgive me. I fail at dark/angst-ish stuff...


Under Thunder

If one was emotionally shallow enough, one could live his life unafraid. To gnash one's jaws with unwavering effrontery; never knowing abasement, defeat, or insecurity. This was Superbi Squalo's mantra for the first fourteen years of his life.

He was loud, proud, but also uncannily insightful and witty when he wasn't brazenly displaying his manhood. Of course, he had been defeated before. Several times, in fact, his life had dangled precariously at the edge of oblivion, threatening to spiral down into a place where time ceased to matter and all things yellow and arcane took over. This never scared him, though. As a swordsman, Squalo was taught to welcome death without apprehension of what came after. In the meantime, the world was his and he could do with it what he damn well pleased. There was no room for doubtful internal oscillations.

Or so he thought. Squalo first experienced fear at age fourteen. When he met Xanxus.

It was at one of those opulent, grandiose parties that the Vongola IX liked to host annually for all of his dons and their famiglia. The purpose of these gatherings, while wholly overwrought and tasteless in its formalities, was to help those in the mafia establish international connections. Squalo just found them boring.

He stood outdoors at the reception, scowling, hating the way the sun washed over his albino skin with such intensity that it was practically excoriating. The dark fabric of his thick Zanieri suit was not improving his mood either, along with something else that was bothering him-something his perspicacity wouldn't allow him to ignore. Namely, someone was staring at him.

Squalo couldn't determine the propinquity of the starer at first, so he discreetly cast his eyes around the throng of people in hopes that whoever was peppering his back with this ireful gaze at least had a damn good reason for it. It wasn't difficult to spot him.

His fear hadn't come then. There was only room for defiance at meeting someone visibly stronger than himself, and perhaps a touch of admiration. It was the alleged son of the Ninth, and one of the few youthful faces Squalo could discern in the sea of adults and old-timers. He felt a strange attraction to the waves of incandescent rage that were practically emanating from the guy in ripples. And that was how Squalo met his future boss and man that he would spend the next eighteen years of his life with.

He hadn't known at the time what spurred such fury. He hadn't known that Xanxus's "noble blood" was merely a title to cover up his ancestry of Italian mendicants. He hadn't known that a history of mental illness was present in Xanxus's family.

Squalo claimed he would follow this fury, since anger was one of the main suppliers of power. Defiance educed growth and triumph. He knew that resolve was important, that restraint was needed, but true strength came from those who had the gumption to roar at the sky.

He claimed so, since he thought he knew what anger was. But after bearing witness to quotidian tantrums, fits, and unrelenting raw fury, Squalo slowly came to terms with something that his pride had a hard time admitting: Xanxus terrified him.

2.

Some thought the eight-year-old was too naive to understand. Others with a stronger sense of ethics (but with a cultural naivety themselves) wondered what an eight-year-old was even doing in the Varia in the first place. The boy was a smiler, always, and some had convinced themselves that his detached observations of the atrocities around him were a child's ignorance. They assumed he was too young to grasp the severity of the situations. Everyone in the newly-appointed Varia knew better.

"You need to get the hell out of here," Squalo snapped at Bel, who peered with mild curiosity around Squalo's leg.

"Why, fishy?"

Squalo motioned for Lussuria to come over. "Take him," he ordered, watching as Lussuria led Bel away from the mess in the other room. Just in time, too, because an oriental lacquer vase came whizzing out of the archway and shattered inches from where Bel had been standing. The wall behind him rained twinkling shards of splintered vase.

Ignoring the noise, Squalo strode into the room with a "Voiiiiii." He asked Xanxus, who was holding a candelabra mid-throw, if the histrionics were necessary. Xanxus replied that the child had awoken him from his nap. At first Squalo had trouble understanding him for some strange reason; there was something wrong with Xanxus's mouth.

No one should ever wake him when he's sleeping, he claimed, and the little snot-faced trash was doing it just to spite him. Squalo thought that was probably true, but he tactfully chose to remain silent on this matter. These tantrums came weekly now, close to daily, and the Vongola IX had finally given up trying to pay for the collateral damage. Because of the regularity of these rampages, Squalo sometimes forgot just how serious they could get.

He was reminded again when his eyes caught the oak dining table in the room. Two of the legs had been entirely ripped free, causing the table to collapse. At first Squalo had overlooked the table legs, supposing that with Xanxus's kind of anger, you could even break solid oak. Thinking back after that scene was over, he knew he shouldn't have taken that extra second to spare another glance at the table, at those jagged edges where the legs had been severed. Those edges weren't splintered at the ends like they should have been, but were of a different shape entirely. Suddenly Squalo knew what had been wrong with Xanxus's mouth. Something clicked in his head then and spread all the way down his spine, as abruptly as a blink but only more ominous. That was when he realized that fear was cold. Xanxus hadn't ripped them, oh no.

He had bitten those table legs free, and that had been wood in his mouth, between his teeth.

3.

That had only been one of many incidents that Squalo had witnessed in the first six months of working under his boss. Most of the time he chose to overlook these little "setbacks," as he got to fight and connive and order people around, which was good enough for him in his book. Squalo was happier than he had ever been, and if he could achieve this salty, malicious satisfaction by abetting someone like him, then he was a-okay. He was willingly ignorant of the fact that Xanxus was unstable.

He knew it wasn't teenage hormones. From his knowledge, Xanxus had no interest in women. He had other things to concern himself with. Squalo, when he could muster up the gumption, sometimes asked him why he wanted to inherit his status here, now, why he didn't wait.

To which Xanxus would abstrusely reply that trash like Squalo needn't concern himself with his personal issues. His responses in these cases were infuriatingly laconic.

Other times, when Squalo would ask again and Xanxus would be in a more talkative mood, he would answer that if he waited any longer, he would explode.

With what? Squalo would inquire. Xanxus would never answer, and in time Squalo found it seemingly obvious.

4.

Even before he knew about the Varia rings, Squalo enjoyed the rain. The cloud cover was easy on his eyes and the sun was no longer a threat to his floury skin. But today he took no notice of the showers. He was afraid, though he would confess this to no one. Everyone in their little sextet either had issues of their own or were too devoted to their boss to question his actions.

For Squalo, standing there as the splatters of rain rolled off his shoulders, he found he was...offended, yes, that was the better word. Much better than afraid. He was offended, because the spectacle before him went against anything and everything he knew of his swordsman's honor.

After you killed, you bowed to your opponent and closed his eyes. It was a respect thing. You did not continue to insult him after he was dead nor did you further vandalize his corpse.

Squalo didn't care who their enemy had been, in all honesty. He just loved to fight. Now, looking at Xanxus as he let loose a neverending spate of aspersions to the dead man and emptied his rounds into the body that were unheard under the thunder, Squalo realized that all the fun had gone out of their mission. He didn't know how long Xanxus had been shouting at the corpse; probably over five minutes. In his ranting Xanxus had lapsed into a curious vernacular that Squalo couldn't quite place. It sounded similar to the dialect you sometimes heard in the alleyways of Northern Italy, in the slums.

The others only stared with mixed expressions. That time even Levi had looked uncomfortable, Squalo remembered. Gradually Xanxus's words meshed together until Squalo could no longer understand what he was saying anymore. And after a while he began to just scream, his dark hair plastered and clumpy. All was silent in the world of thunder, though, which covered grief and muffled lies.

5.

When he wasn't in the throes of the devil, Xanxus could actually seem halfway normal. Squalo relished those times, because they were rarities in and of themselves. Granted Xanxus was no charmer, with his gruff dialect and almost complete lack of etiquette, but he had his moments. But the fury never died. Sometimes Squalo thought himself the only one to notice that even when Xanxus was sober, there was still anger inside, quiescent.

He had learned that humbleness could stave away an impending tantrum. This was a personal journey of his own, as Squalo found it rather difficult to adopt a modest air. Eventually he learned to bite his tongue somewhat, which turned out to be beneficial in the end. He would try to convince himself that he had done it for Xanxus, but as someone well-trained in observation, Squalo was a master at spotting false truths. He had rid himself of contumacy around Xanxus with his own weal in mind: one, to preserve his immediate safety, and two, because if his boss never lost it, he wouldn't have to admit to himself that he was afraid of the furious explosions.

Squalo had followed Xanxus because of his fury. He prayed no one in the Varia would ever discover that instead of being driven by that rage, he had in fact been fettered by it.

6.

Winter, the Cradle Affair.

The coup itself had been simple enough. The hard part came after, when they had met the Vongola IX, and had failed miserably. Squalo lay there in the smoky afterwake, wishing to embrace unconsciousness but not quite able to do so. It wasn't his wounds nor his concussion that had made him vomit and uncharacteristically hope for death, but the dawning realization that he could hear everything Xanxus and the Ninth were saying. And what they said.

Ah...so that was why.

Someone like Xanxus had been loved. It seemed impractical and dangerous, like befriending a rattlesnake, but it had happened. So it turned out, yet the only person to have accepted him had been deceiving him his entire life. To say Xanxus was pissed off would be the king of understatements.

Squalo bit down on his lip, reeling. Now he finally knew why Xanxus had been so angry all of the time, living in that manor, under that loathsome roof, knowing that his father knew, knowing that he would never get the power he desired.

At least you were loved in the first place, Squalo thought, his mind churning out a bitter retort as a result of his physical pain. But what about someone like me?

Ah, but he had been accepted by Xanxus, he reminded himself. To have someone take him in who wouldn't betray him as he had been betrayed, why, that was something wonderful in and of itself. Squalo had feared Xanxus, but at the same time he had felt true loyalty for the first time in his life. Xanxus had yelled at him, had treated them all like the trash he labeled them to be, but he had been a man afraid of abandonment, as Squalo had been one afraid of fear itself. Later, Squalo would come to realize that he did not only fear fear, but humiliation as well. After all, he was named after Pride.

And it was this pride that wouldn't allow him to leave things as they were. The first thing he would say to Xanxus when the cryogenics dissolved, eight years from now, would be I understand.

Squalo closed his eyes, and in the growing darkness where no one could see he let a few tears course down his dirty, soot-covered cheeks.

.