All characters © Amano Akira
Summary: Being sick in the Varia means you shut up and take it like a man. After the Ring Battles, finally reacquainted with his Varia team, Xanxus realizes that a quiet Squalo is cause for alarm. Some character development, poking fun, and a touch of fluff, if you squint.
Squalo normally jumped at any opportunity to gripe, jibe, and bitch. He was just that kind of person. It brought him satisfaction to hear his own voice, and if he had something to say by god he was going to say it, anyone else be damned. Only a select few knew that he shouted everything because he had partial hearing loss in his left ear, but even if he hadn't the Varia's second in command would have shattered normal decibel levels of comfort. It was a pride thing, part of some swordsman's honor that requested everything be hollered instead of spoken in a reasonable tone. The Varia had gotten used to it, though, and after eight years they had become near impervious to headaches or migraines of any sort.
It was when Squalo wasn't screaming that you needed to worry. There were only three possible options to explain the quiet: either Squalo was injured so badly that he wasn't conscious enough to yell, or he was brooding over a serious matter. These times were few and far apart, as Squalo was a) skilled enough that he normally wouldn't let himself get that hurt and b) he wasn't the type to worry about things or wallow in self-pity.
For the reasons above the rest of the Varia was actually thankful for the noise, and prayed that the third option would never happen while they were around.
It had only been a few days after they had returned to Italy with their tails between their legs, silently fuming over handing over the rings to a bunch of Japanese middle-schoolers, when it happened. Although the Varia had assassination skills that were said to be demonic, they were still human beings with human setbacks and human bodies.
They had only been together for six months before Xanxus met his unfortunate cryogenic fate, so it wasn't until he was twenty-four before Xanxus realized something everyone else already had. Namely, a quiet Squalo was a cause for worry, because a quiet Squalo who wasn't unconscious usually meant a moody Squalo...or a sick Squalo.
They had arrived back in Italy last week, all more or less recovered from their injuries, and were trying to forget that the Battle of the Rings had never happened. It was actually because of Squalo that the Varia had had to spend an extra humiliating week in Japan; Cavallone's doctors insisted he needed to recover a little more before he was fit for travel. Thank goodness they had at least been provided with a private jet; "Varia" and "public transportation" were two words that should never, ever be used in the same sentence. Xanxus didn't even want to imagine how he'd explain to Japanese security that they didn't have permits for any of their weapons. Or the lack of legal paperwork.
Now, back to Squalo. Because they were men and therefore "badass," being sick meant you shut up and took it like a man. It also meant that if you didn't want your snivelly self to be made the butt of spiteful jokes, you didn't mention it or let it show even remotely. Every member of the Varia was cocky to some degree-and they were good enough at what they did to be-which made them all the more fun to poke fun at.
Squalo hadn't fared well with international travel, being the most heavily injured out of all of them. His defenses had been down, his body healing and vulnerable. Squalo still had several bandages and walked with a limp that would take months to disappear, but he was alive and kicking (much to Xanxus's dismay).
Xanxus had a keen battle instinct, but his social awareness, to put it tactlessly, sucked. The first sign that tipped him off that something might have possibly been wrong with Squalo was on Saturday, when he threw his partially-full glass of tequila at Squalo's head. It was a scene that happened regularly, country regardless, and Squalo was used to incorporating an extra shower or two into his quotidian schedule. Part of the reason Xanxus even chose to throw his drinks at Squalo's hair was because it was so damn nice. Men shouldn't even be allowed to have hair that nice, let alone grow it out to their waists.
Anyways, today it was a simple problem: Squalo had brought him his file mignon cold, which certainly constituted a glass-chucking in Xanxus's book. When the drink made contact with Squalo's silver sheen of hair there was no outraged "Voi," or baleful blue look. There was simply a weary, "What was that for?"
Xanxus had been expecting an outburst, as per normal Squalo Default Reaction, and was slightly confused that he hadn't gotten one. "Do you have a problem, trash?" he asked coolly.
Squalo wiped some of the drink out of his eyes, replied, "No, boss," and limped away to go clean up.
They had all been spending more time in the headquarter's common rooms, since most of the Varia was still in recovery and was not ready for a mission. The second sign showed itself in one of these rooms, where the Varia spent most of their time arguing, reading, planning, and arguing. Squalo rarely used his sword in petty household quarrels unless somebody (usually Lussuria) was especially pissing him off, but when Xanxus walked in on all the commotion it was out and glinting in the chandelier light—a tell-tale sign that Squalo was not in the best of moods.
"If you destroy my furniture you're paying me 800 Euros," Xanxus said lowly as he washed an ireful glare over all of them. "Each."
"But he started it!" Lussuria protested, flapping an arm at Squalo, who was massaging his temples. Squalo was usually the one to inflict headaches, if Xanxus remembered correctly, not endure them.
"You're voice is annoying me, Lussuria."
"Mou, you're one to talk."
"Do you want to take this outside?"
"They want to take it outsiiiidee. Ushishi!"
"Shut up, Bel."
Xanxus sighed and walked out of the room. He really needed another glass of tequila.
He actually got the third sign from Lussuria, who happened to be in the kitchen for a late-night snack at the same time he was. Lussuria still had his mental scars from the Ring Battles; as flamboyant as he usually was, he had been more reserved around Xanxus since they'd gotten back. Xanxus supposed that it was something that would only heal with time—after all, he had shot the guy.
Xanxus almost turned around right then and there when he saw that Lussuria's pajamas consisted of something resembling a frilly wife beater and pink boxers, but paused when he realized that Lussuria was muttering to himself.
"Honestly," Lussuria tisked, frowning as he emptied out the trash bin, "all that hard work and no one even appreciates my cooking."
Despite himself, Xanxus was curious. Lussuria, though Xanxus nor anyone else would ever tell him so, was an excellent cook. The Varia was an outspoken bunch, but Xanxus couldn't recall any time when any of them (himself included) had whined about Lussuria's culinary skills. He gave Lussuria a questioning look.
Lussuria pursed his lips and held out the bulging trash bag. "Squalo didn't touch his dinner," he announced. "I know it was him because everyone else ate theirs. If he didn't like the pâté he could have just told me so. What a waste."
It was then that something came to Xanxus. It couldn't really be called l'esprit d'escalier, since there had been no witty remark and no riposte to think of, but it was one of those things that simply hit you after everything was said and done. It made Xanxus blink twice and draw his eyebrows together in a furrowed line. There was definitely something off, since, well...
Squalo hadn't uttered a single "voi" all day.
If asked, Xanxus would have brusquely denied the fact that Squalo was on his mind. He would have attributed his loss of sleep that night more towards the vestigial aches of his injuries than to thinking about his subordinates, because only pansies stayed up worrying.
Even Xanxus knew that they still had several issues to address, especially after the Battle of the Rings. None of that had really been thrown out in the open yet: Xanxus's secret of his not-so-noble blood, how he had shot Lussuria and laughed out loud at Squalo's alleged death, how he himself had been defeated by a fourteen year old not even smart enough to pass his remedial middle school classes... They had all learned a lesson in humbleness this month, and humbling was something the Varia took as sweetly as raw lemon juice. Squalo's moodiness probably had something to do with that. Sure. Maybe now, with Xanxus unfrozen, Squalo was upset about no longer being in command of the Varia.
But then again, Squalo wasn't like that. He was fully aware of the Varia's elimination policy, and he was the kind of person to gladly take his own life if he was no longer useful. He was also frighteningly devoted to Xanxus, so it had to be something else...
Xanxus had his suspicions, though. He wasn't all brawn, and his marbles weren't dusty yet (though regardless he would have crashed and burned next to Hayato Gokudera if he'd decided to take the SAT's. Fuuta's ranking book had unfortunately placed Squalo several notches above Xanxus in the intelligence ranking). Squalo had been stressed, heavily injured, and had had to endure heavy travel in the past week. With those factors, Xanxus came to the conclusion that Squalo simply wasn't feeling well.
More evidence was added to Xanxus's conclusion when, the next morning, he heard a loud sneeze from down in the foyer. It was followed by two, three, four more. Xanxus's mouth turned down in a scowl, because Squalo never sneezed. Ever. Picking up a manila envelope, the Varia boss casually walked down the stairs. Squalo had been wrinkling and pinching the bridge of his nose with a look of the most icy irritation before he saw Xanxus and quickly straightened into a more confident posture.
"I need you to fill out these forms and mail them to the Ninth," Xanxus told him, dropping the envelope into Squalo's hands. "Oh, and most of them are from the Cavelli family," he smirked.
If anything could piss Squalo off or send him into a full-blown rant, it was forms from the Cavelli family. In addition to their boss's near-indecipherable chicken scratches, the don's writing was atrocious and usually took extra time to figure out what the hell he was trying to say. When Cavelli papers came in, the Varia never heard the end of it from Squalo, who had a thing about grammar.
But Squalo merely stared at the envelope and swallowed with a frustrated grimace. He sniffled gave a reply of "Sure," without it's usual concomitant "voi" or other vociferous profanities.
The rest of the Varia had begun to suspect that Squalo had a cold, but until Squalo started complaining, they knew better than to address it. Like any other personal issue, they kept it quiet. An outsider may have found this concept strange; everyone in the Varia pounced upon even the smallest opportunity to bad-mouth one another, but when it came to more serious matters they were oddly discreet. It was one of the kinks in their big happy family that would take the next ten years or so to smooth out. Besides, they had to confirm their suspicions before they started calling him "Lame Sharkie," or the one Squalo hated the most: "Superbi Snotface."
When Bel got sick it was usually too serious to poke fun at. Levi was easier, since his facial piercings were so unfortunately placed that when he got sick it was a complete disaster (he had also been given the unfortunate nickname of "Pukabola" in reference to his parabola attack). Lussuria knew how to medicate himself appropriately so that he wouldn't show any symptoms. Squalo, on the other hand, adamantly refused any sort of treatment (he claimed that doing things the "natural way" was better) which made it harder to hide things. This was also how he earned that dreadful nickname, which had been a product of Bel's twisted imagination and had simply stuck.
Xanxus often confused feelings of annoyance with feelings of worry, though he didn't yet know it or know how to tell the difference. The absence of the Voi's, along with Squalo's general behavior as of late was bothering him. He knew that he was pissed off, but he didn't know why. He also didn't know why, three hours later, he barged into Squalo's office with a thermometer.
Squalo looked up from his papers, surprised. You were usually the one to interrupt the boss; if the boss took the time to visit you, surely it meant nothing good. Squalo swallowed again and tried not to wince. "Boss?"
Xanxus walked over and slammed the little plastic thermometer down on the desk so hard Squalo was astonished that it didn't break. "You," Xanxus said, "are going to stick this damn thing in your mouth and you're going to show me what it says." He said nothing more but merely crossed his arms over his chest and waited.
Squalo gave his boss an unreadable expression behind his pale bangs, then to his surprise wordlessly put the thermometer between his lips.
Xanxus practically snatched the thing out of Squalo's mouth when it beeped, and stared wordlessly at the little flashing numbers that read 38.83.
Squalo gave Xanxus a defeated look, which was something that didn't quite look right on his features. "That bad?"
With a flick of his wrist, Xanxus tossed the thermometer back on the desk and wiped his hands on his pants with a disgusted sound. "Go lie down or drink soup or whatever the fuck it is you're supposed to do when you're sick. I don't care." Because he had been frozen for eight years, Xanxus couldn't really remember the last time he himself had been sick...he may have been fourteen. Or fifteen. He did remember it sucking a whole lot, though.
Squalo gestured to the spread before him. "The Cavelli papers?"
"Give them to me," he said with an expression that told Squalo he'd rather be doing anything else than his subordinate's work. Xanxus tried not to notice how thick the stack of papers was, looking then like he'd been forced to pop a dozen Warheads into his mouth. It was the closest Xanxus got to looking uncomfortable, and if Squalo hadn't been feeling so shitty he would have laughed. He handed over the stack of forms and sniffed back a sharp twinge in his nose, being damned if he was going sneeze in front of his boss. Xanxus saw the change in expression and took a step back, just in case.
"If I see your ass out of bed any time tomorrow, I'll shoot you," he added.
Squalo grinned. True, the Battle of the Rings had brought up a whole stinking conglomerate of personal issues, but at that moment Squalo saw something close to actual compassion in his boss. Or something that vaguely resembled it (this was Xanxus, after all). Perhaps the battle in Japan had changed things.
Even though he had darkened coon-rings of fatigue under his eyes, a pale sweaty face, and bandages covering his torso, Squalo still managed to look feral as he bared his teeth in the first grin since they'd been in Japan. "Yes, Boss."
"Tch. Now get out of my sight." Xanxus paused, sneering,"...Snotface."
Squalo's grin slid off and he stared in dumb horror as Xanxus left, trying not to guess how the Boss had learned of that dreadful nickname and hoping that he wouldn't have to endure it for the next few days. But Squalo knew better than that.
He absently reached for a handkerchief in his pocket and bunched it firmly, loathing the thing.