Who: the Varia

When: somewhere during the future arc. Canon.

What: humor, action.

WTF: oops, bad language. I can't avoid it here.

Summary: The Varia need an illusionist, and Fran is the lucky guy who gets the invitation. Too bad he doesn't really have a choice.


-/-

"What the hell is this?"

Squalo glared at his boss. It wasn't even lunchtime yet, but he could already see that the day was going to the dogs and was doing it very fast indeed.

He hated it when Xanxus decided to work in the morning and – even worse – before he had a decent meal. It invariably meant that he was in an exceptionally bad mood; and when Xanxus was unhappy, he liked the feeling to spread. He also tended to start with Squalo.

"Are you deaf, trash? I'm asking you – what is this shit?" In his right hand, Xanxus was holding a sheet of paper covered with printed text. His left was occupied with a cup filled to the rim with black coffee; a clear sign that today the man's displeasure stemmed from a headache.

"It's Bel's and Levi's fucking report," Squalo replied shortly. Even from afar he recognized Belphegor's half-assed attempt at creativity. The brat had used four different scripts, including a vaguely gothic one and one that, in Squalo's opinion, looked like it had been modeled on a soppy girl's handwriting. He must have spent at least an hour just picking the scripts – a whole damn hour when he could have been doing something useful! Squalo really couldn't care less about Bel himself, but he hated wasted resources. If his royal pain-in-the-ass had so much spare energy, why not channel it into something profitable?

"They failed the fucking mission." Xanxus' voice was disturbingly flat. Squalo immediately recognized it as the proverbial calm before the storm.

"They didn't fail." It was painfully obvious that the boss had already chosen a scapegoat. No surprise about who it was. "They messed up at first, but they got it right in the end, okay? Look, it's all down there in the report."

Xanxus' fingers tightened, crumpling the paper mercilessly. "Are you saying I don't know how to read, fishfood? The little shits failed."

Personally, Squalo agreed. They had pulled it off, yes, but barely, and the Varia had standards, which didn't include showing up in the wrong place, then hopping around erratically, unable to locate the target, and running into a police patrol. If that wasn't a failure, he didn't know what was. It was a bloody disgrace, for crying out loud, especially the bit where they had to dispatch even more people to get rid of all the corpses, thanks to Bel's total inability to wrap his empty head around the idea that sometimes killing people was a wrong move. Offing policemen or any official higher-ups without a good reason to do so was probably the worst thing imaginable because it always landed them neck-deep in shit. Squalo had personally spent what was supposed to be his first free evening in two months negotiating with the cops after he had learned what had happened. He even had to fucking bribe the whole damn lot of them despite the fact that he could technically lop their heads off in a second and put them on spikes in the garden. That would've been one hell of a decoration. Too bad that if you killed ten cops, a hundred more came looking for you; and the fun would eventually turn into a chore.

Sure, he had later kicked Belphegor's shitty ass to vent out, and even shoved Levi out of the kitchen window to emphasize the point – the pathetic idiot hit the ground with the most satisfying sound – but it was still very annoying. Needless to say, their trash of a boss hadn't provided any help at all, hadn't even deigned to interfere in any way, and answered to Squalo's accusations by throwing a loaded food tray at his head; not that this sort of behavior was surprising.

And Squalo could understand why the stupid mission had turned into a disaster. It was so damn obvious that any half-wit could see it. But he refused to be responsible for this crap. It wasn't even his crap anyway. He hadn't fucked up any assignments yet, so why the hell was he always the one who got blamed? And by the guy who had practically snored through the whole ordeal too!

He growled under his breath and fixed Xanxus with a ferocious glare which failed to have any effect whatsoever on its victim. No living soul had ever succeeded in outglaring Xanxus.

Squalo gave up.

"Vooi, boss! It's not our fucking fault. You gotta have an illusionist for this shit, and you know it! It was always Mammon's job to locate the target, so what the hell did you expect? Get us a replacement already, and it'll work. We can't just sit here and expect the greedy asshole to come back from the dead!"

Xanxus eyed him impassively for a moment before speaking.

"Are you telling me how to run my squad now, scumbag?" He flexed the fingers of his right hand lazily, letting Belphegor's nightmarish report drop down to the floor. "You want to add something else?"

Squalo fought the urge to scream. He knew he could trust his paranoid boss to take anything as a personal insult and suspect that his fucking authority was being questioned.

"I'm just saying that we need a new illusionist," he replied through gritted teeth, trying desperately to hold onto his temper which seemed to be slipping away faster than it had ever done before.

Squalo knew he had a short fuse – it was hard not to be aware of such a thing, after all – but he had never considered it a flaw. In fact, he actually took pride in the fact that he didn't mince words and always spoke his mind. The world was already teeming with filthy hypocrites even without his help. If someone deserved to be yelled at, Squalo was happy to oblige; and seeing how he had to deal with morons, perverts and psychos nearly every waking moment, he generally had a lot to say. Nine things out of ten annoyed Squalo to some degree, and he never hesitated to express his discontent. And if someone thought his voice was too loud, they could go and drown themselves in a bucket of shit, for all he cared. Loud was the only way that worked with the thick skulls of the majority of the population.

However, it took Xanxus to make him livid enough to want to bite through walls. Squalo suspected that it was a special skill. Xanxus had a lot of those.

As usually, the boss didn't disappoint.

"Shuddup. If you need an illusionist, then stop this noisy whining, and go find one. It's your job."

"Mine!"

"Yours. Got a problem with that?" Xanxus raised the coffee cup to his lips and sipped, expression clearly indicating that he, at least, had already solved all his problems and now expected other people to either follow his example or disobey and suffer the consequences.

Squalo peered at the cup and quickly evaluated the situation. There was still a lot of coffee in it, and it was very, very hot. If he got hit with this, and judging by the unpleasant gleam in Xanxus' eyes there was a good chance it might happen, the outcome would be dire. It wouldn't be enough to just wash his hair. Squalo had never thought he would one day lament the absence of the good ole tequila glasses, but at least they were relatively harmless in the health-damaging department. He wasn't naïve enough to hope Xanxus would miss either. Xanxus had had years to polish his aim into blinding brilliance and he only missed on purpose. It was quite true that practice made perfect.

Squalo bit back the howl of rage and frustration and resorted to glowering instead. Screw this, he thought. He'd get back at the bastard later. He'd think up some really good insults especially for that. It wasn't like he was running away at all. It was a strategic retreat. A clever fighter took care to choose his battles, unless he wanted to wind up pathetically dead and defeated.

"Fine! I'll fucking do it," he snarled before whirling away and marching toward the door with maybe a bit more haste than was necessary, because every step put additional distance between him and the steaming coffee cup.

He was almost out of the room, his hand on the doorknob, when Xanxus spoke again in the same matter-of-fact voice.

"Tomorrow."

Squalo stopped. Nothing that the boss saved till the very end of the conversation had ever proved to be good news. It was the special kind of nastiness Xanxus liked to use on his subordinates when he felt that they weren't entirely aware of who was at the top of the food chain. Alternatively, he would grab the victim by the back of the head and smash them face-first into the wall. Squalo knew it only too well.

He turned back reluctantly. "What the hell do you mean, tomorrow?"

"Don't think that I'll let you slack off, scumbag." Xanxus shifted slightly, then propped his feet on the table, knocking aside a yesterday's empty glass and a pile of papers. He had his heavy black boots on, and they were dirty enough to suggest that he had taken a walk in a gutter. "Tomorrow at the same time I want to hear the name of this new illusionist. If I don't, you'll damn well regret it."

"Voooi! Are you out of your fucking mind or what? How am I supposed to do it by tomorrow morning? That's a shitload of work! And I've got to train those pathetic newbies you dumped on me in case you've forgotten!"

"Zip it." Xanxus inspected his coffee cup, apparently deciding if drinking the rest of it was more important than the potential pleasure of throwing it at Squalo. Fortunately, the headache seemed to be winning because after a moment of consideration he winced slightly and chose to keep the coffee. "You're the one who bitched about not having an illusionist, so get going. I don't give a damn about how, but make sure you don't fuck up, useless trash." Slouching further down in the chair, he closed his eyes and added as if as an afterthought. "Now get the hell out. You're pissing me off."

"You bastard..." Squalo growled and stormed out, slamming the door as hard as he could, just in time to hear something shatter against it in the same place where he had stood just a second ago.

From the bottom of his heart, Squalo wished the boss' head would split from all that noise like a rotten pumpkin; and he allowed himself a satisfied smirk when he heard muffled swearing. Sadly, his good mood didn't last. It had been nice to have the last word, so to speak, but in truth he had still lost no matter how he looked at it. Xanxus might have a goddamn headache to cure, and that could be easily fixed with an aspirin if the coffee effects didn't kick in before that; but he, Squalo, had a freaking illusionist to find, and unless the perfect candidate suddenly turned up on their doorstep, begging to be hired, tomorrow there would be hell to pay.

It also occurred to him that after today's conversation Xanxus would most definitely go out of his way to gloat and pontificate upon the sorry results of this so-called search. Squalo had no doubt that the task was doomed to failure. What was he supposed to do, to pull a mist-wielding little creep out of his ass? Damn his stupid boss, what was he thinking anyway? Fucking easy for him to give orders when the only thing he was planning to do was being a bastard. Any dumbass could do that! Did he believe illusionists grew under trees like mushrooms so that you only had to show up there with a bag and pick them up or what?

"Squalo-o! What are you grumbling about, again?"

Squalo blinked. Lussuria's annoying sing-song voice cut through his dark musings, alerting him to the fact that he was standing two steps away from the kitchen door which was, at the moment, wide open, allowing all sorts of smells to drift out and attack the passers-by. Lussuria, dressed in something more colorful than a macaw parrot, poked his head out into the corridor. The was a wooden spoon in his hand, and something was dripping from it down onto the floor.

"Ahh! Squalo! You've talked to the boss already, haven't you?"

"I damn well have!" barked Squalo; not because he wanted to discuss it with Lussuria – there was absolutely nothing he wanted to do with Lussuria – but simply because Xanxus had annoyed the hell out of him and it felt good to be able to bitch about it to anyone who was willing to listen. Sadly, Lussuria was all the audience these days, and that was infuriating as well, not to mention that ignoring the freak's mannerisms and outfits required more effort than Squalo could afford.

Levi was hopeless in this department as his fanaticism knew no bounds. If their crazy boss decided on a whim that he wanted to play soccer, Levi would personally sharpen the axe and chop off his own head to give Xanxus something to kick. Squalo did believe in loyalty, of course, but being an obsessive idiot was another story, and Levi fitted the criteria better than anyone else in the big wide world.

Belphegor was a better choice, but only marginally, because he rarely listened. The reason was the same dumb old shit – he was a prince, and princes preferred to talk. He liked talking too; it was impossible to shut him up once he got started. Bel could be depended upon to have an opinion on nearly anything, especially on subjects he knew nothing about, like growing crops or writing books. Squalo himself hadn't watered a flower in his entire life, and the only writing he ever did were the mission reports; but it never occurred to him to pretend that he was an expert. Perhaps the royal punk just liked the sound of his own voice or whatever, but talking to him was a pain in the ass.

Squalo really wished they could have Mammon back, a greedy little bastard though he had been. At least Mammon had known how to shut up and never complained.

Well, Squalo thought sourly, maybe that's another fucking reason to find an illusionist. A new face in this rotten place; that couldn't hurt.

"What are you staring at, you damn fag?" he snapped at Lussuria who was sporting a smile so creepy that it would make normal people shudder and run for cover, abandoning all their belongings. "And wipe that retarded smirk off your face or I'll do it for you!"

"Ohh, you're being rude again, Squalo! How nice!"

"What's nice!" Conversations with Lussuria always put Squalo in mind of a squirrel in a wheel – no matter what you said or did, it never actually got you anywhere.

"Your good manners, of course... Would you like to be the first to taste my new recipe, by the way?"

"Recipe? What recipe?"

Lussuria pouted. "Honestly, you people are all sooo inconsiderate, so self-centered. Here I am, trying so hard, and no one even notices! You're such an ungrateful lot."

"What the hell are we supposed to notice?" Squalo asked with exasperation. He wondered if Lussuria had prepared this shitty little speech in advance. Nobody should be able to sprout so much nonsense without a detailed plan.

"It's just that it sets me thinking – who am I doing it for, you know?"

Squalo felt his left eyebrow start to twitch. "Doing what ! Fucking spit it out right now, or I'm going to gut you!"

"Why, cooking this wonderful dinner, of course!" Lussuria cooed reproachfully, completely unconcerned about the death threat. "It's my new recipe! You've never eaten anything quite like it, Squalo, I swear!

Immediately, Squalo was filled with dread. He didn't trust Lussuria's cooking abilities. The faggot did know his way around the kitchen, true, and his cuisine-related vocabulary included words that anyone else would take for swearing, but he liked experimenting too much. Squalo preferred to be able to name all the ingredients in whatever he was about to eat; and he didn't want his food to wink at him either. With Lussuria, there were never any guarantees. Not to mention that his sickening personality shone through and managed to ruin even the most innocent dishes. Last time Lussuria had decided to make soup, he had sliced the carrots into heart-shaped pieces; which resulted in the collective refusal to eat it from the rest of the Varia and a great deal of bitching and whining from the freak. Xanxus, who had been the last to wander into the dining room and peer into his plate, had put the stop to the conflict by grabbing Lussuria's green hair and shoving the so-called cook's head into his own creation.

Squalo sniffed suspiciously. The air smelled of... something. Spices were definitely there. Pepper. And something was being mercilessly stewed, probably meat. There was no way to tell for sure, not with Lussuria. The rest remained a mystery because Squalo's nose refused to recognize any of it.

"What's it called?"

"Oh, I'm glad you asked. I'm not sure about the name yet, but I was counting on you to–"

"No fucking way," said Squalo firmly. Lussuria's pseudo cooking could prove tricky enough when it was something vaguely familiar, but a brand-new recipe was bound to be evil incarnate. Squalo wouldn't put it past him to assume that stewed caterpillars were perfectly nutricious, healthy food.

No, no way in hell he was volunteering to be the first guinea pig to eat it. Let Levi do it, or Bel. Or even better, why not the damn boss? The bastard always wanted the best there was, and the most original; and as far as Squalo was concerned, cuisine didn't get any better – or more atrocious – than the abominations Lussuria liked to cook. Xanxus could go for caterpillars, if he was so high and mighty, but he, Squalo, would stick to pizza.

"Find another clueless idiot!" he snapped at Lussuria. "I've got work to do, unlike the rest of you lazy assholes."

"Huh? Wo-ork? What could possibly be more urgent than my new recipe?"

Your early, painful death, Squalo wanted to say, but forced himself to swallow his irritation for once. If he didn't stop this conversation now, they would still be standing here three hours later. Lussuria had a talent for turning time and space into sticky goo.

"The boss told me to find a new illusionist," he replied curtly, turning to leave.

"Oh, so he finally decided!" Lussuria beamed. "So, who is the lucky guy? Or is it a girl? I really want to know!"

"How the hell should I know!" If only he hadn't left his sword back in his room, Squalo lamented silently. If only he had had enough brains to go the long way and avoided the kitchen. If only he could afford to strangle this trash.

"If it's a girl, it will be splendid, simply splendid, we could go shopping together. You lot are just no fun at all. Do choose a girl, Squalo, yes? A girl–"

"Shut the fuck up already, Lussuria! I have only heard about this shit half an hour ago! I don't even have a fucking idea where to look yet!"

They both waited until the echo of Squalo's roar died down; then Lussuria waved the spoon nonchalantly.

"Honestly, Squ! If you keep shouting like this, something bad may happen to your vocal cords. And your blood pressure? Think about it!"

"I'm perfectly fine!" Squalo snarled, aggravated beyond belief. "And I'll feel even better when I can finally cut your damn head off!"

Lussuria ignored him. "Getting so worked-up is very bad for your health," he informed, raising his eyebrows and gesturing with the spoon. Squalo issued a half-strangled growl and whipped around, determined to get the hell away from the annoying freak. "But what do you mean, you don't know where to look?" Lussuria called after him. "Shouldn't you start with Mammon's archive? I'm sure he kept tabs on every living illusionist... Squ? Are you alright, dear?"

The archive.

Squalo tuned out Lussuria's oohs and aahs and waited for the suggestion to sink in.

How could he have forgotten? It was so damn simple. It wasn't even that he didn't know – everyone in the Varia knew that during the long years filled with money-making, Mammon had accumulated what was probably the biggest archive where anything presumably profitable or mafia-related could be found. When he was alive, Mammon had only allowed them to use it for extra payment or whenever Xanxus ordered it – the boss' word was law even for the greedy piece of shit – but now that the author was no longer around, accessing this pool of knowledge should be easy. There should be plenty of information there, no doubt about it.

Squalo felt a little ashamed that he had needed Lussuria, of all people, to realize such an obvious thing. Without wasting any more time, he hurried down the corridor.

"But Squalo-o! Aren't you going to train our new recruits tonight?"

Squalo halted in his tracks. The bloody training. He had almost forgotten all about it. He stared straight ahead for a few moments, blank-faced and unmoving. Then a toothy, shark-like grin spread across his face. He turned back to Lussuria.

"Vo-oi! Not anymore! Now that our stupid boss has saddled me with a more important job, you are in charge of the noobs!"

Ignoring Lussuria's indignant shrieks, Squalo marched away. He might not be the boss, but he could still delegate like nobody's business.


A.N.: Yes, there's no Fran in this chapter. He will show up in the second one though. This, too, was originally a half-written one-shot, but when I decided to finish it, it somehow got very long indeed. So now it's a multi-chapter. :)I had a lot of fun writing it.

I'd love me some reviewz, please!