A/N: Hey guys, I'm here with my special project, nice and completed, just in time for Xanxus's birthday!
A bit of background: The title is pronounced zig-oi-ner-VI-sen, and it is german for "Gypsy Airs."
It is a famous and popular piece composed for the violin and piano, as well as orchestra by Spanish composer Pablo de Sarasate. It is favored among violinists, and has been performed by many famous violin virtuosi over the years since its composition in 1878.
I love violins, and I wish I had learned how to play when I was younger. As such, Zigeunerweisen has been one of my favorite classical pieces for a long time, second only to Lux Aeterna, and it is actually from this piece that I ultimately derived my headcanon for Xanxus. Hence, why I set this idea aside until his birthday to write it. I think of him everytime I hear it, and hopefully, anyone who reads this and enjoys classical music as well, will too.
I'm posting a video of it being performed by Shir Levy on my tumblr, so if you want to listen to it while reading, which I recommend, you may do so at you leisure.
Anyway, enough babbling.
I hope you guys enjoy this.
Warnings: I don't write 'happy' Happy birthday fics, so get ready for that. Zigeunerweisen is not a cheerful tune; at least, that's not how I interpret it. But once you hear it, I think you'll see why it fits so well with Xanxus's character, other than the fact that it sort of sounds like his theme on the show in the beginning. Yeah. There's some incentive for you guys to go listen to it.
Disclaimer: Sushi*Bomb does not own Katekyo Hitman Reborn. I also don't own the musical composition, but seeing as how I am not a Spanish composer from the 1800s, I think that's kind of obvious.
She was always in the same spot, Xanxus realized after the third trip to the square.
She always sat at the bottom of the Spanish steps, with a heavy, deep purple cloak drawn up over her head, shielding her entire face from view. She sat with her legs tucked underneath her as she plucked at the dilapidated strings of her once beautiful and expertly crafted violin, a sad, soft tune floating into the air of the Piazza di Spagna.
Xanxus could just make out the piece from his spot at the outdoor cafe across the street. His eyes slowly drifted closed as he took a melancholy sip from his cappuccino. This had become something of a tradition for him over the past few years.
He had always had a feeling that his mother was still alive, and after nearly a year of independent searching, he had finally managed to track her down. Pinning her location was next to impossible; gypsies moved often, never settling in one place for too long. But for the leader of the Varia, who had made it his personal mission and goal to find her, nothing was impossible. Xanxus himself couldn't remember what it had been like, bouncing from place to place; in fact, he couldn't remember much of anything before the day he had met the Ninth.
Xanxus sneered against the rim of his glass.
How very different his life would've been if his mother hadn't given up her only son to the leader of a powerful and privileged mafia family. But fate worked in mysterious ways. Xanxus was wise and he knew this, but…
He set down his glass and glanced up. Several people were gathered around her, tossing coins into the case of her violin as she began playing a different piece; a more upbeat, folksy tune that had the tourists around her clapping along.
She was up and dancing, her bow gliding across the strings along the neck of the decrepit violin with melodic fervor. Despite himself, a tiny smile crept onto Xanxus's scarred face, his head nodding along with the happy tune.
She hadn't stood up before; usually, she seemed to be too ill to stand up and properly entertain the tourists that walked by, but today was different.
As he lifted his glass back to his lips, Xanxus wondered briefly if she remembered that today was his birthday.
The chance of that was very close to impossible however.
She had begun deteriorating quickly after his seventh birthday; mental illness painted a jagged, ugly red smear across their family history and by the time she had patted his bottom softly and pushed him forward to introduce himself to Nono, her mind was clouded with delusions.
He knew this, and the Ninth knew it too.
In that respect, there was a tiny part of him that genuinely appreciated what the Ninth had done for him that day; Nono was a warm, compassionate man, and after years of killing himself with nights of tequila and mental debates, Xanxus realized that Nono knew that the truth about his mother's mental health would crush his adopted son's fiery spirit.
He had been much too young to really grasp what had happened that day, but now, in adulthood, he couldn't help but feel apart of him wither at the sight of what his mother had become in her old age.
The years had not been good to her, he could see.
Xanxus couldn't remember much of anything before the day Nono took him in. A lot of his early childhood was big, messy blur, but one of the few things that had always stayed with him was the memory of him sitting with his mother on the streets of different plazas and squares and watching in awe at the way her nimble fingers danced over the strings of her violin. She had a natural talent for it, and when she played to the tourists, they always ate well at night.
But Xanxus could see from where he was sitting that it was painful for her to play now. Once beautiful, slender fingers were now gnarled and withered, Arthritis keeping her from playing the complicated tunes that she once played so easily.
As if on cue, he saw her drop her violin as a look of pain shot across her aged face, clutching at her hand with clenched teeth. The sight of the tourists shrugging and leaving stirred a bubble of irritation in the scarred man, and before he even had time to think about it, he was up and walking towards her.
Despite everything, his mother was in pain, and he wanted to be close, to lend whatever comfort he could.
It's not like she would even recognize him.
As the crowd dissipated, he came to stand directly in front of her, his tall form towering over her. She was crying softly, massaging her hand. Her violin was broken at the neck. The once proud strings that shone so brilliantly in the light, sat jaded and lackluster against the pavement.
They sat useless and broken, like the woman who once played them so skillfully.
Xanxus crouched down to eye level, staring at her quietly. After a moment she looked up at him, her dull brown eyes taking in his tanned, handsome face curiously.
He had never been so daring as to walk up to her like this; he had always kept his distance for fear of her seeing him. Who knew how she would react to seeing his face, but now, as he saw the lifelessness in her face, in her eyes, a part of him prayed that she would recognize him. His eyes were searching; intense reddish eyes bouncing around her face for the tiny spark of something, anything that told him she knew who he was.
But after several minutes, she shirked away from him slightly, eyes downcast.
"I'm sorry about your violin." He said, tone unnaturally soft for a man so hardened and jaded by a life of betrayal and anger. He took her frail, withered hand in his and gave it a soft, reassuring squeeze. For now, this was okay. It was alright that she didn't recognize him. Being this close to her after so long was enough for him.
The small gesture seemed to lift her spirits too. A second hand crept out from beneath her cloak and covered his gently, a thankful smile on her slightly wrinkled face.
His heart was pounding so hard he could feel it in his chest. In all of his time, he'd never felt anything similar to this.
He wasn't sure if it was nerves or actual happiness, but whatever it was, it was surprisingly comfortable.
And despite the chill in the October air, her hands, bony and decrepit as they were, felt pleasantly warm entwined with his own larger one.
The castle was eerily silent when he returned that evening.
He purposely sent away his subordinates on the most outlandish and out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere missions they received during the week of his birthday. Birthdays were meant to be a happy time, with laughter, smiling faces, and good memories.
A bittersweet smile snaked its way onto Xanxus's face then as he slipped into his office and tossed his heavy trench-coat onto one of the couches.
Theirs were lives filled with anger and tragedy, peppered with specks of blood and sharp edges and vengeance and evil, horrid smiles and the scent of blood. They were assassins.
A malevolent bunch of men gathered under one flag, one purpose, destined to be hated and feared by allies and enemies alike.
There was no such thing as a 'happy' birthday to anyone in the Varia.
Horrible, angry, regret-filled or bittersweet birthdays, yes.
But never happy.
Assassins were not allowed that luxury. It was just the way things were.
The Varia commander grabbed a new bottle of whiskey and a glass and made his way up to the east balcony. It was a bit chilly out that night, his favorite time of the year to sit outside and drink himself to sleep.
As he approached the second floor, he heard the distinct vibrato of a violin floating from the balcony.
Guess I'm not alone after all. Xanxus thought to himself with narrowed eyes. Of course fate should have such a horrendous and ironic sense of humor that one of his own subordinates should play the violin as well.
A part of him felt that this was happening simply because it was his birthday, and as such, it should be as painful as possible. Every second should bring him nothing but miserable memories and the desire to drown himself in liquor.
A head of blonde entered his line of sight as he walked up the last steps to the balcony. Hadn't he sent Belphegor all the way to Romania?
It seemed that the small-time mafia boss-turned-informant that had supposedly gone into hiding somewhere in Cluj-Napoca apparently hadn't done that good of a job keeping out of sight.
The sonorous tune grew louder as he finally stepped out onto the balcony, where Belphegor was seated on the ornate marble railing, the sleeves of his plain white dress shirt rolled up to his elbows as he played.
Despite himself, Xanxus couldn't help but be impressed.
Bel's nimble fingers danced across the strings of the expensive, cherrywood violin in a feverish display of dexterity, and in his playing Xanxus could see the dangerous ability of a man who wielded knives and wires so skillfully.
It was an unknown talent of the prince's, being a prodigy at one of the most demanding of instruments. It was a private part of his life, of his past, and although Xanxus had stumbled upon him playing twice before, it was something Belphegor protected fiercely, and only did when he was sure he was home alone.
Xanxus uncapped his bottle as silently as he could and took a sip.
Though he was a callous man, he understood better than anyone the need to have something private to call your own. In a life like theirs, privacy was almost unheard of, and his subordinates fought tooth and nail to keep their most intimate details tucked out of the public eye, and the eyes of each other.
The piece sounded more and more familiar as Belphegor played, so engrossed was the blonde that he probably hadn't even noticed his superior leaning against the stone wall, watching him.
There was something so haunting about the way Belphegor played; not just in the way that his pale hands seemed to move at unnatural speeds over the strings, but in the way everything about him seemed unnatural then. He looked, without his grin, usual striped shirt, and even his crown, which was set down next to him, like a spectral being from another time, radiating a tragic sadness through his music that could never be put into human words or thought.
It seemed that violins held bittersweet memories for the prince, too.
Xanxus let his eyes drift shut as the prince's pace became frantic, the sharp sticcato of the bow striking the strings as his fingers ghosted over them sending an electric shiver up the older man's entire body. It brought back memories of his own mother playing that same piece years and years ago.
At that moment, Xanxus's eyes popped open.
That particular piece had been his mother's absolute favorite.
But now, as he watched Belphegor's thin, spidery fingers coax and pluck the strings so intimately in a feverish dance, his mouth set in a grim line of practiced concentration and dedication to one of his private loves, he realized that it was also one of the pieces his mother could no longer play.
It was too complicated and demanding a composition for her now.
And the thought of that angered Xanxus.
Why was his mother no longer able to do something she loved, when Belphegor probably only knew how to play because he was forced to learn. The privileged had the means and time to learn things like that. But it was just for show.
"Where did you learn to play that piece?" He asked brusquely, a sudden annoyance welling up within him. At the sound of his boss's voice, the bow dragged painfully over the strings of the instrument in Belphegor's surprise.
"B-boss?" He said nervously, suddenly looking very embarrassed and awkward as he fiddled with his violin, nearly dropping it in the process.
"Answer my question." Xanxus snapped.
"I learned it a long time ago. I taught myself." The prince responded cautiously, wary of the bottle of whiskey in Xanxus's hand.
At that, Belphegor's head tilted curiously.
"Why?" He repeated. Xanxus glared at him. "Yeah. Why do you play? Your parents aren't around to force you to do it anymore, so why bother?" He snapped.
But instead of a bitter chuckle and sly answer like he was expecting, a look of anger and almost… hurt… passed over the exposed part of the prince's face.
"I don't play because my parents forced me to. They had nothing to do with it," the blonde said quietly as he set his violin down, "I play because I love it. It's not an instrument you can learn to play half-assed, and certainly not one for a person who is as frivolous as you seem to think I am. It takes a lot of discipline. It was the one thing Rasiel couldn't do no matter how hard he tried, and it made me work harder because I knew he couldn't take it away from me. It was, and still is, my escape."
As he took a long swig from his glass, Xanxus suddenly felt guilty. He knew Bel was not a person who would do something he hated to please someone else, nor had he ever been. It had been a long time since he'd let himself get upset enough to say something so irritational, and without thinking he suddenly turned to Bel and apologized.
"Boss?" Bel said, an odd frown on his face at the quiet 'I'm sorry' from the older man. Xanxus sighed as he sat down.
"I said 'I'm sorry.' I know you aren't like that, and it was uncalled for of me to say that when I was the one intruding." He said with a deep scowl.
Bel was speechless.
In all of his years with the Varia, he had never heard Xanxus say sorry for anything, least of all something so seemingly trivial in comparison to other things he had done that actually deserved apology.
"Uh-um, it's…it's alright boss, I-" But before Belphegor could say anything else, Xanxus turned to him, his eyes oddly intense.
"That was my mother's favorite piece by the way, the one you were just playing."
"R-really?" Bel squeaked uncharacteristically. At that, Xanxus smirked.
"Yeah. She used to play it all the time when I was little." He said softly. Belphegor looked distinctly uncomfortable, yet unabashedly curious at the same time. Family was one of those things Xanxus never talked about, aside from with Squalo, probably, so the prince was visibly anxious, thinking that perhaps he had angered his boss by playing something that held such intimate meaning.
"You're very good. You play it a lot like she used to." The dark-haired man said, a somber smile on his face as he stared up into the sky.
Despite himself, a faint blush crept over the prince's face.
"Thanks. It took me forever to learn that one. But…but it's one of my favorites too." Bel said with a small grin as he picked up his violin, looking to head back inside to leave his boss to his thoughts.
"Can you play it again?" Xanxus asked suddenly. Belphegor nearly dropped his violin again.
"Um…sure. I haven't played it in a while though, so I'm kinda rusty."
Xanxus chuckled. "You didn't sound rusty to me just now, trash. It's a little creepy how fast you play that thing, actually."
At that, a large smile appeared on the prince's face, and he positioned his chin on the chinrest of the violin, bow poised above the strings to play.
After a deep breath, Belphegor began to play the soft, yet imposing moderato of the opening, the haunting tempo sending a slight shiver up Xanxus's bare arm. If he could see past the prince's blonde bangs, he imagined the younger man's eyes would be shut tightly in concentration.
The long, nimble fingers tweaked and plucked the strings delicately but forcefully, the eerie vibrato radiating an intimate somberness that spoke to Xanxus on an uncomfortably familiar level, and as Xanxus slid his eyes shut again, he envisioned his mother, as he remembered her back then, standing over him, her thin fingers ghosting over those same strings with the same passion Bel had.
He imagined her bow gliding as purposely and fiercely as Belphegor's across the strings as the tempo became manic once again before gradually drifting into a soft legato, the succession of notes demanding quick, spider-like movements of the prince's thin fingers against the strings.
Xanxus felt himself getting sleepy as the blonde played for him, the chilly air and soft Italian moonlight putting the Varia commander in an ease he hadn't felt in a long time. He took another slow sip of his whiskey. The strong liquor felt smooth as it went down, and depsite himself, a pleased smile slid onto Xanxus's face.
Bel was nearing the finish; Xanxus remembered that the end of the piece was an intense flurry of rapid fiddling, and he once again found himself impressed with how dextrous his storm guardian really was. He made it sound so effortless, just like how his mother had when he was younger.
At that moment, he decided, his mother would play until she breathed her last.
An idea struck him just as Bel played the last notes, a soft smile on his pale face as he discreetly disappeared back into the castle with quiet 'happy birthday, boss' over his shoulder.
She was still at the same spot, Xanxus realized.
It was particularly cold that day, and yet she was clad in the same heavy purple cloak that she always wore. There was no crowd around her this time, and her violin case sat in front of her, empty of loose notes and the violin she used to be so proud of.
She had done him a favor, though he didn't see it that way at first. She, despite her mental health and severe delusions, wanted a better life for him. She knew her son was special; no one in their family could make flames like he could, and that meant he would be someone great one day.
He stood over her again, his expression as somber as the overcast weather.
A small part of him wished that she recognized him, just to see the joy on her face at realizing she was right.
He was someone important now. Someone powerful, with a lot of influence, and the respect and fear of many.
But as he set down the polished case of the new violin he had had made just for her, he saw that she still didn't realize who he was.
To her, he was just a kind stranger.
"Oh, oh, bless you! Bless you!" She cried, tears streaming down her face as she gingerly popped open the case and admired the finely crafted instrument inside. Xanxus just sat in front of her on his haunches, his lip tweaked upward in a melancholy smile.
"I like listening to you play." He said quietly, as his mother cupped his scarred face, her eyes puffy with tears of gratitude.
"Bless you, my son." She said softly.
As he smiled and walked away, Xanxus felt his chest constrict painfully.
If only she had meant 'my son' the way he wanted her to.
It hurt more that she played her new violin even more beautifully than the old one. It was much easier on her time-worn fingers. And on his next birthday, she played her favorite piece for the kind stranger with the scars that had blessed her with a new violin.
The whiskey had been especially bittersweet that night.
I hope you guys liked it. I know, I'm awful for torturing Xanxus emotionally on what is supposed to be a happy day, but hey. I did it to Bel on his b-day last year, so Xanxus gets it too. Oh by the way, I hope I'm not the only one with a ladyboner at the thought of Bel playing a violin with his sleeves rolled up. Despite my horniness, there was actually legitimate significance in Bel being the one to play the violin. I hope you all caught it.
Well! If you liked it, leave me a nice review!
Later dudes, I have laundry to do now. Kissies!