There are many "what if's" in this world... but only ones that matter are "what is".
Stella Squalo had always been a strange child.
It wasn't just that she was unnaturally smart for her age. Oh no, that was only to be expected of the scions of the Squalo line. It wasn't just that she was much more perceptive than any normal girl her age should be, either. That could easily be attributed to eugenics -her mother had been quite the charming tactician and spy in her younger glory days.
It was that she knew she was dying and seemed to be perfectly content with it.
The illness was a rather queer and obscure one, one that surfaced periodically from time to time within the illustrious Squalo lineage -one that hadn't been seen for quite a few decades now. Death always came quickly to those unlucky enough to be afflicted with it, the disease known to attack the corporeal body before turning its attention onto the flames within; eventually consuming the mind before leaving the victim as naught but a hollow, empty shell. The children who carried this illness were always weak and sickly their entire lives -the longest lifespan recorded being eighteen.
(It was considered to be a miracle if the child could even survive its first moon.)
Maybe it was due to this terminal disease whittling away at her rapidly dwindling lifespan that caused her parents to consciously distance themselves from her. Maybe it was due to her overwhelming weakness and frailty that caused those around her to treat her delicately, as if she was made of glass. Maybe it was due to the queer way that her impossibly observant eyes followed her caretakers that made the servants of the house uneasy around the sick little girl, no matter how harmless she looked -not even when her gaunt, tiny figure was completely swamped under the thick swan-feather blankets of her velvet bed.
So maybe that was the reason why no one ever really paid any attention to her. Not just because she was a lost case, given up as dead from the moment of her birth, but because nobody wanted to associate themselves with her.
... Not that little Stella really minded this very much, of course. After all, she didn't even want to be here in the first place. No one wanted to wake up and find themselves living in a world of psychopathic mafia superhumans as naught but a helpless invalid.
So perhaps it was for the best that she quietly fade into the background -away from the dangers of the future and the violent bloodbaths that would doubtlessly ensue, considering if she'd even live that long.
Her diminutive presence in the Squalo household continued to lessen over time, particularly after the death of her blue-eyed mother -her biological mother of this world, mind you- and when her father had promptly decided to marry his second wife. Stella had only been present at the extravagant celebrations for a scant few moments before she'd quietly excused herself and slipped away from the uproarious festivities to retire to her chambers. The girl really hadn't fancied collapsing in a dead faint right in the middle of the wedding ceremony.
(… She'd lost consciousness halfway to her room in the Squalo Manor. It was only lucky that the old head butler of the house had been passing by at the moment, and had carefully gathered up the sickly young child in his arms and carried her the rest of the way to her room.)
She was lucky.
Or maybe she wasn't.
... Who knows? Maybe she would've frozen to death on the staircase, had she not been discovered by that grandfatherly old butler. Maybe that old butler wouldn't have seen the tear-tracks staining the fragile little girl's cheeks and feel a corner of his heart soften for the neglected child that lingered in the shadows of the Squalo mansion like a ghost.
Maybe it would've been better if she had died next to the silver-rimmed railings of the marble banister then. After all, she was supposed to be dead -dead as in dead.
Dead before she'd ever even been born in this world.
"You do it."
"No, you do it!"
"Heck no! You do it!"
"Are you kidding me? I already did it once this week! There's no way I'm going to-"
Startled, both maids jumped with an undignified squawk choking their throats as the stern voice cracked over them like a whip. Their expressions immediately changed from harried and indignant to meek and guilty.
The old butler who'd just turned the corner in the hallway surveyed the young girls in front of him with a critical eye, "... Just what is going on here, exactly?"
"O-oh, um..." Their eyes darted around nervously in a furtive manner, subconsciously flinching away from the level gaze, "Uh, about that, y'see... er..."
The young maids winced as the butler folded his arms across his chest.
"Well... we were just, um, figuring out whose turn it was to, ah, bring the little miss her dinner today."
The elderly gentleman arched a fine eyebrow, "... And that was why you decided it would be a good idea to bicker with each other like children in the hallway?"
The duo flushed under his reprimands.
"No! I-I mean, yes, but..." the loud protests dropped to a low whisper, "We... we can't help it, Majordomo. The little miss, she's... she's creepy. Unnatural. She acts so queer at times, and there's no way those eyes of hers belong on a child, much less one as sick as she! And lately... lately..."
The younger maid's voice trailed off into nothingness, and the older one, finally taking pity on the younger girl, picked up from she left off.
"We don't mean to add to those rumors flying around, Majordomo, but lately..." Her eyes furrowed, hands clasping and unclasping over her chest, "Lately, whenever someone goes around the little miss's room, there's... strange things. Shadows on the wall, voices that come out of nowhere, objects that disappear the moment you turn around..."
The girls shivered.
"She's not lying! I swear, Majordomo!" The younger girl blurted out in a desperate hush, "I've seen it myself! When I went to dust the little miss's rooms the other day, her eyes were just watching me, and whenever I turned around there was this chill on my back and these clacking sounds, and-"
"That's enough now," the distressed maid fell silent once more, and the old butler sighed tiredly... before reaching out a single hand towards the shivering pair of girls, "Here."
Another sigh escaped the old butler's lips, "I'll take dinner to the little miss tonight. Go eat in the kitchens with the other servants now, you two. I'll be along in a little bit."
Hope entered their eyes.
"A-Are you sure, Majordomo? Strange things tend to happen in the West Wing. The little miss, we all know that she's-"
"Shoo. Scat." The old butler waved a hand dismissively in their direction as he liberated the silver platter from the younger maid's arms, "Hurry up before I change my mind."
Majordomo Alfredo watched as the flighty maids immediately vanished down the dark hallway, a new spring to their now-cheerful footsteps -before he turned to the new task that he'd brought upon himself.
The old butler sighed. Again.
... Then turned on his heel and strode down the hallway in the other direction, heading in the direction of the infamous West Wing, one of the emptier sections of the grandiose Squalo Manor... and living quarters of one Stella Squalo.
He still had a vague recollection of the tiny little girl, from when he'd found her curled up on the stairs on the day of the master's second wedding. A few hazed memories of picking her up, marveling at how light she was, astonished at how thin she was, surprised at how delicate the child truly was as she lay limply in his arms...
People can be cruel without meaning to. And who would ever pay attention to the sufferings of a strange, sickly little girl who didn't even exist in the eyes of her own father?
Unlike the maids, Majordomo Alfredo's footsteps were swift and silent in contrast to the slow, stuttering clacks on the ground. He was in front of the little miss's door in no time at all, raising a wrinkled hand to the rich mahogany wood.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Three times. Concise, precise, no more and no less; just as it was for all other members of the household. The master would grunt and call him in. The new missus would trill her assent like a melodic songbird. The little miss would be silent -her voice was soft, her lungs weak, so it'd be unlikely that anyone would be able to hear her through the thick mahogany door even if she did speak.
So Alfredo opened the door after a brief, courteous pause.
"Little miss? I've brought you your dinner this evening..."
She was so small, so frail, and so weak. Her tiny frame was barely visible under the thick swan-feather blankets and the velvet canopy of her bed. The doctor had even gone as far as to advise that the little miss refrain from going under the sun too much -and thus, there were always heavy curtains drawn over the tall french windows of the little miss's room.
By all means, a sick child who lived each day in the musty dark like this should be broken. Hollow. Lifeless.
… Majordomo Alfredo remembered the time when he'd carried the little miss back to her room when she'd fallen asleep -or was it fainted?- on the cold marble banister. On the day of the master's wedding, with tears that had ran over her thin, pale cheeks...
That had been the day when he'd began paying more attention to the little miss. When he'd discovered that not very many people actually saw the little miss. To them, she was either "the sickly little girl," or "the strange little thing" that they would do better to stay away from.
To them, the little miss was just an oddity. Nothing more, nothing less.
How many of them even saw a child when they looked at her?
The old butler broke out of his contemplative thoughts to focus his gaze on the child in front of him.
Her hazel eyes were still watching him.
Stella had always been acutely aware of the fact that she was not very well-liked amongst the servants of the Squalo household. Quite the opposite, in fact, though that suited her just fine.
It wasn't likely that she'd be here for long, anyways.
Every day was a battle, a struggle. A fight to do something even as simple as sitting up in bed, a skirmish to open her eyes to see the dull light filtering into her room, a duel to just draw in another breath of sweet, sweet air to her lungs. Every day was so tiring, so taxing, seconds and minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years of waging constant warfare against her own body.
She didn't even have the strength left to cry anymore.
Ever since the wedding, her already-weak health had taken a turn for the worst. She heavily suspected that the reason for her rapidly deteriorating state lay within the fake sugary smiles and cold, cold eyes of her new stepmother... but that hardly even mattered now, did it?
The dying girl drew in a faint, shuddering breath with a monumental effort.
... Make it stop. Oh gods, make this pain stop already...
There was a ghostly rattling somewhere deep in her lungs, and the raspy sound was far from what could be considered as coming even close to healthy. Somewhere over on the other end of the spectrum, more like.
Stella was no fool. Someone wanted her dead, and that someone was doing a damn fine job of it.
Death. It'd been torture the first time around. Who was she to think that things might actually be different this time? If anything, it was worse.
... And yet... despite the pain wracking her body... the fatigue that was now her constant companion...
... Somehow... she still...
It was then, buried under the sweltering heat of the smothering blankets, as she was upon the verge of descending into her grave once more, that Stella had an epiphany.
She didn't want to die.
Quite frankly, dying once was enough for her; she had no intentions of dying again anytime soon, and... honestly, was this sickly little creature even her anymore?
She was loud and gutsy, not quiet and timid. She was cheerful and lighthearted, not depressed and somber. She was a stubborn and resilient little creature, not this scrawny, sickly thing that this horrid illness had reduced her into.
Was she really going to give up like this without a struggle?
She didn't want to die.
No, that wasn't quite right now, was it?
She refused to die.
Following that realization, something sparked within her. Through that thick fog of pain and desperation, now laced with determination and sheer will, it was suddenly as if she could finally grasp onto something -as if she'd been drowning all along and had finally broken through the froth-crested waves, latching onto a slab of driftwood.
No, not driftwood. Driftwood was too... flimsy, and this feeling was anything but.
It was as if her hands had finally grasped land, as if she'd finally made it to the shore after days of being tossed and turned by harsh, unrelenting waves. As if she'd finally found an anchor in this chaotic storm that stretched on and on for all eternity.
For the first time since she'd been born in this world, she felt... calm. Peaceful. Centered. Everything that she shouldn't be in her state right now -everything that she couldn't be- and yet, somehow, miraculously, she was.
Stella sucked in a deep breath -how funny, her chest didn't seem to hurt as much anymore, and breathing somehow didn't take as much effort as it usually did- and suddenly, without warning, her entire world burst into flames.
"... They said that strange things tend to happen in the West Wing."
The silver-haired little girl's face was completely blank and devoid of emotion as she steadily gazed back towards her father. Hazel eyes clashed against hazel eyes, and the tall man pursed his lips at his daughter's continued silence.
"I'm afraid that I must express my worries. You are the only one currently residing in the West Wing of the Manor."
A not-so-subtle hint that it was dangerous. That Stella should probably move out of her chambers in the "strange" West Wing, especially considering her frail health and overall fragility.
… Stella knew better, though.
"Thank you for your concern, father."
It was, after all, the first time in months that her father had came into her room to check up on her.
"... But it's unnecessary. I've noticed nothing wrong these days, and you do know how the household staff likes to gossip."
Her voice was markedly stronger than it had been before, but nevertheless still soft and barely audible, even within the still silence of her dusky room.
"Rumors they may be," the man's voice was firm, "But every rumor holds a grain of truth."
One can never be too cautious, even within their own homes.
Paranoia was a common trait in mafia families, it seemed.
… But paranoia was also exactly the reason why Stella was refusing to move away from her dwellings in the West Wing. Her father and stepmother both lived in the East Wing, clear on the other side of the manor -and it was most likely the place she'd be relocated to.
After that day -the day when her world blazed to life again- her health had improved. Or maybe it hadn't. All things considered, it'd probably gotten worse.
Not that anyone knew it, of course.
At least, no one other than her dear stepmother, whose smiles became even more strained whenever she came for a "weekly checkup" on the dreadfully sick little heiress to the Squalo fortune. In fact, the woman was probably close to tearing her hair out from frustration these days.
Why aren't you dead yet, you stupid girl?!
Whenever the woman came to visit Stella, she liked to bring "presents." Scented candles, bags of candy, little colorful treats to "brighten up the dreary atmosphere the poor little girl lived in."
Stella found it almost funny. After all, the most poisonous animals were always colorful.
You'll have to do better than that if you want to kill me, darling stepmother of mine. Do you really think that I'll move into your territory like a docile little lamb awaiting slaughter? Hm?
If you do, then I'd advise you think again, stepmother dear.
Her silver-haired sire, still rooted to the side of her bed, let out a small exhale, "... I understand if you don't feel up to making the trip over to the East Wing yet, but you should consider moving soon, Stella. You'll be closer to us that way, and your mother will be able to take care of you as well."
Stella doubted that pointing out that her biological mother was dead would serve to endear her to the deadly mafia assassin that she happened to be the blood daughter of.
So instead, she simply gave a small smile to the man towering by her bedside. The once-natural movement felt stiff and forced on her lips now, but she wasn't too concerned. Her smiles in this lifetime were a rarity, and this man standing before her was too unfamiliar with her behaviors and mannerisms to be able to discern this smile as fake.
As fake as the concern he was pretending to show for her right now.
"I believe that I'm quite alright where I am, father," she said lightly, and their conversation ended.
Stella may be terminally sick and all but helpless, but she wasn't blind, nor was she stupid.
"What's taking you so long?"
"Oh, so it's my fault? Obviously, things are going wrong on your end! What kind of 'discreet materials' are you giving me, huh? They obviously aren't enough to-"
"Like hell they aren't enough! Are you getting attached to that Squalo girl? Listen up, it's not like she's going to live long anyways, so why are you-"
"Attached? Do you realize how preposterous you're sounding?"
"Then why isn't she dead yet?"
"... Fine. But if this doesn't work, then we're bringing out the big guns. You understand that, don't you?"
Majordomo Alfredo blinked. Once, twice.
Then he took off his spectacles, cleaned them carefully with his handkerchief, and placed them on the bridge of his nose right in front of his eyes again.
And blinked some more.
The sight in front of him was incredible. Surreal. Because the little miss was standing out of bed and she was holding the draperies open and there was sunlight filtering into these perpetually dark chambers.
His voice seemed to have yanked the little miss from some reverie, because she gave a soft "Oh!" of surprise as she whirled around in a sudden movement that couldn't be right, because the little miss was supposed to be bedridden and completely unable to even so much as stand on her own, let alone walk to the windows-
The old butler blinked again.
There was a hesitant, guarded look on the little miss's face as her hazel eyes regarded him warily. On a face as young as hers, it was... wrong, for lack of a better word.
The look disappeared, and the old butler briefly wondered if it had just been his imagination. After all...
Strange things happen in the West Wing.
It most certainly wouldn't be the first time someone had started hallucinating around the little miss's chambers...
Nope, she was still standing there. Not a hallucination, then?
... Regardless, it was the first time he'd ever heard the little miss speak, and her voice so delicate and soft... but those were never the words that he'd expected to tumble out of her mouth, towards him no less-
"I... I forgot. How it... how it looks. I mean... I... I forgot how the world looks outside my room, so..."
It wasn't just the faltering way she'd said it, her words halting over each other as she looked as if she was still debating with herself whether to speak or hold her silence. It wasn't just the way her hands had gestured helplessly, pale fingers twitching as she struggled to express herself to another human being, interactions that she'd been sorely deprived of.
It was the way she'd said her words and the words themselves that made him want to sweep the girl up in a hug and cry for her, since she obviously didn't even know to cry for herself anymore.
"Where's the Majordomo?"
There was a loud sizzle of oil over fire before the chef responded to his assistant's inquiry, reaching for a bowl of finely sliced mushrooms set to the side.
"Dunno," the man shrugged, "He said something about a little outing today, though."
The young lad's eyes bulged in shock, and the carrot in his hand dropped to the tiled floors.
"He was actually serious about taking the little missus outside?" The younger man's mind seemed to have frozen over with incredulity, "And the master agreed?"
The chef merely shrugged again.
"Get that carrot off the ground, sonny," the man grunted, "An' how should I know? 'Sides, the Majordomo served the master's father, too. Kinda gives him some sway in the household, don'tcha think?"
A brief lull of silence fell between the duo as the assistant retrieved his carrot and returned to dicing it. The chef tossed in a dash of salt to his dish before reaching for a spoon.
"... Say," the silence was broken by the younger man again, "Why does the Majordomo go out of his way for the little missus, anyways?"
"Hell if I know," the chef grumbled, "Now stop your yammering and get those carrots chopped properly, pronto!"
Everything in this world was fake. The servants took care of her every need, but not because they wanted to help her, merely to fill their paycheck. Her father pretended to care for her in front of others, when in reality he would've preferred for a daughter like this to never even exist. She was surrounded in fineries and luxuries that she would've been elated at owning in her previous life, but now were completely meaningless to her.
Even her life was fake.
But this was... real.
The breeze on her skin. The warm sunlight filtered through her parasol. The fragrant flowers blooming over the hillsides. The chirping of the birds, the dance of the butterflies, the hustle of the bees.
The old butler pushing her wheelchair, stopping every so often to let her admire the countryside view outside the Squalo Manor.
"Yes, little miss?"
This was real.
"... Will you bring me here again sometime?"
"Of course, little miss."
There was a smile in his voice. Actually, there was a smile in her voice as well... in addition to a smile on her face. A real smile.
Stella wondered if Alfredo was smiling, too.
"The mistress is expecting her firstborn soon."
Stella gave a small nod to the old butler, who finished pouring out a cup of tea and gracefully handed the china cup to the little miss.
"The doctor believes it'll be a girl, but the mistress is adamant that it will be a son. She wants to name the child Superbi."
Majordomo Alfredo watched on in concern as the normally unflappable girl choked on her tea.
Stella coughed delicately into a pale hand as she struggled to regain control of her breath.
Superbi. Pride. Just the name itself that her stepmother had chosen for her yet-to-be-born child was enough to send alarm bells ringing through her head -a healthy boy would definitely gain the title of Heir to the Squalo House, and the reigns of power would be passed onto her dear stepmother- but the implications were enormous.
Superbi Squalo. Second-in-command of the Varia, the Vongola's independently-run assassination squad, the "Sword Emperor."
He was going to be her little brother?
Stella didn't know whether to laugh or cry in light of this new information.
"Little miss? Are you alright?"
Her mind returned to the old butler standing by her bedside.
"... I... I'm fine, Alfredo," she handed her half-finished cup of rose tea back to him, doing her best to keep her hand steady, "Just... surprised, I suppose. Though I guess I should've expected, my... stepmother... hasn't visited me for a long time now... it makes sense, really, if..."
She was rambling now. A habit that seemed to have carried over from her last life, and a habit that she could do without. Something she tended to lapse into whenever she found that she couldn't think straight anymore.
What will happen to me once the Squalo House finally has a proper heir?
There was an unreadable look in Majordomo Alfredo's eyes as he regarded her.
... No. What am I thinking?
I have a brother.
A child. Alone and easily manipulated, more helpless than I will ever be.
Someone to take care of.
Someone who needs me.
I have a brother.
Images of another boy -her blood sibling from another lifetime- flashed briefly through her mind, and Stella smiled.
A real smile, mind you.
The Squalo House had allies, and it had enemies. It was a pity that its allies were acquaintances at best, and its enemies far outnumbered its so-called "allies."
One of the best ways to exact vengeance on a house was to end the blood of the main line. In other words, to assassinate the heir. Of course, this was made a little more difficult when the house in question made a living off of assassination jobs, but it wasn't impossible.
Difficult, but not impossible.
No one had really seen fit to send assassins after Stella when she'd been born. After all, it was a given that the terminally sick girl would die fairly soon, anyways, which would just be a complete waste of time and money on their part.
Superbi Squalo was another story altogether.
The second child of the Squalo line. A child who would most likely be healthy. A child who was rumored to be a boy. Someone who could raise the Squalo House back to its former glory.
It didn't come as a surprise to the master when the assassination attempts began flowing in as his mistress's stomach swelled. However, the man made a miscalculation that resulted in a grave error.
Underestimating the hate of his enemies. Their hate, and grim determination.
"Sooo... any last words, ya bastard?"
The silver-haired man spat in the assassin's face.
"Go to hell."
The lithe assassin shrugged, casually dragging sharp blades through the river of blood flooding the pristine marble floors of the Squalo mansion. Screams echoed in the distance -not one soul of the Squalo House was to be spared this day, not even their servants.
"Maybe I will. Be sure to tell me what it's like there, 'kay?"
His blade swung down, and there was blood.
The assassin laughed.
Then he loped off the man's head for proof of his kill and joined the other assassins in their brutal slaughter of the Squalo household before they finished up and collected their pay for yet another job well done, and swaggered off for some good ol' beer in the barhouse.
Or so he thought.
Collapsed on the ground, the bloodied man wearily looked upwards at the small voice that called out to him in the darkness -and hazel eyes found hazel eyes.
The silver-haired girl was shrouded within an inferno of flickering violet flames, and, in the dim lighting of the night and her pale, pale skin, it was like staring at a wraith. An apparition.
The shadow of a ghost that stood within the Mist alone.
"Where is my brother?"
This is a sort of "practice" to get back in the swing of writing again, hence the disjointed-ness of everything and the kinda drabble-like format. Written in a few hours, so it might not make much sense and probably has a lot of grammar errors. I'd appreciate some help/feedback for this... :/
Also, this drabble-thing may or may not be continued, since it's a little "practice sheet" for me. Sorry for making it a little confusing to read.