There’s nothing left to do but watch the gurgle in the dark. Yamamoto is not merciless, but he paused, just a second before slamming the edge of his blade into the trembling throat.
Is that what it was like? Was it like this, when he killed him? The gigantic slash across the torso is so deep it is almost cleaved in two, the dark shine of organs only peeking up through the shredded edges of a shirt cut down the middle, like a grotesque casing of a slab of meat. Everything is wet, bile from the body spilling out the mouth and on the floor, the wells of blood pooling into the sagged skin crevices and slicking his shoes that stood too near.
He’d never really looked at his hits, before. It hadn’t seemed necessary, after all he held no grudges, but now he stared and sucked in his own despicable act, and inside, it doesn’t satisfy him. He can’t claw out the answer or the small, tight feeling that clogs his lungs. How does he change it, how does he go back to the past and change it, that calm pool in his stomach when he swept his blade across the board, how does he fill that natural void with the sick, disgusting need he feels now, and bleed himself of his own bitterness?
Usually Squalo would wait in his office, still busy with the mounds of paperwork and mission evaluations to be filed, but lately it had been slow. All his normal work was cut in half as the assassination missions had started trickling in less and less for the Varia.
He hates spending time idle more than waiting on someone else, so instead he switches with Levi, checking all the cameras and traps on the first floor of their security system while the other man does the top. Occasionally he kicks the legs of the less alert subordinates that guard every other window and entrance and yells at them about their incompetence, their looks, and their mothers.
When the lobby door opens Squalo drops the collar of one poor unfortunate who was being shaken an inch from his life for having a skewed tie.
“In a good mood today, Squalo?”
“You’re late, even though you’re the one who set up the time.”
A careless laugh rolls out. “I don’t know, you seem to be enjoying yourself despite the fact. Maybe I should come in late more, your security performance could go up.”
Squalo watches as his poor subordinate tries to straighten his tie and get out the room as fast as he could without running or seeming hasty. He shoves Yamamoto aside, stalking out to the front foyer where he grabs up his coat and drapes it on his shoulder before turning the knob outside.
“Stop being so slow. For this you’re going to be the one who pays this time.”
His companion dogs his steps as fast as he can, catching the edge of the open door and propping it open for Squalo who walks outside to the car parked in the courtyard. Yamamoto had been prepared to pay anyway, so it doesn’t in any way change his mood. It doesn’t stop him from saying what comes next, though.
“Haha, but, didn’t I do that the last time, too?”
“You should be happy I’m coming out with you to do anything! If I’d left it up to you we’d probably be sitting on a fountain in the piazza listening to accordion music at a festival! Tch. You wanted to spend time with me so this is what’s going to happen.”
Despite the abrasive words Yamamoto can already tell from the relaxed lines of Squalo’s face and the looseness in his limbs that the older man had been looking forward to leaving the mansion.
“Glad you’re going to go somewhere, huh? It’s been pretty hectic being stuck at headquarters doing work all the time. Sorry I couldn’t make it sooner.”
“One more day of sitting idle I would’ve defected just so there would be something going on. Half the time there’s nothing to do because the roster is almost wiped clean! I refuse to believe there’s not one person who’s ass doesn’t need to be kicked after the Black Spell ascension.”
Yamamoto laughs. It was so like Squalo to be up in arms about getting a break. “Getting restless? Why don’t you take some other missions then?”
His eyebrows shoot to the sky in incredulity at those words. “Are you fucking insane? The Varia is an assassination squad, not third rate diplomats! If they wanted negotiations they should shove them onto someone else. Demolition, infiltration, and killing are what we’re used for.”
The click of the door opening alerts Yamamoto that he should get in. Squalo shoves the key into the wheel as soon as the other guardian puts on his seatbelt.
“Maybe Tsuna delegated all your work out, the Varia have been going non-stop for the last five months. You shouldn’t worry about it.”
Squalo scowls as he turns the engine on and drives out the courtyard.
“Not everyone is as carefree as you.”
It wasn’t like Squalo missed him or anything, but it was strange. Usually in a week or so, when they weren’t busy, he would see Yamamoto drop by as breezily as ever and pester him to come out and do something. The other man would set up times and dates and appointments as meticulously as he could, knowing Squalo’s impatience for unorganized and inconvenient things.
The string of canceled meetings and sheepish apologies grated on Squalo more than he thought they would. It didn’t help that even after a week the Varia were getting close to no assassinations doled out to them. Tsunayoshi had long ago abandoned the idea of leaving the Varia’s specialized skills be, so Squalo doesn’t understand why the roster is so empty. There were betrayals in the family and uprisings everywhere; this was not fucking peace time! Where the hell were all their jobs?
It had been driving him insane for the better part of the week. Finally, because he had nothing else he could do and he was canceled on again with a haha death-wish, Squalo went to the administration office. Storming into headquarters, he demanded, (shouted them deaf, actually), to see who it was that had been taking up the roster. He was convinced someone was purposefully blocking Xanxus from participating in anything important, and Squalo was tired of waiting around like an impotent fuck.
“WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS MEAN?!”
The secretary at the desk tries not to cringe back at the slam of Squalo’s fist on the table, the mission reports that were thrown back onto her table flying out everywhere. On top of the filed reports was Yamamoto’s messy scrawl all about the pages, garnering Squalo’s rage just by looking at them.
“W-we don’t have restrictions on the roster if they have proper clearance to take them.”
“This is the entire roster taken up by the immediate Vongola family two weeks ago while the Varia were busy twiddling their thumbs around the mansion like fucking sitting ducks. What the hell gave them the idea that this was using their resources properly? Weren’t there regular infiltration and information gathering duties too?! Why would that stupid Tenth waste his time like this?”
The string of rhetorical questions thrown at the woman went unanswered. She simply gathered the sheaf on her desk and straightened out all the filed repots and tried not to look into Squalo’s eyes as she talked.
“You’ll have to take it up with the Vongola Head. The secretarial department doesn’t have anything to do with those sorts of decisions.”
Squalo snatches the roster from her hand and leaves the poor woman to straighten the mess he made on her own.
“I have business with the Tenth. I’m going in to see him.”
“The Tenth already has a packed schedule. If this isn’t an official appointment you have no right to interrupt him, Varia.”
The way the other man spat out Varia twisted his lips into a mocking grin. Squalo comes right up to Gokudera face to face, and one step nearer to the door. Neither of them back away.
“Your precious Tenth should be careful of what he’s doing. The boss could get unpleasant if he keeps delegating away our assassination missions to Yamamoto. We’re the fucking Varia and blocking us from doing our job is the same as a death wish.”
There’s a flicker in the storm guardian’s eyes when Squalo speaks, despite the way Gokudera’s clenching his teeth around his cigarette like he wanted to punch him in the face right there.
“Don’t talk about the tenth that way, you miserable worm! I don’t know what sort of lies you’re trying to pin on him but if you’re trying to use an excuse to break away from the Vongola right now I will personally hunt you down and kill you.”
“Lies?! LIES?! LOOK AT THE MISSION REPORTS AND TELL ME IF THEY’RE LYING YOU IGNORANT PUNK. IF TSUNAYOSHI WANTS TO CUT AWAY THE VARIA THEN HE SHOULD GET SOME FUCKING BALLS AND GET RID OF US HIMSELF FACE TO FACE!”
The flap of papers being slapped into Gokudera’s chest rings in the corridor, the other agents who had been tensely watching the show down finally fleeing their immediate surroundings. The younger man violently shoves Squalo away from his face as he crunches the papers handed to him in his fist, staring down at the words typed neatly across the page. The flicker that had shone in his eyes earlier grows into a deep furrow beneath his brows as Gokudera reads more and more. He flips through the pages stuck in the manila folder until he shuts it completely and swings his head up to look at an indignant Squalo.
“I don’t know what that stupid guy has been doing but Tsuna and I didn’t know he was taking up extra missions from the roster. NOT that it’s wrong for him to do it but if you have a problem with it ask him, not the Tenth.”
Suddenly Squalo doesn’t understand what’s going on. First, he thought that Yamamoto had lied to him because he didn’t want Squalo to be angry with the Tenth assigning away their work, but now it turns out the Vongola head didn’t even know about them? What the fuck was going on?! That would mean that Yamamoto was voluntarily taking up the assassinations on his own. Squalo drops the files that had been handed back to him by the waiting storm guardian. He needed explanations, now.
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
A clueless blink and blank look later leaves Squalo still uninformed. The pasta rolled around Yamamoto’s fork droops into his sad, untouched plate while his mouth fails to capture the trailing noodle.
“I’m eating a noodle? Or, I was?”
He figures out that wasn’t the answer Squalo wanted when the other man slams his fist down onto the table, ruching the pristine cloth around his clenched hand. The three other parties around their table jump at the clattering bang, and Yamamoto decides that this is a good time to put down his fork. Knowing from experience that a furious outburst from Squalo involves the need to be free to dodge flying tables and objects, Yamamoto readies himself for a screaming assault just in case.
“No. Just tell me, brat.”
It’s been a long time since Squalo’d called him that. The nostalgia jolts him as he looks at the tense set around the other man’s eyes, and his mouth just blurts out the first thing he can think of.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I know you’re the one who’s taking up all our missions! Why the fuck didn’t you tell me when I was ranting about it earlier?”
He blinks as the subject to their conversation was revealed to him. “Oh, that. I didn’t think it would be such a problem. Aren’t you getting more time to relax? I mean, this is the first time we had time to go out and do something together.”
It doesn’t dim the suspicious doubt in Squalo’s eyes in the least. It’s frustrating, trying to pry out answers from this man who usually is so direct Squalo doesn’t even want to hear him half the time. He feels like he’s circumnavigating the heart of the issue and Yamamoto is too clueless or too clever to let him get there. If he knew the other man well, it was a skilled combination of both and that pisses him off.
“I don’t let anyone mess with me. If you’re not going to tell me why you’re doing all this ridiculous shit even though you hate assassination missions then why am I fucking here?” Squalo didn’t come here for a heart to heart with kissy faces and wine, he came here to talk with the fucking idiot and squeeze out the reason for Yamamoto’s off behavior. Squalo hated being lied to even more than being denied something he’d asked for.
Amber eyes drift off to the side, looking at an invisibly fixed point on the carpet as if in thought before flicking back to confront an angry gaze. Creases bunch around his eyes as a regretful, self-directed smile accents the apology he’s about to make. “I’m sorry. If you’d like I can take up less of the roster, it’s just that Tsuna let me choose first so I didn’t think about it.”
The uneasy pressure that’s been mounting during the last few weeks can’t be dodged. Squalo’s past the point of consolation, he’d been trying to be nice. After that incident with Gokudera in the hall he’d asked and shouted at the rain guardian for possible answers only to get vague replies. He’d been circumventing all of Yamamoto’s stupid blocks, and he’d been considerate, going to his dumb friends instead and Squalo was fed up with playing this all out on Yamamoto’s whims. What the fuck did he have to do to get this imbecile to talk?! He was never going to beg for an explanation and why was it so hard to get anything straight out of him anymore?
“Stop missing the point on purpose. Do you think I’m stupid? That I can’t figure it out? Fuck you!”
The table almost falls over at the splintering kick, wine glasses rattling and falling over as food from their plates tumbles to the floor. In one smooth, hasty movement Squalo is standing up and stalking out the door, making his noisy exit as the other restaurant goers shift out of the way and watch in gawking amazement.
Yamamoto’s hand drifts back to the table, eyes looking mournfully at his ruined plate. He sat for a while, staring at the shine of congealing food mixed unevenly with dark red wine, before pushing himself up to get the check. He still had something to do tomorrow, after all.
It doesn’t matter how many times he does it, it’s still the same. It’s kind of funny to him that no matter how many people he rips open, no matter who they are, they all look the same. Coils of shiny flesh and fountains of blood can only be scrambled so many times before it makes him sick, sick to his stomach to know that everyone is the same, that he’s the one who cut them down into clones of one another.
The hair is spread out thinly, long blonde strands curling to hug around the dead woman’s face. Yamamoto toes her side with his foot and can only feel the inert mass push itself sluggish against his own movements. He doesn’t get it anymore, he doesn’t know the point, why he’s even doing this. Why can’t he stop himself? Was this really what he was supposed to be doing? It hadn’t bothered him before but suddenly Squalo’s hard, tense eyes as he tried to pry this out of him flashed into his head.
Along the glittering lights of a warm lit restaurant and the harsh, lean face that screamed at him to answer, Yamamoto had shut down his mind and longed for that connection. What was he supposed to say? The words, the thoughts, just spilled from him, a slip in thinking that somehow, was the root of all his problems. Squalo- he only wants the best in him for Squalo and the only way to do that was to shunt what was meaningless to the other swordsman aside. How was he going to explain this when he didn’t know if he would even remember what it was he felt when he left this site, today?
Yamamoto can only hold his core together for so long under the pressure of his own guilt.
Even with the missions slowly trickling back to the Varia, everyone at the mansion was on tenterhooks. The remaining guards at the palazzo assiduously avoid Squalo all week. He’d yelled about the curtains being shut incorrectly. The flicker of an eye was blown into full inattention, a hand in the pocket became carelessness and every detail erupted into a grievous mistake. Beaten, thrown out into the forest, cut up and bruised, the lower level subordinates drew lots now to avoid duty when Squalo was at the house and tried not to look into the hard, tense set of his eyes.
Levi, Fran, and Lussuria left all the pending missions to Belphagor and Squalo. They teased him mildly about his PMS which had only further enraged him, escalating into full out deadly fights between him and the other Varia members. Every demolition job handed to him he goes wild, moving about and slashing everything in its path at full power, no matter the skills of his opponents. He needs to unleash something before he explodes and whenever the edge of his blade touches the enemies’ skin and splits open their secrets for all to see, Squalo can only think of one other man, doing the same thing, in some other corner of Italy at a different time.
This, this trail of guts and gore that was somehow voluntary, it undercut everything he knew about Yamamoto and he was confused, which pissed him off because it means Squalo cared enough to be confused. This unwelcome revelation was only one more weight to the piling discontent inside him, and soon enough not even those assassinations were enough to slake him.
“Trash like you isn’t even worth wasting these bottles on.”
Squalo tried to stay as still as he could, despite the pent up screams he was choking down after two bullets grazed by his head right after he stepped into the study to report.
“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON I JUST STEPPED IN HERE, ARE YOU MORE DRUNK THAN USUAL?!”
Another one nearly hits his eye and smashes through the oak doors behind him, opening up a hole into the hallway.
“Stay out of my sight you useless piece of garbage. I don’t know why you’re like this and I don’t care but if you keep on fucking over our security detail I will come and shoot you down, got it?”
Squalo drops the stack of surveillance videos straight on the boss’s desk where his feet propped up in lazy stance. He has no clue what the hell the boss is talking about.
“Our security detail are getting lazy. They’re never around and-”
The glass in Xanxus' hand shatters all over the floor and whiskey drips down onto the carpet as the broken shards stab into his hand.
“Don’t talk back to me. Whatever the hell is wrong with you, fix it. Those shitty subordinates are taking bets to avoid you whenever you’re in the mansion so until this is fixed, stay away from the fucking mansion.”
Squalo stalks out the door, looking back at his furious boss and for one moment, he loathes Yamamoto so much he wants to crush the man for making this happen.
When he breaks down the study door Tsunayoshi simply cowers in his seat while Squalo slams down the manila folder onto his desk. The papers spill out everywhere and for once he was going to get answers, it didn’t matter that this was the Tenth who defeated the boss.
“What the fuck is going on? You tell me, you’re the one who saw him before these rosters started being depleted.”
Tsuna is frozen wide eyed before slowly, with one hand glued at the edge of his desk, he takes up the folder and flips through. With each second he reads the small trembling in his limbs calms down. Eventually the Tenth looks up at him, and that incapable looks becomes tired. Tsuna sighs and clutches his sleeve as he tries to find the words.
“I didn’t know about this. After I told him I kept a watch on Yamamoto but everything he was doing was fine-”
Squalo tries to keep himself in check, the curiosity and build up of frustration almost makes him scream again his first question. The Tenth seems to sense the tension in the air so he tries to explain, even though really Tsuna shouldn’t be the one explaining it at all to Squalo. Sometimes he really wonders if Yamamoto is the most honest and open out of all of them.
“Three weeks ago we found out who Tsuyoshi’s killer was. By that time though, he was already dead. Yamamoto’d killed him in an infiltration mission gone wrong with Chrome a long time ago. He didn’t know it was even him.”
There’s more of them, this time. Yamamoto had purposely tripped the alarm and now while they were on alert, it was harder for him to take them down. His fingers are gripped tight and numb around the hilt as he swings so rapidly to counter the bullets shot at him, Yamamoto can barely tell his hand is moving. Black and blue and flashes of red are a blur, he can only focus one man at a time as they poured out en mass.
Throwing himself across the concrete floor, dodging the mess of shots and cutting down their guns with the force of his flame, everything around Yamamoto is speeding up. His katana cleaves faster and faster, lodging only for a second in bone and flesh, and no matter how deep the cut the slide free is quick. It’s hysterical, everything around him collides and he can’t tell now if the enemies are running into him or he’s running into them or what direction they’re coming from. The walls are stained with splashes of blood and holes, his body is keyed up so far he can’t tell if he’s moving at all. The sounds of shouting and bangs of guns are disconnected and put of synch with every movement Yamamoto makes and his body simply moves on it’s own.
His arm goes out to fan out a sheet of flame to block the loud shots he heard coming from the corner, and in that instance a third man cuts up close, right into his side. Twisting back his shoulder he doesn’t even see the man’s face as a gleam of a knife whirling up to his eye an inch away doesn’t faze him as he simply tilts in closer and swipes up his sword in one ripping motioned cut. The gash drips like crazy on his chin and floods his shirt black with the stain of blood, the knife clatters to the floor from the slumped body against him and when Yamamoto looks around at everyone in the room, they’re all lying on the floor.
All of a sudden things start pouring into him. The loud, harsh pants echo abrasive and rough in his ears. There’s a deep throbbing heat where his chin was sliced, and a wave of dark, hysterical fervor still lapping in his head. The immediacy of everything is ground to a halt and he’s stiff. He can’t see the gray walls or the dull beams of the scopes scattered about him on the floor. His eyes are wide and frozen still, they can only focus on that phantom point, aimed straight at his head of a silver knife that almost killed him.
Yamamoto’s arm is trembling, but for a long time he doesn’t notice.
As soon as the door opens Squalo looks at him and punches him in the eye. Yamamoto braces his arms out behind him at the impact, head snapping back as his vision blurs and a thin crack on his eyebrow starts slowly seeping down blood. A tense, awkward laugh tumbles out his lips and Yamamoto can’t bring himself to turn that burning defeat in his eyes into the cheerfulness that came so easily before.
“Heh, I guess I deserved that.”
Squalo is still as a pillar of salt, white and glittering with the expression of a blank tundra gathering up it’s will to freeze.
“You aren’t supposed to get hit. I know the missions and if you wanted to you didn’t even have to let them know you were coming. WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH THAT CUT NO ONE SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN THAT CLOSE TO YOUR HEAD!”
Yamamoto’s arm clutches at the open door frame, one hand clawing his eye as the red line from his brow runs thinly to the gauze covering his chin. He still can’t look Squalo in the eye. How were words so hard to form when he so easily poured himself out to everyone before?
“You aren’t the best person to talk to this about.”
Dead silence rings around them. He hears the shift of cloth as Squalo, in one motion, jerks him inside the tiny back foyer. Yamamoto stumbles inside, hitting the opposing wall with his hands from the force of the pull. Air whirs by as Squalo spins around to stare at the odd, pathetic man who seems so inconfident he might as well be another being entirely.
“You’re right I’m not the fucking best to sob your damn eyes on. That’s why I already know, brat. Don’t need to tell me a damn thing, I found out on my own because it was necessary, but you! Your stupid brain can’t even dish out this shit when clearly you can’t handle it!”
“I thought I was over it. It was a long time ago…I’d already, I’m still- there’s no more dreaming about it every night. I don’t think everyday about it no matter what I’m doing. Not anymore.”
He stares down at the wooden floor, the odd pinch in his own voice creating this unstoppable flood in his own head. Somehow, Yamamoto can’t block the vague, aching pain that he hadn’t felt in years.
“Obviously you weren’t. It was about revenge, and whether you liked it or not, you got it.”
“I didn’t. It was a slip on a mission. A fucking slip and I just cut him down like I did everything else, one thing less on a list. I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t know.”
He lifts his head up to look at the utter disdain that altered Squalo’s normal loose stance to a stiffened board, his face from that oblique tolerance reserved just for him into cragged lines of disgust. Yamamoto knows that Squalo was the absolute worst person to say this to but he was here, and no one else could pry it out of him because as much as he loved Tsuna, the last thing he wanted to do was to show his friend this side of him.
The difference between Squalo and him was so thin, but also great. The assassin had no morals in killing, it was a job he enjoyed and reveled in. For Yamamoto to mutely seek salvation from this man was like squeezing blood from a rock.
“You aren’t a kid anymore. You want me to tell you to stop doing this shit? You want me to tell you you were wrong? Stop being such a child and figure it out yourself. You can’t go back and kill thirty people to try and undo one hit. I’m not going to choose for you what way you should go. Either be one way or the other, you can’t have everything in the world be easy for you.”
It was his curse, or blessing, as a natural killer. Yamamoto’d heard it so many times in his life from so many different lips, in either praise or denial, but he feels like until this moment he didn’t realize what it’d meant. All those times and all those people who fell under him…in those moments he never felt regret, he never held grudges against them as they attacked. It was a state of mind unique to him and Yamamoto had come to the brink, yesterday, of breaking his one gift. That desperation flooding his core, that cultivated pain inside him, it rose up and moved his arms and legs for him as he destroyed everything around with a clear mind full of need. A relish that was more personal and cumbersome than Squalo’s raging tinted his vision and for a second, he didn’t care about who it was as long as the feeling kept surging in his veins.
Squalo feels a fist clutch the front of his buttoned shirt, Yamamoto’s knuckles white and holding on so hard the shaking in the arm feels still. The guardian’s voice comes out tired and small as his face, hidden in the crook of Squalo’s neck, rasps out a breath he'd been holding in for too long.
“I just came to explain it to you. After yesterday I don’t deserve to take those missions anymore. Heh, I tried to be like you and it was too hard for me to change. Don’t be angry at me…I just thought how much easier it would have been to live like you, at that time. I could have forgiven myself if I was angry when I did it.”
Quietly, a hand raises to pat the younger man on the head. Squalo stares out at the tiring yellow of an afternoon sun through the open doorway.
“You aren’t suited to be like me. I would have gotten bored of you long ago if you were my clone.”
A silent rumble shakes Squalo’s frame as pressed next to him, Yamamoto gives a silent, weary laugh.