Squalo detested parties and everything they stood for: crowds of politely smiling people standing around, pasting thin veneers of civility over longstanding feuds and plotting to stab each other in the back, and only attended them under duress. Nevertheless, it was at a party that his life changed forever.
He couldn't remember, after, what the occasion had been, but his attendance as the head of the Varia had been mandatory. So Squalo drifted through the crowds of people with a sneer fixed on his face, staying aloof of the double-dealing and politicking and counting down the minutes till he could escape and wondering whether he should have killed Tyr after all, if this was to be the legacy he'd inherited, until a commotion had erupted on the fringe of the crowd.
Squalo's first real look at the Ninth's adopted daughter was of her standing over Vittore Barassi with a clenched fist and a thunderous glare. Vittore himself was on the ground, clutching a bloody nose and damn near howling. The howl changed to a squeal when Xanxus drew a foot back and kicked him in the balls. As every man in the room cringed, she spat on Vittore, though the gesture almost seemed to be an afterthought, and said, "Touch me again and I'll rip it off."
That was the kind of thing that would be an empty threat in the mouths of most women; as Xanxus turned on her heel and sailed out of the room, Squalo couldn't help but be sure that she'd meant every word of it.
Squalo remembered to breathe again as the Ninth came forward with apologies for his daughter's behavior, profuse as they were insincere, and the buzz of conversation resumed. He'd heard that the boss's daughter was a real spitfire, but that didn't begin to do justice to Xanxus.
He passed the remainder of the party in a thoughtful kind of a daze.
It didn't take too much time spent hanging around the main house to figure out that Xanxus was as proud as Lucifer and had a hair trigger temper to boot, and was probably more than a little bit crazy. She was spoiled rotten, too, probably because it was easier to just give her what she wanted than to argue with her.
It was just as clear that marriageable age or not, Xanxus wasn't going to stand for being traded off to some mafioso whelp in order to cement an alliance or a trade deal. Not that Squalo thought that the Vongola's old man was that stupid, of course, but it sure seemed like plenty of other Families were. On the other hand, the Ninth did seem to be at a loss for what, precisely, he was supposed to do with his daughter.
She should have been a son, Squalo thought privately, after a handful of weeks of watching her skulk around the main house, snarling at her brothers and terrorizing everyone who crossed her path. She was bold and dark and astonishingly real in comparison to her adopted brothers, and she would have made an incredible Tenth. Squalo could imagine what it would be to follow a will like hers, dense enough to bend reality around it, and the thought made him shiver sometimes as he watched Xanxus.
Fascinating as she was, though, Squalo didn't actually fall in love till the day that she turned on him, wheeling on him even faster than he'd suspected she could move, and slammed him against the nearest wall with a gun under his chin. She fixed him with a burning stare, and demanded, "What the hell do you want, you fucking stalker?"
The swiftness of it shocked Squalo; no one was supposed to be good enough to get the drop on him like that, not even the Ninth's daughter. It startled him into honesty. "You," he said.
Xanxus sneered at him. "The fuck makes you think you're good enough?"
"What makes you think I'm not?" Squalo retorted, letting the steel slide down out of its sheath under his sleeve as he hooked a foot around her ankle and swept her feet out from under her. He dodged the blast of Flame that would have taken his head off as she went down, and brought the blade up, aiming for her throat.
Xanxus caught the sweep of it on the barrel of her gun as her eyes caught fire, and she actually laughed as she came rolling to her feet and closed with him.
Squalo was dimly aware that he'd lost his damn mind somewhere along the line, since one did not pick fights in the hallways of the main house like it was the Varia's headquarters, and one especially did not pick fights with the boss's daughter. He couldn't really care, not when it was taking all his considerable skills to keep up with her. Xanxus fought like a demon, using dirty tricks that nice mafia girls weren't supposed to even know existed, and didn't seem to care when his sword caught her arm and laid it open, since that gave her an opening to press. She was magnificent, and Squalo couldn't even make himself mind when his boot caught on a rug and he went down.
Xanxus pounced, landing on his chest and pinning his wrist under a knee as she planted the muzzle of her gun right between Squalo's eyes. The half-crazy glitter in her eyes said she was going to pull the trigger, and Squalo exhaled, because fucked if this wasn't the perfect way to go, better than anything he'd dared to hope for previously.
The Ninth's voice came cracking into their little tableau like ice snapping in the winter. "What is the meaning of this?"
Xanxus didn't look away from Squalo. "He annoyed me."
"Then he should apologize," the Ninth said. "There's no call for open warfare in the corridors."
"I don't want an apology," Xanxus retorted. Her finger was hovering over the trigger still. "Blood's better."
"You'll have to make do with one," the Ninth told her, exasperation dripping from every word. The floor vibrated under Squalo's shoulders as he approached them. His face appeared over Xanxus' shoulders; Squalo suspected him of being torn between irritation and entertainment. "You may not kill the head of the Varia, no matter how much he's irritated you."
Something went sharp in Xanxus' eyes. "What's the Varia?"
So the Ninth hadn't told her, even though his sons knew. Squalo wondered why he was surprised, for a moment, and then cast it aside with a mental shrug. Wasn't like that was important just now, not when there was something bigger and better demanding his attention. "Not mine any more," he said, and lifted his free hand to fumble at his throat, pulling the insignia pinned there free of his collar. Xanxus let him do it, and took it from his fingers when he offered it to her. She eyed it curiously, muzzle never wavering from its spot between his eyes.
The Ninth protested, of course. "You can't be serious."
Squalo smirked at him. "Law of the Vongola," he said, and returned his eyes to Xanxus, who was examining the insignia. "Law of the Varia, too. Loser serves the winner."
"Yes, that's very true," the Ninth said, "but Xanxus isn't going to take over the Varia--"
It was the wrong thing to say, or maybe the right one. Xanxus' eyes flashed. "Don't tell me what to do," she said, and her fingers curled around the little pin. She rocked back on her heels and stood in one easy movement, and kicked Squalo in the side. "Take me to the Varia," she ordered. "Show me what they are."
"Sure thing, Boss," Squalo gasped, and pushed himself up off the floor.
Xanxus smiled at that, like she liked the sound of it, and after that, not a thing the Ninth said or did could budge her.