The thing about tourists was that a person couldn't take her eye off them for a single second, Anna thought, all her attention focused on the back of the club where her naïve fool of a cousin had just disappeared a good ten minutes ago with a man she'd barely even met, and—argh, why had they picked this night, of all nights, to go dancing?
Teresa bumped against her shoulder, casual. "You look like somebody's mother, waiting up for the first time." She laughed when Anna glared at her and glanced over towards the back of the club. "She's a big girl now. She knows what she wants." She pursed her lips, considering. "How to go for it, too."
"That's not the point!" Although when her baby cousin had grown up enough to be picking up strange men to let them—no, that wasn't the point. Anna went back to shredding her cocktail napkin to pieces, just to give her hands something to do while she worried. Teresa, for all her airs and worldly wisdom, was just a tourist too. So was Giulia and so was Fiorela, and oh, this had been a bad idea, start to finish, why had she let herself run off at the mouth so much, talking about the Vongola and the teeny, tiny little things she sometimes did for it, easing a bit of paperwork here and lifting a piece of red tape there, like that was something important?
Pride goeth before a fall, she reminded herself, but it wasn't supposed to be someone else's fall, it was supposed to be hers—"We're leaving after this." The abrupt announcement dropped into her friends' amiable conversation like a stone plunking into a pool.
A chorus of protests met her decision. "I'm not ready to go!" Giulia complained, while Fiorela set her jaw, looking set to be stubborn. Even Teresa looked like she was going to drag her feet, and none of them were going to understand why they should go ahead and leave as soon as possible. They would think it was cool that the Vongola Tenth was sitting at the bar, surrounded by most of his guardians, save the one who'd just gone out back with silly little Lucia. They'd think it was cool that the Cavallone Tenth was here, too, even though tension was running high between the Cavallone and the Cizeta right now, high enough that maybe the Cizeta wouldn't mind crossing into Vongola territory if they thought they could get one clear shot at him.
And bullets didn't care who they hit.
Anna twisted the shreds of napkin between her fingers and took inspiration from it. "I don't like the drinks here," she said. "I know a place with a better bar. And a good dance floor, too," she added, since Fiorela's square jaw was still set.
Teresa wasn't her best friend without reason; she might have thought Anna was being ridiculous, but she shrugged. "The drinks here aren't great," she conceded, looking at the sticky pink residue at the bottom of her glass. "This other place far?"
"No, not far," Anna assured them. Fiorela still looked stubborn, but Giulia was wavering, the way she always did. Anna groped for something else to tip the balance and added, "The guys tend to be friendlier, too." A long shot, that, but Fiorela had looked frustrated with her lack of partners, so perhaps it would move her.
Indeed, she seemed to be thinking about it. "Friendlier?" She tapped her nails against the table. "And it's not far?" Anna shook her head, holding her breath, until Fiorela snorted. "Well, why didn't we just go there instead in the first place?"
"Well, we wanted to come here," Giulia pointed out. She glanced around, disappointment pursing her lips. "But it's just another club. It's not that special." She shrugged. "I'm ready to go whenever Lucia gets back."
Anna exhaled, relieved. "You all wanted to come." And she'd been an idiot to go along with them.
Fiorela snorted and muttered something that Anna pretended not to hear—that was her cousin Fiorela was talking about, and Lucia had always been a little young and a little innocent, and who wanted to work with little kids when she grew up! Fiorela's crudities didn't even belong in the same universe, couldn't apply to Lucia, damn it. Better to ignore them. She went back to shredding her napkin and keeping an anxious eye on the back—God, how long were they going to take?
The table before her was littered with tiny damp pieces of napkin and it felt like it had been an eternity before she saw Lucia coming back inside, looking flushed and maybe just a bit defiant. "Finally." Anna waved vigorously as Lucia glanced around. When her cousin spotted her, she stopped and exchanged a few words with—Anna stared, shock eclipsing her relief, because oh, God, Lucia was kissing him, Lord help them all. But that was the end of it; Lucia came slipping through the crowd, smiling, while he went skulking over to his boss.
"Hail the conquering hero," Teresa said, because Anna couldn't quite find her own words and Giulia and Fiorela were conspicuously gathering up their purses and standing. "Enjoy yourself, kiddo?"
Anna tried not to wince as Giulia and Fiorela giggled. Lucia just tossed her head. Most of her lipstick had disappeared; her face looked naked, vulnerable, without it. "I did," she said. "Are we going?"
"To another club," Anna managed, and got them hustled out the door while she could. She was pretty sure the Vongola and his people didn't even notice their departure, but one couldn't be sure. It wasn't worth lingering, at any rate. She got her bearings once they were outside and pointed left, down the street. "It's this way, just a couple of blocks." And wasn't a noted hangout for the mafia.
"I thought you said it wasn't far," Giulia complained.
"Two blocks isn't far, lazy," Fiorela said, to which Giulia took exception. As they began to bicker, Teresa took the lead, letting Anna fall to the back of their little procession, with Lucia.
"Are you okay?" she asked, keeping her voice low.
The look Lucia gave her, dimly seen through the gloom, was surprised. "Of course I am."
"He didn't try anything, did he?" So help her, she didn't care who he was. If he'd done anything to hurt her cousin, she would destroy him, one way or another.
"No!" Lucia's voice was soft, but no less indignant for it. "He was—he was a gentleman, really."
Something in Anna's stomach unclenched itself. "Oh. Well. Good." Which meant she could switch gears. "What were you thinking? Men don't take girls out back to be gentlemanly!"
"I was thinking that I didn't want a gentleman," Lucia said, evenly enough. Anna sputtered, but the look Lucia gave her then, a flash of something sharp, made her close her mouth. "Well, I didn't." She tossed her head again. "But he didn't have anything, and anyway—well. Anyway." She sounded as though there was more she could have said, but had decided she wouldn't.
"Do you even know who that was?" Anna asked, for lack of anything to say to that.
"He said his name was Hayato. Strange name, don't you think?"
Strange name. Well, yes. That was hardly the crucial point. "He's part Japanese," Anna said. "He's going to be the Vongola Tenth's right hand. He used to be a hitman." She wasn't sure why she was telling Lucia this—maybe she just wanted to reach through Lucia's faraway tone and drag her back down to earth. "They call him the Smoking Bomb."
"The Smoking Bomb?" Lucia repeated. Then she laughed. "Oh. Oh, that's funny."
"It's not funny! He's going to be one of the most powerful men in the most powerful of the Families," Anna said. "He's dangerous!" And Lucia had called him a gentleman, and had—had—
"No, no, it's not that." Lucia stopped, and finally just shrugged. "I asked him what he did for a living. He told me he was in demolitions." She laughed again; it sounded wry.
"Oh, wonderful. The Smoking Bomb has a sense of humor. How lovely for him." Anna pinched the bridge of her nose. "Are you just not hearing me when I tell you how dangerous what you did was? How dangerous he is?" She'd told Lucia's mother that she'd look after her cousin when Lucia had come to live with her, just the way she'd done all her life. How could she have failed so spectacularly?
Lucia glanced at her. "No," she said. "No, I understand." She spread her hands. "But he was nice, too. Maybe in spite of himself, I don't know." She went quiet again; Anna squinted at her through the dimness, not quite recognizing her. Then Lucia added, quietly, "I hope he finds what it is he's looking for."
What that was supposed to mean, Anna didn't know. She was going to ask, but Teresa turned, saw how far behind they'd fallen, and called for them to hurry up and tell them which way to turn. Anna reached over and squeezed Lucia's hand. "Just don't scare me like that again," she said. "Please?"
Lucia ducked her head; Anna thought she was smiling. "I'll try not to. He wasn't what I was looking for, anyway."
"Oh. Well, that's good," Anna said as they lengthened their stride to catch up with the others. She hesitated a moment before adding, "What were you looking for?"
Lucia snorted softly. "Someone who says my name when he comes, for starters." She left Anna gaping at her as she linked her arms with Giulia and joined in the friendly wrangle she and Fiorela were having over what constituted "not far."
Teresa dropped back and fell into step with Anna. "They grow up fast, don't they?" Considering the circumstances, her smile was a restrained one.
Anna let out her breath. "Yeah," she agreed. "I guess they do."
Teresa chuckled. "Well, nothing wrong with that." She nudged Anna's side. "C'mon. Let's find this club of yours and get you a nice drink to wash away the trauma, eh?"
"Yeah," Anna said. "That sounds good." And she followed her friends and her cousin, wondering a little at herself and her cousin the whole way, perhaps just the tiniest bit relieved that she wasn't going to have to find a way to disembowel Hayato Gokudera with her bare hands after all.