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Denial Is One Hell of a Drug

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, And So Do Antisocial Mafia Bosses

 

 

Endless days spent in courthouses, sketchy alleys and newspaper archives, sleepless nights fueled by an espresso, wasting away hunched over neverending stacks of paper, his eyes stinging with dryness, his lips mumbling everything he read, all that had led up to that moment. A fine, intricate web stretched before his eyes, each item connected to the other with red thread, forming this indecipherable and maze-like network that spawned across every authority figure and institution in the country. Pictures of men and women shaking hands, cut offs from magazines and newspapers, clues scattered all over the board. To anyone else, this would seem like an incomprehensible mess, but not to him. His gaze didn't get lost. It easily found the center of it all, the eye of the tiger, the black hole in the middle, that big, bold question mark that hovered over his head like a thundercloud.

Diavolo.

They spoke his name rarely and whenever they did, their voices trembled with fear, their eyes twitching around, fearing every shadow and gust of wind. They spoke of him as if he were something more vague, powerful and absolute than any celestial force. God was in heaven and the Devil was in hell, but Diavolo was there, everywhere. Omniscient. Omnipresent. The man, the ghost, the mastermind behind the chaos. Some suggested that he was more than one person and that Diavolo was simply a mask, for who could gather such unfathomable power in only a pair of hands? The power to bend reality according to his wishes, even if it meant turning the country into a wasteland for his own satisfaction.

Valentine wasn't going to let him. He was trained and ready to risk everything if it meant exposing the truth. Maybe it was because he was young and high on his success, but he couldn't comprehend the danger he was in. Or perhaps he did, but he simply did not care. He was a martyr, ready to sacrifice himself for the salvation of those around him.

The door to his room opened and Scarlet strolled in, nibbling on some overpriced vegetable chips from Whole Foods, looking around as if she was in a museum. She sat down on her roommate's bed, looking at him while munching on her chips.

"What's all this?"

"I've cracked the code," he announced, voice hoarse, trembling with excitement. He liked to believe himself to be a rather aloof individual and capable of controlling his emotions and that much was true. But that was a truly extraordinary moment, the best of his life. His greatest achievement, his magnum opus spread in front of him in all its glory, and only two years after his 20th birthday.

"Wow." The chewing stopped. Scarlet peered into her bag, disappointed to find it empty. She squeezed it into a ball and tossed it in the overfilled bin, missing by at least two meters. "I don't get it."

"I don't expect you to." Valentine clasped his hands together. He reached for his mug. The coffee had gotten cold, it had been sitting on his desk since 3 AM and it was currently...noon. Fascinating. He turned around to face his roommate who gave him this awkward, fake smile. She had been against this whole thing ever since the beginning, for more than one reason. She didn't care but at that moment she was the only person available Valentine could talk to.

"So, it took a while but I managed to get somewhere. I put down every bit of information I gathered from junkies, Passione executives and a former capo, as well as a few employees working in Passione-owned establishments. I'll try and keep this short-"

"Please do."

"For months, I tracked down every court case related to anyone even remotely related to Passione. The small frys are all handled by various law firms, mostly owned by Italians, but the big fish are all handled by this guy; Dio Brando."

"Hey, I know him!" Scarlet exclaimed, getting her oily, sticky hands on Valentine's precious notes.

"You do?"

"You bet your ass I know every bisexual in New York. We met at last year's Pride. Someone tried to choke me with my flag and he beat them to a pulp. Great guy."

"Scarlet, he works for the mafia."

"Nobody's perfect."

Valentine froze for a second, blinking slowly at her, unable to form any words. He shook his head, getting his thoughts in order. "After Dio, things got a little more complicated. I had to bribe," sell his old, shitty car for petty cash, as well as feet pics on the internet for bribe money, "blackmail," mainly kick blacked out junkies in the nuts in the back of dingy bars in Harlem, "and finally, I got to these two monsters; Vinegar 'Vinny the Chin' Doppio and Risotto 'Metal Daddy' Nero."

"Are those...their actual names?"

"I'm not sure about metal daddy. The guy who said it to me looked pretty horny for the man."

"Can't blame him. His tits are bigger than mine."

"After reaching those two, it was around Christmas-"

"Twas the night before Christmas and all through the-"

"Are you going to keep your mouth shut and let me finish the fucking story?"

"By all means."

"As I was saying, after reaching those two, it seemed that my investigation had reached a dead end. However, luck decided to favor me," in the form of Ferdinand's former sugar daddy, a lawyer that used to be involved with Passione, "and finally I was able to get closer. Significantly closer.” He pointed at the picture of a young woman, a face that was plastered all over New York. “Trish Una. She's a model, a successful one, and also rumored to be the boss' daughter. She's marrying a Guido Mista this Sunday, on a private residence in the suburbs. That means Diavolo will be there.”

“Why are you so sure? This woman is only rumored to be his kid. What if she's not?”

“What if she is?” he snapped, turning to face her. Her reaction was expected, she had been against this from the start, back when they were nothing more than penniless college kids and Valentine had first become obsessed with freeing America from Diavolo. Now, they were penniless journalists and Valentine was actively pursuing what everyone thought was only a joke, the ramblings of someone that had eaten too many weed brownies.

“What if she is his closest living relative and he's there, just waiting for me? This is the closest anyone has ever gotten to discovering anything about him, much less his identity.” He took a step back to admire his intricate web of clues. His lips were trembling, his eyes, tired and sore, were gleaming with hope and pride from himself. “I have done what no journalist, no person has ever done before.”

“Have you ever wondered why that is?” she snapped at him, her tone slightly angrier. Her brows were furrowed and her lips were frowning. At times like these, she really looked like his mother. “Have you ever wondered why no one has gotten anywhere while investigating Passione?”

“Because they're weak-willed pussies and they were easily bribed?”

“Because they're dead! Think for a second, Valentine!” Scarlet shifted, sitting cross-legged on the bed and scooting closer to the edge. Judging by his expression, she was wasting her breath. His eyes sparkled, tired but bright, a slight smile on his lips. He wasn't listening. Still, Scarlet spoke. “This Diavolo is obsessed with keeping his identity a secret. He doesn't tolerate people playing Columbus with his identity. Dig any deeper and he's gonna come for you, too.”

“I'll be careful.”

Scarlet groaned in frustration. She followed Valentine out of his bedroom. He went into their kitchen and opened the fridge, humming while scanning the available food items. He seemed to be in a good mood. “Funny,” she pleaded, “rationalize. You're 22! Life is ahead of you! Are you actually willing to die for a spot on the Sunday paper?”

“I'm not going to die,” he reassured her, looking perfectly certain of that while dipping a tortilla chip into some guac. And a damn good guac at that. He munched, giving her a confident, smug smirk after swallowing. “And I'm not doing this for a spot on the Sunday paper!”

“Then why are you doing it?”

Holding his guac and chips dear, Valentine waved his hand in front of him, like a Broadway starlet in the 60s, dreaming of a career soaked in glitz and glam. “For America.” Scarlet groaned in frustration, rolling her eyes. “If I expose the truth, drug and crime rates will drop, the justice system will be able to function without being bullied by thugs, the people won't be afraid of walking around out at night!”

“It's not the mafia that's stopping the citizens from walking out at night. It's the serial killer that's chopping their hands off.”

“I'll get to that, too!” he declared. He finally put the guac down. He reached for Sappho, Scarlet's amber-eyed, deliciously chubby, Russian blue cat. “But first, Diavolo! The leader of organized crime! Black plague in human form!”

The most disturbing part of this entire situation was that Valentine was dead serious. He was serious about Diavolo and he was serious about going after the serial killer, too. Christ. Scarlet was at a loss for words, not knowing what to say anymore. All she could do was repeat her old advice.

“This Sunday,” Valentine started, marching back to his room, voice booming like he was announcing a new Avengers movie or something, “we're going to this wedding!”

Scarlet opened her mouth to speak but quickly changed her mind. “We?” she repeated. “You're not counting me in on your bullshit, are you?”

Valentine turned to look at her, his dazzling indigo eyes wide and forlorn. He brought the kitty close to his face, attempting to wipe his non-existent tears on her fur. “You're the only one I can trust, Scarlet! And you're my only friend who has a car.”

“What about Ferdinand?”

“He's going to the Hamptons with his new sugar daddy this weekend. You're my only hope!”

Scarlet narrowed her eyes. She was weak when it came to pretty face, and damn, Valentine's face sure was pretty. “I don't agree with this.”

“Scarlet!” he whined. “I'll take you to Olive Garden!”

“You don't have money for Olive Garden!” Scarlet snatched her child out of Valentine's embrace. “I'm not taking you to a fucking death trap!”

“It's not a death trap!”

“It is, and the sooner you realize this, the better!” Her expression softened. She let go of Sappho, who eagerly hopped off to nap on a very uncomfortable surface. “Funny, I'm not taking you there.”

“You are.”

“I'm not.”

“You are.”

“I'm not!” she barked, and her decision was final.

 

 

 


 

 

 


Weddings were joyous affairs by nature. The weddings of rich people were on an entirely new level. The scene that was taking place in the Medditerranean-inspired villa was truly magnificent. The selected guests – politicians, mafiosos, people with power and influence from the States and Italy, as well as a few, very rare friends – were scattered all over the luxurious gardens, enjoying the warm, spring day and festivities. Waiters and waitresses were running all over the place like a well-trained army, ready to cater to the attendees' every need. Lavish buffets, holding all sorts of traditional Italian delicacies were strategically placed on the garden and the bar was fully stocked with every drink one could imagine. The decor reflected the personalities of the newlyweds perfectly; vibrant, colorful flowers adorned the artisanal columns and Roman statues, pink water was bubbling from the fountains, satin ribbons, fairy lights and paper lanterns were hanging from the sky-high trees and bushes. There was no theme, only colors. It looked like a child's birthday but for the sake of the good times (and out of fear for Diavolo's wrath and delicate ego) no one commented on that.

Music was filling the air, cheerful tunes with the occasional sappy love song that Mista loved, played by the band that stood on the stage in the middle of the terracotta patio that served as the dance floor. In the middle were the newlyweds, twirling and laughing with no plan in mind, stepping on one another and laughing it off. Despite the overwhelming complexity of her gown, Trish was moving around freely. The short pink hairs on the nape of her neck were glistening with sweat but she looked as impeccable as always. The gown she was wearing (specifically tailored for the first half of the reception) was rather simple compared to the puffy monstrosity of tulle and silk she had worn during the ceremony. Made of porcelain white and mermaid-styled, the gown had all sorts of exotic and blooming flowers embroidered on the bottom, climbing to the top like flames. The fine material engulfed Trish's toned figure perfectly. No gloves for this part, having gone instead for dazzling diamond jewelry, rare gems on her ears, neck and around her wrists, catching the afternoon light like mirrors. On her feet, Trish was wearing hot pink high-heels sandals and she was probably regretting that choice, as Mista had stepped all over her toes. Speaking of Mista, the groom had gone for a zebra patterned suit but after dancing for so long, he had done away with the jacket, revealing his neon orange, leopard-printed shirt underneath. He had also discarded his hat, letting his brown curls free for once. They both were very sweaty and panting but weren't showing any signs of slowing down. And it was just the beginning of the celebrations.

Around the dance floor, on the soft, emerald grass, stood several small, round tables with expensive linen tablecloths and flower arrangements with marigolds, peonies, spiky fern leaves, and miniature roses, courtesy of Giorno. The guests sitting nearby were all admiring the young newlyweds, cheering them on. Diavolo's eyes flew over to his acquaintances. Abbachio took Buccellati by the hand and was shyly leading him to the dance floor. Trish and Mista stopped momentarily to cheer them on and invite the other guests to join them. Fugo awkwardly put his lanky arms around Giorno's waist, doing everything in his power to ignore Dio's piercing, disapproving glare. Jonathan was dancing with Narancia on his shoulders, stopping only to give the young man some cake and have some for himself as well. Pucci was standing next to Dio, swaying slightly to the rhythm. Kars was consoling Esidisi on their table. Weddings had never been the latter's strong point, made him weep with joy and reminisce his own. Kira stood at the side, one hand in his pocket, the other daintily holding a champagne flute. A leisurely smile was on his face, his dark, stolen eyes fixed on his stolen wife and stolen son as they danced and swirled without a care in the world, giggling the evening away. He turned his gaze upward, sensing Diavolo's presence. He lifted his glass towards the man. Diavolo nodded.

Diavolo was away from the festivities, to no one's surprise. He stood in his office, right behind his window, gazing out to the party through the drawn blinds. He pulled the strings, shutting them, drowning the room in near-absolute darkness. He held a glass of whiskey in his hand, sipping it on it slowly, enjoying the rich taste. He walked away from the window, to sit in his armchair. The expensive leather felt full and smooth on his body. He sat down, arms stretched on the arm rests, looking out to the tranquil room. A sense of fulfillment overcame him. As he sat there, alone and content, listening to the distant chatter of his daughter's wedding, his life felt full. Revisiting the past was something he dreaded and detested, but even he couldn't escape a rare nostalgic moment. He used to be nothing more than a sailor from Sardinia, wanting nothing more than to hop from ship to ship and explore every inch of the world. His tale was complicated, definitely interesting and painfully long. But only the result mattered. And the result was that somehow, somewhere within that twenty-five-year long journey, Diavolo had become Diavolo. He had shed his old identity like snake skin and had built a new self, a new home, an empire.

The door opened and Doppio walked in. Diavolo could tell them all apart by the way they walked. Doppio's footsteps were strangely heavy for a man of his size. His lean, youthful frame appeared on the doorway. He smiled softly and Diavolo returned the gesture. For the special day, Doppio had done away with his usual sweaters and too-tight pants and had opted for a simple but stylish mauve suit with a fuschia leopard printed shirt underneath. His hair untied for once, with only two braids forming a little weave around his head.

"How's the party?" Diavolo inquired.

"Exquisite," Doppio replied. "Everyone is having fun, the food is great, the drinks even better."

Diavolo nodded. Trish had handled most of the planning, with Doppio helping with the more complex, technical detail. Diavolo had paid for everything, leaving them all the creative freedom they could get. He didn't care. He wasn't going to attend, anyway. Not out of spite or disrespect, he could join in his daughter's happiness from a safe distance.

"Aren't you going to come down? Most of the busybodies have left by now."

"No, my sweet Doppio. Thank you for your concern but I'm fine here." Doppio huffed. He was a bit disappointed but he understood. Only he did. "Tell me, have you noticed any weird movement?"

"No. Risotto and his team are patrolling the surrounding areas but they haven't reported anything yet." Doppio stood up. "I should go back to the party. Are you hungry? I can have some of the food brought to you?"

"Thank you, that would be nice."

Doppio left, once again leaving Diavolo alone once more. He downed the rest of his drink and went to fill himself another. His office's mini-bar was cleverly and stylishly concealed inside a hidden compartment on the wall. To anyone else, it looked like an ordered wooden panel but one gentle push on the golden wall sconce revealed a fine selection of rare drinks and elegant crystal glasses. This time, Diavolo went for a gin with lemon. After fixing his drink, he moved to stand by the window again.

The sun was en route to its nest in the west, casting its golden, mellow hues over the party. Trish's skirt was apparently detachable. She had kept the bodice but she now wore fuschia zebra-patterned pants, matching Mista's. She was dancing with Narancia while Mista was tearing it down with Fugo. Dio and Jonathan were waltzing to a tune only they heard. Esidisi had fallen asleep in Kars' arms. Kira was slow-dancing with Shinobu. Melone moved up and down frantically, yelling something at Illuso. Ghiaccio came racing towards them, a stone-faced Prosciutto in tow. Before Diavolo could even be confused, the door was thrown open.

"Sir," Risotto panted, "something's happened."

Diavolo slammed his drink on the table. He knew it. He fucking knew it. Because of his paranoia, Diavolo imagined enemies everywhere and he was cautious every moment he spent awake. This time, he was extra suspicious. During those last few months, some random nobody had been snooping around. This one had been more persistent than the others. Diavolo was waiting for the right moment to give the order and end their life. Seems like the curious explorer had gotten to him first.

"We found two kids in the garden, behind the pool house. They must have scaled the fence," Risotto informed him as they marched down the mansion's endless halls.

Diavolo halted, green eyes wide with fury. "I entrusted you with my safety, Risotto and you've failed me."

Risotto clenched his jaw. "It was a slip, sir."

"A slip!? You think that's an excuse?"

"No, but at least the intruders are harmless. The most dangerous item we found on them was a bottle opener."

Diavolo inhaled sharply. He cracked his knuckles, feeling the cool metal of his rings heat up underneath his warm palms. He cracked his neck, feeling his eye twitch, his blood become hotter with each second.

"Take me to them," he snarled, and who dared oppose him?

 

 


 

 

 


"I hate you."

Scarlet's 2004 Ford Focus pulled over on a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, uptown New York. They were surrounded by trees, mainly pine, though the vegetation changed past the endless chain link fence that stretched ahead of them, with palm trees peeking in the far distance. Scarlet sighed, her fingers tapping on the steering wheel. Valentine's grin could only be described as shit-eating. She groaned, leaning back to the headrest.

"That's the place," he murmured, almost in awe. He opened the door and stepped outside, looking at the surrounding area with wide eyes. He stopped a few inches away from the fence. He wrapped his fingers around the gaps, expecting to feel a jolt of electricity. The fence was perfectly safe, save for the barbed wire at the top. Nothing his pincher couldn't handle.

He leaned closer, trying to make out anything. He heard the distant sounds of merriment, laughter and loud, cheerful music. Diavolo was somewhere behind the trees, he could feel it in his bones. He turned to Scarlet. His roommate was still sitting in the driver's seat, with her ex's army boots on the ground, looking at him with annoyance.

"Let's go, then."

"Whoa, wait. I agreed to take you here," still, very reluctantly, "and only that. There's no way in hell I'm coming in there with you."

At this point, Scarlet was certain that this dumbass was hell-bent on getting in the wedding and snapping a few pictures that would make him famous. Nothing she said could convince him. Her last hope was that either Diavolo wasn't there or that he took pity on the dumb kid and let him go with just a few broken bones.

Valentine sighed. He understood Scarlet's unwillingness to participate in this operation. "Fine," he said. "Thank you for driving me here. See you at home."

With that, Valentine turned back to the fence. If his memory served correctly, the last time he had climbed a chain-link fence was during high school, while trying to escape the cops after some protest. That fence definitely wasn't so high. Oh, well. First time for everything. Valentine reached into his backpack for his pinchers and held them between his lips. His grip was strong on the metal links, his feet jammed in the gaps as he pulled himself upwards, using the fence as a makeshift ladder. It definitely wasn't a difficult climb. His footing wasn't exactly stable so he worked quickly, rushing to the top. Using one hand, he chipped away at the barbed wire hastily, making an adequate gap for him to climb through. He swiftly jumped over the fence, landing on his feet on the ground before falling on his ass. He had made it almost unscathed; his jeans had gotten caught in the barbed wire and so there was a tear in his calf, as well as a bleeding scratch.

"Dammit," he mumbled quietly. He wondered if sewing a patch would fix his problem.

A few seconds after landing, Valentine heard someone land next to him. Scarlet stood up, angrily dusting off her red, flannel dress. "I thought you weren't coming with me," he asked, genuinely confused.

"I can't let you die like this," she grumbled.

"Wha- Thank you, Scarlet," he smiled, genuinely touched. "And we're not going to die."

"We are going to die," she reassured him. "Doesn't it seem odd to you that the house is protected only by a fence?"

"Not really."

"It's because Diavolo never expected anyone to get so far."

Valentine halted. Scarlet looked back at him, perplexed. A smile slowly spread on his lips, reaching his eyes. "We must be getting close, then. Come on, let's go."

The duo walked in silence, listening only to their feet crushing the fallen pine needles and dry dirt. The sunset's golden light shone behind the trees, filtering through the leaves and branches. The sounds grew closer. Valentine could make out the music with much more clarity than before. A live orchestra was playing and people were clapping to the tune. Others laughed, others talked, a few drunk ones argued. He could smell the intoxicating scent of searing meat and fresh seafood. The buffet had to be gorgeous.

They moved close to the trees, trying to conceal themselves as best as they could. Finally, Valentine made out the faint shape of a mansion. Just how big was this place? They walked and walked yet it seemed as if they hadn't moved an inch. Suddenly, Valentine noticed a person, the first one he had seen ever since setting foot in the estate. A blond man, dressed in a stylish, purple suit, leaned against a tree, enjoying a cigarette while appearing deep in thought. Valentine and Scarlet stopped abruptly. Was this a wedding guest? He definitely looked too dignified, too well-put-together to be a thug. Before they could decide on his alignment, the man's bright blue eyes were on them. His lips opened slightly in shock, revealing a gap between his two front teeth. His cigarette froze inches away from his plump lips.

"Risotto!" he hollered at the top of his lungs.

"Run!" Scarlet screamed. She grabbed Valentine by his jacket and dragged him behind her as she ran like a woman on fire.

“Those must be his bodyguards!”

“Yeah, no shit!” Scarlet hollered back at Valentine.

The two friends kept running, huffing and puffing, all the while being chased by the blond. The man kept barking commands into his earpiece, firing a few warning shots to their directions. Each time a bullet was plunged into a nearby tree, Scarlet and Valentine would tumble away, screeching.

“What the fuck, what the fuck,” Scarlet kept mumbling to herself.

They were running, pretty sure their legs were moving on their own at this point. They were racing back to the fence, trying to reach their point of entry as they were being chased. Everything looked the same. Everywhere they looked was trees, endless rows of tall pines that seemed to mock them.

One bullet landed too close to Valentine's head, whistling as it flew past his head. “Holy shit,” he gasped, falling back.

One of the trees moved, bringing its fist down on Scarlet's nose, breaking it. “Ow, fuck!” she yelled as she collapsed on the ground next to her partner in crime.

Panting and breathless, the blond caught up to them. He pointed his gun at them, keeping them pinned on the ground. The tree was actually a man, a rather short one, baby-faced and green-haired. He looked rather concerned, not sharing his partner's stern expression.

“I didn't mean to do that-”

“Goddammit, Pesci!” the blond hollered. “Can you not be a fucking pussy for three goddamn seconds?!”

Pesci bit his lip. He turned his sad gaze to the ground. “I'm really sorry, bro. I-”

“Don't fucking apologize to me!”

“Prosciutto!”

“Prosciutto?” Valentine parroted. “And I thought my name was weird...”

A lavender-haired man, lean and beautiful, dressed like an Instagram thot, came galloping towards them. His confusion melted into a look of triumph, a little sneer pulling up the corners of his mouth. “Intruders,” he breathed. “Haven't had those in a while. Are you guys paparazzi?”

“I'm innocent!” Scarlet cried, crawling to Pesci's feet. The man, startled, tried moving away. “I'm innocent, Mr. Fish Man! He dragged me here to use me as a human shield!”

“What!?” Valentine kicked her shoulder. “Stop fucking lying!”

“Both of you, shut the hell up!” Prosciutto demanded. “Melone, go get Risotto and the others. Inform the boss immediately.”

“Right away.” As he turned to leave, Melone stopped. He looked at Scarlet, his exposed eye twinkling. “What's your zodiac sign?”

“Um...Gemini?”

“Gemini! Di molto!”

“Don't get excited. I'm a lesbian.”

“No, you're not. Your nails are too long to belong to a lesbian.”

“Maybe I'm a bottom.” Scarlet gagged, bringing her hand to her mouth. “I got sick just saying that.”

“Shut up!” Prosciutto shouted. “Melone, stop dicking around and go get the others. You two, stand up!” The duo obliged. “Pesci, don't just stand there! Point at them with your gun!”

“R-Right!” There was some shuffling until Pesci found his gun. “Don't make a fucking sound or I'll shoot you!”

“Don't say that unless you intend to shoot them.” To demonstrate, Prosciutto shot the ground next to Valentine's feet, scaring the shit out of him. “Otherwise they think you're weak.”

“...does that mean I have to shoot them now?”

“No, goddammit!” Prosciutto snapped. “Just shut up and let me handle this! You two! Walk.”

Valentine walked right beside Scarlet, body rigid, numb as they were being led like cattle to the slaughterhouse. “I can't believe your dumbass is going to get us killed by the Veggie Tales mafia!” Scarlet hissed.

“Quiet!”

Valentine didn't listen. He didn't respond. His body was just a husk, his soul was already in another plane of existence. This was strangely exciting but most of all, it was terrifying. Fucking terrifying.

 

 


 

 

 


Diavolo's mansion had been specially furnished and decorated to cater to his lavish and extraordinary tastes. His biggest love was artifacts, rare collectibles from the voyages during his youth. Precious items, priceless antiques and other objects best suited for a museum adorned every corner of his luxurious estate. He had acquired most of these through auctions, his multi-billion-dollar net allowing him to purchase anything his heart desired. Hand-crafted furniture made from Dalbergia, floors from black marble imported from Greece and Italy, doorknobs made from white gold and diamond, every corner of the house was a showcase of Diavolo's unfathomable wealth. And this was only one of his residencies.

The deeper into the house he went, further down endless stairwells, his surroundings changed. From the luxurious hallways Trish had been raised in, the scenery shifted to barren corridors, gray and cold, illuminated only by sterile white lights, countless doors standing on each side. Diavolo's quick, heavy enraged footsteps echoed around the quiet halls, Risotto following closely behind. Storage rooms, torture chamber, a sex dungeon, the lowest level of his house was an honest reflection of Diavolo's personality. He stopped in front of a door, one identical to the others and let Risotto open it for him.

“What's the situation?” he demanded.

Doppio was already there, along with Prosciutto and Melone. That room served as an interrogation room, a prisoner's usual first stop before being escorted to a torture chamber. The room was equipped with a few necessary pieces of furniture; a few chairs, a table and a laptop to record the interviews coming from the other side. Speaking of the other side, Illuso paced up and down behind the two (two!) intruders, waiting for instructions through the intercom. They both had black hoods covering their heads and their hands were cuffed to the table.

“I found them wandering around the back,” Prosciutto informed him. “They didn't put up a fight but they did flee. Pesci and I chased them down and brought them here.”

Diavolo nodded. “How close to the house did they get?” His voice was calm, eerily calm. The calm before the storm.

Prosciutto gulped. He was a courageous, strong-willed man and there was no denying that. But some things could make even his knees buckle. “Not that far, sir.”

In a flash, Diavolo had the man pinned against the wall, his forearm jammed against Prosciutto's swan-like neck. “Them getting in here is already pretty fucking close,” he snarled, breath heavy with malt whiskey as it fanned on Prosciutto's face. “You are supposed to be the best of the best yet you continue to be a disappointment and a waste of my time. I have entrusted you with my safety and on this day – my daughter's wedding day – you let these rats slither through.”

Diavolo applied a bit more force, making Prosciutto choke desperately. The man made a nervous move as if to tear Diavolo's arm away but he was too weak for that. Diavolo let him go and Prosciutto collapsed on the floor like an empty sack, coughing his lungs out. Risotto's expression didn't escape Diavolo. His beastly, strangely handsome eyes looked at him with anger and hatred. Diavolo didn't have time to care about his underling's crushes.

“Who are they?” Paparazzi, probably. They must have found out about the wedding and had rushed to get exclusive pictures of Trish's lavish wedding.

“A man and a woman. His name is Funny Valentine and hers is Scarlet Maxwell. They're journalists, they work for The Post. Valentine is the guy that's been snooping around lately,” Doppio said.

“Is that right?” Diavolo mumbled. Great. He had gotten his hands on this pest without moving a muscle. Perhaps this fiasco wasn't such a fiasco after all. His mind was already racing, trying to find innovative ways to murder the man who had dared look into his identity. “Illuso,” he said, leaning into the mic, “take the hoods off.”

With one swift motion, Illuso removed the hoods, exposing the prisoners to the harsh light. It took a few seconds for the to adjust to their new surroundings. Panic was written all over their features, shining in their eyes and trembling lips. The woman, Scarlet, was rather good-looking. Her hair was slick and black, held half-up by a golden hair clip. Her eyes were dark, though not black. Underneath the white light, Diavolo saw that they were so dark gray, they seemed like two chunks of coal. Her nose was busted, obviously, dried, crusty blood covering her face down to her chin. The man, Valentine, he was something else. Diavolo was caught off guard, unable to look anywhere else for minutes, days, weeks, eons. He didn't want to look at anything else. Like a man obsessed with a painting, he wanted to sit in front of this face and observe it for days on end. Valentine was young, beautiful and supple, with stunningly androgynous features. His skin was pale, unblemished ivory, and his cheeks were rosy, flushed with fear and adrenaline. His eyes, a pair of gleaming gems, sapphires and amethysts molded together, creating that mesmerizing indigo. Clear like the Mediterranean on a fine, summer day. His lips were plump, sweet and pillowy, like a red velvet bow. Absolutely sinful. His jaw was sharp, his nose was straight, imposing. His cheekbones were high, expensive, regal His hair was blond, a singular, golden color, gleaming under the cheap light. Perfect curls, thick and soft-looking. Diavolo took in a shallow breath as he continued to stare at this marvel. He twitched with every nervous move Valentine made. He leaned forward, wanting to be close to him.

“Why are they here?” His voice was already huskier, heavy with desire. Doppio gave him a confused look.

“Why are you here?” Illuso asked.

Diavolo licked his lips in anticipation of hearing the angel's voice. “I'm working on an article about the drug trade in the States. I-I thought I could get an interview-” His voice was clear and certain, not quite a scruffy baritone like Diavolo's but very pleasant and melodic to the ear.

“Tell him to stop lying and tell me why he looked into my identity.”

“Stop lying! Why were you looking into the boss' identity? Who are you working for?”

“I really am a journalist!” Valentine shouted. “I just care for my country and wanted to get to the bottom of the drug problem!” he explained with one quick breath.

“We can go,” Scarlet chipped in. “We promise that we'll never come back again and burn all the information we've gathered!”

“No!” Valentine protested. Scarlet's eyes almost rolled out of her sockets. “If...if I could talk to your boss, talk to Diavolo. That's all I want.”

“This guy's joking!” Doppio cackled. “I suggest we let the girl go with broken arms and keep him here. What do you think, Boss?”

The door opened and Dio walked in, visibly curious. “What's going on?”

“We found these two behind the house. They're journalists.”

“Hey, I know her!”

“You do?” Diavolo asked.

“You bet your ass I know every bisexual in New York. We met at last year's pride. Someone tried to choke her with her flag but I beat them to a pulp. Great girl.”

“Dio, they were trying to find out the boss' identity.”

“Nobody's perfect.”

“Dad!”

The men in the room all turned to the side to see an enraged Trish standing at the doorway, her bright green eyes spitting fire. She had her hands on her hips, looking at her father with exasperation. She motioned towards the glass partition, looking at the restrained duo.

“You said you wouldn't murder anyone on my wedding day!”

“I haven't murdered anyone,” Diavolo said, raising his arms in defense. “Yet.”

“Dad!” Trish whined again. “It's bad luck! And what did they even do to you?”

“They broke into our house, Trish. They tried to find out my identity.”

Trish huffed in annoyance. “Nobody is dying on my wedding day,” she warned. Trish left, slamming the door shut behind her, the clicking of her heels growing more distant as she hurried back to the party.

“We can keep them alive for today and kill them tomorrow.” Doppio said this, fully aware that a quick death was far from the punishment Diavolo gave those that dared look into his identity. Compared to what he did, that was mercy.

Diavolo leaned into the mic. The whole room fell silent, even Dio held his breath in anticipation of Diavolo's decision. What cruel fate had he decided to bestow over these young fools?

“Illuso, ask him if he's gay.”

The assassin's puzzlement upon hearing the order was obvious. Everyone else in the room looked at Diavolo with curious eyes. Dio quirked a brow, noticing the little smirk Diavolo sported. Illuso opened his mouth and closed it like a fish. He knew better than to oppose his boss' orders, no matter how absurd.

“Are you gay, Valentine?”

Silence fell over the other side of the partition. Valentine blinked a few times. He narrowed his eyes, still not over the absurdity of the question. “What? No!”

“Why is he so offended? Is he homophobic?”

“Are you homophobic?”

“I...uh...I like to think I'm not but I guess I can't be the best judge of that.”

“How is this relevant?” Scarlet snapped.

“Illuso...how old is he?”

“How old are you?”

“22. I'm turning 23 this September.”

Melone snatched the mic out of Diavolo's hands, shoving it inside his mouth. “September what? What's his zodiac sign?”

“What's your zodiac sign?”

“I'm a Virgo.”

“A Virgo!”

As much as he wanted to, Diavolo didn't want to explode into a fit of excitement. He simply leaned back, shoving his hands in his pants' pockets. His smile, faint and promising, was unwavering. His eyes gleamed darkly. This gorgeous, young thing had waltzed right into his hands. Valentine kept asking Illuso questions he had no authority to answer. His mouth opened like a flower, revealing a tiny overbite that made his lips appear fuller, sweeter. Irresistible. Everything about his face, his sweet, sweet face, screamed innocent. Diavolo's cock twitched impatiently. All he could think about was getting his hands on that lovely creature and the things he could do to him.

 

 

 


 

 

 


The seconds passed slowly, agonizingly slowly. The red lines on the black screen shifted, counting down to the moment of salvation. Every other sound was distant, dull, unimportant. The soft, whirring noise filled the small room. The orange lights were bright behind the foggy glass door. Finally, the microwave beeped three times. Valentine, being a damn fool, yanked the door open and pulled out his mac and cheese, shouting a string of profanities when he inevitably burned his fingertips.

“And he just let you guys go?” Ferdinand questioned, taking a bite out of his tahini-quinoa-roasted veggies-chicken bake. Having a multi-millionaire as a sugar daddy made multiple trips to Whole Foods possible.

“Yup,” Scarlet replied. She sat on the counter, enjoying a falafel sandwich. Her ex was gone but her recipes stayed with Scarlet. “I deadass thought I was going to die.”

Ferdinand scoffed, shaking his head in exasperation. Valentine definitely was smart but he had his moments. “This might actually be the worst idea you've ever had, Funjamin.”

“It seemed good at the time!” Valentine argued after a mouthful of mac and cheese. He waved his fork menacingly at Ferdinand. “And I still stand by it. It was a damn good idea and I got very fucking close to meeting the boss.”

“You got very fucking close to becoming a sex slave!”

Ferdinand snorted. “A what now?”

“They kept asking us these weird fucking questions.” Scarlet stopped to take a bite out of her sandwich . “They asked Funny if he's gay and how old he is.”

“And then?”

“They let us go! Just like that!”

Ferdinand chewed for a few seconds. “That's definitely weird. Did you guys meet him? The boss?”

“No, but I'm sure he was on the other side watching us! Next time-”

“There won't be a next time. The only reason we made it out of there alive is because of luck. For me, at least. The guy has the hots for you.”

“He doesn't.”

“He does. Why else would he ask you all that weird shit?”

Finding nothing to counter Scarlet with, Valentine looked at Ferdinand for support. The other man shrugged, smirking a little. “I'm with Scarlet on this one, dude.”

Groaning, Valentine marched out of the kitchen. At this time of day, the office was packed. Everyone was busy, their noses buried in their computers. Contrary to popular belief, that wasn't the worst place to work in. Modern, glass-to-ceiling windows illuminated the entire floor in a pleasant, natural way, while also offering a rather nice view of New York's bustling streets. The room was rather spacious, having gotten rid of the old cubicles for aesthetic and space-saving purposes. The journalists worked in the open, on light-weight desks and swivel chairs. The only proper office belonged to Steven, who hadn't even clocked in, yet. Valentine's own desk was right next to Scarlet and Ferdinand's. To make his working space more homely and practical, he had equipped it with a few succulents, band posters, postcards to destinations he dreamed about and notes only he could decipher. At that moment, a delivery guy stood by waiting. He probably had a delivery for Steven and couldn't find him. Figures.

“May I help you?” Valentine asked, putting on his customer service voice. One of the perks of being raised in a snobby, filthy-rich house was being able to be overly polite at will.

“Yes. I'm looking for...uh... Funny Valentine?”

Valentine furrowed his brows. “That would be me,” he replied after a moment of thought.

“Bring 'em in, boys!” the delivery guy hollered.

One by one, a horde of similarly dressed people marched into the office, all carrying gigantic bouquets of white roses. They placed them all around Valentine, who soon found himself trapped and more confused than ever. By the time they were done, Valentine had a perimeter of easily a thousand white roses surrounding him. They were real, too. Their aroma was sweet and delicate, their petals soft like velvet. They were of the purest white color, precious and unblemished, the kind of perfect flower one had to try hard in order to produce.

Every one of his colleagues had their eyes on him, especially Scarlet and Ferdinand. His two friends stood by the announcement board, just gawking at the sight. “Can you sign this, sir?”

“Um...” Valentine looked around, unsure of what to do. The delivery guy offered him a pen and Valentine grasped in numbly. He reluctantly signed the form and gave the pen back. “Who...who sent these?”

“We don't know, sir. Company policy.”

“There has to be an address!”

“The only address we were given was this one.”

“Are you sure it was meant for me?”

“Is there another Funny Valentine?”

“I don't think so.” Who else's parents were mad enough to name their child this?

“Then the flowers are for you! Have a good day, sir.”

With that, they left, leaving Valentine with a thousand white roses and a million questions. He looked around in absolute bafflement. In the midst of this fragrant cloud, Valentine noticed a single red rose, as vivid and deep as the color of blood. He plucked it from the bouquet, feeling the silky petals underneath his fingertips. A card was tied around the stem, written in fine calligraphy.

'You look like the type who likes white roses – Diavolo'

His eyes opened widely. His jaw went slack. Cold sweat covered his entire body. Goosebumps appeared on every inch of skin. An unpleasant feeling of nausea bubbled in his stomach. He staggered out of the rose prison and collapsed on his chair.

“The fuck are y'all looking at?!” he barked at his curious co-workers. “Get back to work!”

“Holy shit,” Scarlet whistled.

Ferdinand read the inscription again and again, a wicked smile appearing on his pink lips. “He has the hots for you.” Scarlet nodded in fervent agreement.

At this point, Valentine didn't know how to respond or feel. Why the hell would a mafia boss send him so many flowers? The gesture itself was undeniably romantic and he had successfully guessed Valentine's favorite flower, though it was utterly uncalled for.

“What the hell is going on here?”

They all turned around to see their boss standing in their doorway, four hours later and with Starbucks, looking upon the scene. Steven wasn't a judgemental person but Valentine still didn't like him, and he definitely didn't want more people involved in this mess.

“Scarlet got a little surprise from her girlfriend!” Valentine hastily blurted.

Steven quirked a brow. “Really? I thought you weren't seeing anyone, Scarlet.”

“Apparently, I am,” she hissed, looking at her friend with a tight, venomous smile.

“She's a keeper, this one,” Steven murmured as he stroked the roses, visibly impressed. “These must have cost a fortune.”

“How can you tell?”

“Well, this is a mix of Boule de Neige, Parfum de Provence and Juliet roses. Each bouquet must have cost at least 20-30 million dollars,” Steven explained, completely unfazed.

Valentine looked at the flowers. Ten elaborate bouquets with a hundred roses in every one. With each bouquet costing roughly 20 million dollars...multiply that by ten...

He gulped.

Two hundred million dollars. For flowers. Pretty flowers, but flowers still. Valentine paused to think for a second, feeling like a piece of fruit in the jello that was the cosmos. Two hundred million. He didn't have two hundred million anything. Not two hundred million hairs on his head, not two hundred million people he knew. Hell, even if he glanced outside, he couldn't see two hundred million people on the street. The number sounded fake. It was too big. Too much. Where there two hundred million stars in the universe? Seemed unlikely. Yet there were two hundred million dollars lying at his feet.

Dizziness overcame him yet again. All color drained from his face. He looked sickly, pale. The sweet aroma from the flowers was driving him insane. “You guys should take these somewhere else, they're taking too much space,” Steven advised. “Funny.” No response. “Funny?” The young man jolted back into life, stupidly blinking at his boss. “I need you today after work.”

Valentine nodded slowly. Steven went into his office, to pretend he worked for a few hours and then leave. The three friends all glanced at each other. Valentine was still nestled in his chair, brooding, scowling.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with two hundred million worth of roses?” he pondered out loud, despair coloring his every word.

“Samantha left behind a recipe for rose jam and moisturizer,” Scarlet informed them. “We could cook these babies up and sell them to soccer moms.” With a flourish of her hand, she picked a rose and chewed the petals off. She spat everything on the stained carpeted floor. “That was a terrible idea.”

 

 


 

 

 

Funny Valentine. Born on the 20th of September, 1996, in Charleston, West Virginia. His father was from Arizona and his mother from Texas. They both worked in the military. When Funny turned five, his family relocated to Connecticut, his parents' new posting. Funny was raised in a pious, Catholic environment straight from the crib. When he was seven years old, his father died in Iraq. The following year, his mother married another man, also from the military, that adopted Funny. Funny was raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, and was afforded every luxury. From an early age, he had shown a love for music and by the time he was 16, he was celebrated nation-wide as a musical prodigy. The boy had also proven to be a skilled gymnast, having led his school's team to victory at several prestigious tournaments. After graduating high school as valedictorian, the boy-wonder moved to New York to attend Columbia University, breaking the family tradition of going to Harvard. This was the first sign that Funny was going to follow a different path than his parents. After graduating, he was expected to attend West Point, like everyone in his family had done. Funny, however, had opted to work for The New York Post, something that apparently greatly displeased his family. He lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn, together with his childhood friend and colleague, Scarlet Maxwell, who had shot her father in the leg for trying to ship her off to Switzerland.

Diavolo leaned back in his chair. Phone still in hand, he opened Instagram. He never thought he'd like the app but soon enough, he found himself browsing through endless pictures of red roses, ravens and all things aesthetic, as well as a sea of calories and terrible hot glue crafts. That day, he didn't open Instagram to have his brain fried by Troom Troom or look of Poe quotes. No. He sat on the edge of his seat as he typed the words 'Funny Valentine' on the search bar. Cheesy Valentine's day memes that nobody but boomers liked, obscure Valentine's Day memes, epic fail videos from 2012 and a small, round picture filled with hope, with a pink ring around it.

Valentine's profile was public. Without wasting a single second, Diavolo tapped on his name. Several pictures featuring Valentine and his friends were revealed before his eyes. There he was hiking, drinking, working, snuggling his cat. His recent stories were simple pictures from the train to work and the breakfast he had cooked. No mention of the roses. Diavolo knew the move was bold but then again, so was he. Ever since seeing Valentine just a few days ago, his mind had been tormented with images of those magnetizing indigo eyes and his rosebud lips. In his sleep, he dreamed of running his fingers through that hair, having that lithe body under his own, over it, next to it, sleeping soundly, kissing him softly. His breath hitched as he scrolled further down. It was a picture of Valentine standing in the middle of a campground, wearing a tank top and too-short jean shorts. His legs were fully revealed, allowing Diavolo to see how perfectly sculpted and long they were. Oh, how stunning would the look hooked around his waist...

“I'm thinking of wearing a fox costume to court. You never know, the judge might be a furry.”

Oh, and those thighs. Diavolo shivered, the familiar sweetness of arousal pooling in the pit of his stomach. Milky white and unbelievably soft to the touch. They would look so good marked by his teeth and lips, bearing his scent and the memory of his touch.

“It could even be someone from the jury. Or maybe I could dress as a schoolgirl. A dominatrix?”

Diavolo's gaze roamed over Valentine's form hungrily, stopping at that lovely waist of his. It was just the perfect size for his to wrap his fingers around as he guided him on his cock. Beautifully nipped-in and curved.

“Then, after I've sucked all their dicks, I can do the Macarena. That way, victory will be ours.”

Then there was that ass. Every word in any language was pale and inadequate when it came to describing that ass. So plump, so round, so fuckable. Diavolo could grab fistfuls of that thing, feel the soft flesh in his palms, spread it, fuck it in earnest. His blood boiled just imagining how that lovely body would react to his own. The sounds that would pour from the lips, the rocking of those hips, the tightening of those legs as-

Lukewarm tea land all over his trousers, even wetting his phone. Diavolo jumped up, startled. Dio glared at him. His green lips were scowling. He clutched some probably important papers in his hand.

“You're not listening to me,” he noted.

Diavolo cared about his business immensely. He had fought to build it from scratch, had risked it all for his empire. Everything about it concerned him. But at that specific moment, Diavolo couldn't focus on anything Dio said. His mind was completely flooded with Valentine and his gorgeous legs, his golden hair, his deep blue eyes, his puffy lips. Diavolo knew his date and place of birth, how much he made every year and what blood group he was. But it wasn't enough. He wanted to know this man, meet him, see him.

“No, I'm not,” he admitted. He trusted Dio. Surprisingly so. He didn't trust him as a friend but rather as a very capable lawyer. Dio was good, he was very good, and he didn't want Diavolo to fail. If all of Passione's filth leaked, that would mean his end as well. So he did his job successfully, keeping the rumor that he was tied to the mafia alive.

“I trust whatever you do,” Diavolo dismissed and Dio's green scowl deepened. He folded his arms over his chest, tapping his foot on the floor.

“Don't tell me you're thinking about that fucking kid,” he asked, though he already knew the answer.

“Mind your own business.”

Dio scoffed. “He's younger than Trish, you know.”

“I know.”

“Hm. Didn't know you were into this kind of thing.”

“I'm not. I just really like this one.”

“He said he's not gay.”

“He didn't explicitly state he's not into men. He might be pansexual or bisexual.”

“You might be right.” Sighing, Dio stood up. “You stay here and jack off in peace. I'll go and win your case for you.”

“Love you, too.”

Despite what Dio believed, Diavolo wasn't in the mood to jack off. Yet. He strolled out of his office and went into the kitchen in search for something to eat. After assembling a sandwich, he made himself comfortable on a stool and kept stalking Valentine's Instagram. A figure featured in his photographs regularly was a Frank Ferdinand, a blond that exuded the air of a supermodel. Curious, Diavolo went in his profile. This one definitely led a more luxurious lifestyle than Valentine, with exotic vacations and haute couture purchases, despite having the same job. A sugar baby? It could be. Could he also be Valentine's boyfriend? They definitely seemed close, closer than most friends.

“Oh my God, boss.”

Doppio's voice startled Diavolo who dropped his phone on the breakfast bar. Doppio picked it up, staring at the screen with judgemental eyes. “Stalking his social media, really?”

Diavolo angrily snatched his phone back. “Why is everyone being such a judgemental prick?” he grumbled. “As if liking a pretty guy is the worst thing I've done.”

“It's not that. Boss, you can't fuck the people that willingly tried to harm you.”

“Yes, you can. You ever read enemies-to-lovers fanfiction, Doppio? That's some next-level shit.” Diavolo confidently took a bite out of his sandwich. “I already made the first move and sent him some flowers.”

Doppio's jaw went slack. “Please don't tell me that the two hundred million dollars weren't for flowers.”

“Yup.”

Doppio groaned. He started rubbing the bridge of his nose, trying to soothe his nerves. “All for a piece of ass you haven't even gotten.”

“Yet.” Diavolo liked 'yet'. It was full of hope. Very optimistic. Very realistic in his case.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Valentine adored his job. Ever since he was a kid, he felt indebted to American society. He had always been taught that serving the country was the only thing that mattered in one's life. What his parents meant by that was that Valentine had to join the army. His sense of serving was different. Wrong. He had dedicated his life to exposing and delivering the truth. It didn't pay much, his parents would remind him, at least back when they still talked. It was rewarding. It gave him the feeling that he was part of something bigger than himself. So he stuck with it, and he had every intention of continuing that way.

His boss didn't live in a show-stopping neighborhood but it was still nicer than where he lived. At least he had a place to park his car. At least he had a car. The Uber dropped him off outside Steven's house. It was a simple, two-floor house with a nice lawn and a spacious backyard. Valentine came to a halt outside the front door. He closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. He inhaled and exhaled. Rinse and repeat. He let his shoulders drop and lifted his head. He cracked his neck. Mm, that felt good. Raising his hand, Valentine rang the doorbell.

“He's here!” a well-known, high-pitched, childish voice shrieked. Valentine's stomach grumbled in protest. His nerves were set on fire once again. It was coming.

Steven answered the door, completely unfazed by the ungodly shrieking coming from behind him. Valentine's job didn't pay much, hence why he needed all the money he could get.

“Hey,” his boss casually greeted him. Valentine walked into the house and shut the door behind him. Steven was already dressed and ready to go, ready to abandon Valentine with those...monsters.

“You know my number, you know where the fridge and first-aid kit is,” Steven mumbled mostly to himself as he went around gathering his things. “I'll be back at around 9. I'd appreciate it if you had the kids ready for bed by then.”

“Are the boys staying over?”

“Yup.” Steven posed in front of the mirror to straighten his tie. Satisfied with his appearance, he smiled. “Lucy!”

The sound of terror reached Valentine's ears. Rapid, tiny little footsteps sounded closer and closer. A little girl turned around the corner. She jumped into her father's arms excitedly, wrapping her arms around his neck as best as she could.

“Okay, sweetie. Daddy's gonna go now. You have fun with Funny and the boys.”

“Okay.”

Stephen kissed the top of her straw-blonde head and gently put her down. “An hour of TV, at least one apple each and bed by 9 PM,” Steven hissed as he went out the door.

“I know, Steven. I've done this before.”

Three times a week, to be more specific. He had raised these damn kids, they knew them better than his Sims. Steven gave him some last directions and headed out. Valentine stood by the window and watched as his boss hopped on his Porsche and drove off.

And then, terror. The hair on the back of Valentine's neck stood, courtesy of that deeply unnerving gaze stabbing the nape of his neck. Slowly, he turned around, ready to look into the eyes of fear itself. Lucy stood by the doorframe, slightly swaying back and forth like all kids did. Her eyes, big, pale blue, asking questions he did not have the answers to, peered into his soul. Her face was a mask of neutrality and that was driving him insane.

“I want to go to the toilet,” the little girl announced.

“Bathroom is right there.”

“I can't reach the light switch.”

Right. Of course. Valentine walked the girl to the bathroom and turned the light on. “I want to press it.” Valentine gave her a tight smile instead of sighing. He turned the light off and lifted her so she could hit the switch. He put her back down. “Thank you, Funny.”

“Wash your hands after you're done!”

“Asshat!” came the little shriek from the living room. Valentine reached inside his sweater and pulled his cross out. He crossed himself and planted a kiss on it. He stepped into the living room, inwardly praying to every heavenly body available.

Ten minutes into babysitting and chill and the living room already looked like a World War I trench. Toys were scattered everywhere, probably shoved in even the tiniest crevices one could think off. Something yellow and mushy was splattered all over the floor and frankly, Valentine would rather not look into it. The biggest attraction was the three boys wrestling on the carpet. Gyro and Diego were a tangled mess by the coffee table while Johnny stayed at the sidelines, yelling things at them. Valentine marched for the two boys and quickly yanked them apart. Diego flailed violently as Valentine held him back by the scruff of his neck. Johnny jumped on Gyro, making sure he was okay.

“Stop, both of you!” The two boys stopped their high pitched snarling, settling for just glaring at each other. “What happened? Who said that awful word?”

More yelling, childish, incomprehensible screaming. Valentine couldn't make out anything they said. To him, it looked like a couple of enraged Pomeranians just barking at each other. The only thing he managed to understand out of this Shakespearean dialogue was the following;

“Gyro called my grandpa a thot!”

Valentine paused for a second. He was pretty sure he had short-circuited for a moment. He blinked several times. “What?”

“He is!”

“Shut up! You're a thot!”

“Hey, hey!” Valentine called, quickly stopping the brewing fight. “Gyro, where did you hear that word?”

“Caesar called Joseph that yesterday at dinner.”

“And why on earth would you say that about Diego's grandpa?” That was the most puzzling detail about the whole affair. Specifically, Diego's grandpa was a thot. Not anyone else in his family. His elderly grandfather. Valentine knew nothing about the kid's family but, damn, what was his grandpa like?

“Because he is!”

“You're a thot!”

“Stop it! Stop saying that word!”

“What does it mean?” Johnny asked.

“It's not a good one.”

The boy nodded. “Like cunt?”

“Oh, sweet baby Jesus. Where did you hear that?”

“Dad calls Diego's grandpa that.”

Okay, what was the deal with Diego's grandpa? “These are bad words. You guys shouldn't tell them, even when joking.”

“Why? What's gonna happen to us?”

“You won't get mac n cheese for dinner.” At that, all three boys fell silent. They sat glued on the floor, their eyes wide with fear. “So stay here and if I hear anyone cuss, I'll eat his mac n cheese in front of him.”

The kids all nodded fervently and Valentine smiled with relief. Great. Perhaps threatening wasn't the best disciplinary method, but damn it was effective. Satisfied that the house was finally quiet, he went into the kitchen to prepare the kids their dinner. He always enjoyed cooking in Steven's house, messing with the fancy kitchen, indulging in the expensive ingredients. Put some buffalo mozzarella, gorgonzola and saffron in the mac n cheese cuz, why the hell not? Once the inside of his pot looked very gooey and confusing, Valentine filled four colorful bowls and carried them into the living room.

“One for you, one for you, one for you and-” He paused mid-sentence. “Where's Lucy?” The boys shrugged. “Shit.”

“That's a bad word!”

Valentine put the last bowl down. “Don't eat this.”

In a mild fit of panic, he skipped to the bathroom. He knocked on the door. No response. “Lucy? Are you in there?” What were the chances she had fallen into the toilet and flushed herself into the Hudson? Pretty damn big. “Lucy?” Either the kid was dead or fucking annoying. Or in another room. No, Valentine had no time for optimism. “Lucy, I'm coming in.”

He expected to find the kid sitting on the toilet, staring at the floor as if it was a genuine Caravaggio. Or at least to be reading the backsides of shampoo bottles (she didn't know how to read, probably). Instead, he found the bathtub filled to the brim with bubbles, and a blonde little head barely visible behind the fragrant cloud. Valentine lunged for the bubbles and yanked Lucy out of it. Soapy, wet and slippery, the little girl got out, thankfully safe and satisfied with herself.

“I like it when there's bubbles.”

Valentine noticed the pile of empty bottles by the trash can. Of course. “Lucy, you're a mess!” She giggled. Valentine drained the water and used the detachable shower head to wash the bubbles away. All the remained was to clean this horrendous child. Without much thought, he turned the shower head towards her, hitting her right in the face. However brutal, the method was effective. Rivulets of soapy water ran down her completely ruined dress, pooling on the floor, nearly flooding the bathroom. Once the kid was nice and clean, Valentine turned the water off.

“Take these,” he said and shoved a bunch of towels in her hands, “and go change into something dry and clean.”

Lucy nodded and quickly ran upstairs to her bedroom. Valentine fetched the mop and cleaned as much as he could. But not too much, enough to make Steven slip on his ass the moment he stepped inside. Genius. When he exited the (mostly) clean bathroom, he noticed a wet pile laying by the door. He picked up Lucy's discarded dress and carried it to the backyard. Finally, some goddamn peace and quiet. As winter would have it, the sky was dark in the afternoon. It might as well have been the middle of the night. Valentine hung the dress to dry and leaned on the fence. He reached into his pocket. Right. No smoking near the kids.

Valentine stayed out a bit longer, just gazing out to the neighborhood. Living in an area like this must have been amazing. All this open space, the freedom to do whatever you please with your house. Always have a parking space for your car. Having a car. A vehicle caught Valentine's eye, a deep crimson Maserati. It was a gorgeous thing, just beautiful to look at. The owner sure was lucky.

When Valentine walked back inside, he noticed something odd. It was quiet, suspiciously quiet. Had the kids strangled each other? He stepped into the living room to find them all sitting on the floor, staring at him with wide eyes.

“We want to watch the Kardashians,” Gyro nodded and the others all nodded in fervent agreement.

“Don't they show Blue's Clues and Bob Ross anymore?” Valentine pondered.

“Tristan cheated on Khloe!” Johnny yelled.

“And Stormi is teething!” Lucy added.

Valentine blinked a few times. “Fair enough,” he shrugged and turned the TV on. The kids were fully invested in the Kardashian shenanigans, leaving Valentine alone to just sit on the couch and browse his Instagram explore page like a mindless fool.

Twenty minutes in, he felt someone tugging on his sleeve. He looked down and saw Diego. “What is it?”

Diego motioned at Valentine to lean closer. “To tell you the truth,” Diego whispered, “my grandpa is a thot.”

Valentine could feel his brain cells pitter-patter inside his head like popcorn. “...okay?”

“He doesn't let me call him 'grandpa' because he's too young. So I just call him Dio, instead.”

“What?” Valentine mouthed slowly. He got his feet off the couch and stared at the little boy intensely. Diego backed away a bit, thinking he had done something wrong.

“I call him Dio because that's his name.”

“Your grandpa is called Dio?”

“Yes.”

“Dio Brando?”

“Yes?”

Come to think of it, Diego looked vaguely familiar. From what Valentine had seen, Dio was a humongous man, fit, eccentric, pale, with bright, amber eyes. No, Diego resembled somebody else. With those curled bangs and blue eyes, he was the spitting image of Dio's son.

Valentine bolted up and made a quick exit to the backyard. He needed some air, some space. Diego, the kid he had been babysitting for years now, was the grandson of Dio Brando, Diavolo's five-star lawyer. He had never seen Diego's parents, only heard bits and pieces about who they were and what they did. He knew there were two dads, one was an actor and the other was also a lawyer known to have attacked the jurors several times in a fit of rage. Giorno Joestar-Brando and Pannacotta Fugo. Valentine quickly reached for his phone and opened the Instagram app. He typed in Giorno's name and quickly got the man's profile. Musical theater, with several appearances on Broadway. Giorno's profile was a testament to his glamorous life. Aside from rehearsals and work, it included fancy restaurants and dreamy vacation locations with his husband, as well as some pictures of friends and family.

'Nothing beats homemade!' read one picture. It depicted @drjonathanjo, proudly presenting his roasted turkey to the camera.

'Best day ever!' read another. This one showed Diego, albeit much younger. The toddler was gleefully riding on a toy horse while the one and only @realdiobrando looked on with a smile.

Giorno's latest bundle of pictures depicted a wedding, set in a mansion Valentine recognized. Valentine saw pictures of the happy couple, a video of Fugo dancing with Diego on his shoulders, and a picture of Giorno laughing with a very attractive man, all the while a grumpy goth looked on. The last one was a group picture, captioned with words of love and some blessings. Aside from Giorno, @norange, @pannacotta_fugo, @trishuna.official, @muidogista, @bbruno, @abbachio and @vindop.

Valentine froze once he saw that last name. Could it be...? The man that was rumored to be Passione's consigliere? With shaking fingers, he tapped on the man's profile and waited without breathing.

His phone rang. It was a number he didn't recognize. Spam? Infomercial offers? His mother? No, that was impossible. Was it one of his coworkers? Scarlet calling from another number to tell him her one night stand was a married woman? Steven calling from another number to tell him he was going to be late?

Valentine picked up.

“Nosy little thing, aren't you?”

It was a man's voice, deep, grumbling, unknown. Valentine's stomach a knot. He had the terrible feeling he knew the owner.

“Who is this?”

The man laughed. His chuckle was dry and smoky. “Don't you know?”

“No.” Reality would cease to exist if he simply denied it.

“It's Diavolo.”

The name echoed inside Valentine's head, the word bounced around the walls of his empty brain. He could shrug this off as a bad prank but it was too good, too much. Valentine felt panic surge into his bloodstream but he took a calming breath to subside it. He wasn't delusional or childish, he knew this was going to happen. Hell, he was surprised he had lived for so long.

“How did you find my number?”

Diavolo chuckled, the sound of his laughter resonated within Funny's skull. It was oddly pleasant, almost magnetizing. “Are you seriously asking me this? I know everything about you, I can tell every time you pick up your phone and what you do with it.”

Valentine nodded. A gust of wind blew and Funny wrapped his arm around himself. He felt strangely vulnerable.

“What do you want?”

What are you doing right now?” Diavolo asked, ignoring Valentine's question.

“I'm laying in bed with a book.”

“Hm, so am I. I started reading this new one today. It's called 'I'm watching you from the inside of my car'.” Valentine's eyes widened, his jaw went a little slack. His terrified face turned to the Maserati and to his great horror, the headlights flickered. “Have you read it?”

Without a second thought, Valentine stormed back inside the house. He locked the door and went around the kitchen checking the windows. Diavolo's low laughter rumbled in his ear. “Calm down, I'm not going to hurt you.”

“Bullshit,” the younger man hissed. He opened the drawer and scanned the knife collection. He reached for a bread knife. Yes, this would do. The kids were still watching TV, oblivious to their imminent doom. Valentine locked and barricaded the front door using a chair. He ran upstairs, locking every window. Should he light up the fireplace?

“I mean it. If I wanted you dead, I would have killed you already.” That much was true. If Diavolo wanted him dead, he would have never let him walk away in the first place. “And if it's the kids you're worried about, I'm not going to harm my lawyer's grandkid. You got any idea how many problems that would cause me?”

“Then what do you want?” Valentine inquired. He kept his voice low and as calm as possible. He needed to sit down. His head buzzed. Nothing about this felt real.

“I want to talk to you.”

“You are.”

“No, not like that. I'll wait for you until you're done.”

“Then what?”

You'll come with me.” Valentine snorted, more out of awkwardness rather than mirth. “I'm not joking", Diavolo chided, his voice going grim.

“What if I refuse?”

“What makes you think you have a choice?”

Oh. As expected from a mafia don. Brutal, straightforward, assertive. Valentine was on autopilot, talking without thinking. His brain was just white noise. Nothing in his life had ever prepared him for this scenario. If he closed his eyes, he fooled himself into thinking it was just a fever dream. But the impatient breathing on the other side of the receiver brought him back to reality, reminding him of the mess he had gotten himself into.

“I get off at 9.”

“I could spend the whole night waiting for you.”

There was something about Diavolo's tone that didn't make Valentine feel threatened, despite the nature of the conversation. His voice was soothing, sensuous even.

Valentine weighed his options. He was itching to call Scarlet and share this with her, but apparently, Diavolo monitored his phone. Notifying his friend could potentially put her in danger. He didn't really think he could just slip out the backdoor. Even if he slept over, Diavolo would still wait. There was no escape, not one that he could think of, anyway.

To get his mind off the edge, Valentine cut some apple slices for the kitchen. Every now and again his gaze would dart up to the window. The Maserati's form stood out in the dark street. He shivered, quickly looking elsewhere. He carried the platter of fruit into the living room, along with a BLT he was supposed to have eaten hours ago.

The kids managed to tire themselves by watching TV and bickering all afternoon. Kylie's skincare drama was like a lullaby to them. They all fell asleep on the carpet and Valentine carefully carried them upstairs. He spread the boys' sleeping bags on the floor next to Lucy's bed and gently woke them up so they'd change into their pjs. Dressed and ready for bed, the four kids all got under the covers.

“Funny?” Diego whispered in the near absolute darkness. A bunny-shaped lamp was the only source of illumination, necessary in the fight against the under-the-bed-dwelling monsters.

“Yes, Diego?”

“Can I call my Daddies to tell them goodnight?”

“Uh...sure thing, bud.” Valentine quickly fished out his phone.

“No, I have my own. It's in my bag.”

Indeed, reaching into Diego's brontosaurus-shaped backpack, Valentine found an iPhoneXS with a T-rex themed case. This thing was worth more than his salary. He carefully handed the object to the boy, who simply yanked it away as if it didn't cost a person's eyeballs.

“Hi, Daddy,” Diego smiled.

“Hi, baby,” Valentine heard a sleepy voice say from the other side. “Did you call to say goodnight?”

“Yes. Where's Dad?”

“Dad's still at work. He and grandpa have a big case tomorrow, remember?”

“Yes. Can you kiss him goodnight from me when he comes home?”

“Of course. Goodnight, sweetheart.”

“Goodnight, Daddy. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

With that, Diego hung up. He gave the phone back to Valentine and smiled. “I'm ready to sleep now.”

“Okay, buddy. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Funny.”

Before Valentine could even go down the stairs, the front door opened. Steven walked in and sighed. Oh, those charity balls could be so exhausting. “Funny?”

“I'm here.”

The young man walked down the stairs, standing in front of his boss. Steven waltzed into the kitchen, looking for food like a bear in a trashcan behind a McDonald's. “The kids?”

“Just went to bed.” Steven nodded, satisfied with this development. “Do you need anything else from me?”

“No, you're free to go.” Valentine stood by the oven. “Oh, and here you go.” Great. Fifty bucks. Enough to buy him whole wheat bread and avocados. Maybe even a bottle of wine and not from the bargain bin.

“Goodnight, Steven.”

“Goodnight, Funny. And thanks.”

Valentine put on his coat and wrapped his scarf around his neck. Bundled up and ready to go, he stepped out of the house. Immediately, he felt as though he had walked into a different plane of reality. The house was bright and warm and the neighborhood was cold and dark. The wind blew among the leaves. He jumped at the slightest sound. His entire body was rigid. He took a step forward, feeling goosebumps riddle every bit of available skin. The Maserati was waiting, looming like a dark cloud over his head. Valentine wasn't sure what he was supposed to do. He started heading towards the car, becoming more aware of his stupidity the closer he got.

His hand was almost around the handle, when he turned around and started power-walking in the opposite direction. “Nope, nope, nope,” he panted as he ran away. If a car is chasing you, run in the opposite direction. Street smarts.

Tires screeched behind him. The headlights cast his shadow over the asphalt, an enormous, scrawny figure surrounded by a halo of pale light. He started running, huffing with exertion as he picked up the pace. No matter how fast he was running, he was no match for a car. The Maserati stopped right in front of him. Valentine fell back, ending up on the floor. The driver's door opened and Diavolo walked out.

At first, Valentine couldn't make out anything. All he saw as he lay helpless on the road was a dark figure approaching him. As it came closer, it became clearer. Valentine saw a man, a tall man.

“What were you trying to accomplish?” The voice sounded even deeper up close. Guttural, commanding, no-nonsense. Valentine noticed the melody in it. Slightly sing-song, colored by the beauty of Diavolo's mother tongue.

He was bathed in the white light of his headlights and Valentine could clearly see him now. This was it. The boss. Somehow, it didn't feel real. There he was, right in front of him, and he felt non-existent. He was tall, probably a head taller than Valentine, and well-built. He was dressed in a black suit with a black shirt, opened just enough to expose his shirt and golden chain, even in this weather. His big, strong hands were adorned with bejeweled rings and golden bracelets. Valentine's gaze traveled upwards, meeting the other man's face. Dark lips, strong jaw, large nose, slightly crooked. His hair was hot pink and long, dotted with black here and there. Valentine found himself unable to tear his gaze off Diavolo's eyes. Bright green, too green. They were deep, sharp, magnetizing. Diavolo was handsome but not in the straightforward way Valentine was. The realization of his beauty was slow, surprising, even. It dawned slowly upon oneself, shock more than admiration.

“Do you like it so much down there?” It took a moment for Valentine's brain to click into motion. He rose to his feet, standing almost on the same level as Diavolo. He blamed his shaking on the weather. “Come on,” Diavolo urged. He cast a glance around, looking for potential witnesses. “I don't like being out for too long.”

Diavolo climbed in his car, expecting Valentine to do the same. The younger man remained still, just staring at the vehicle. He reluctantly wrapped his slender fingers around the handle and pulled the door opened. The interior of the car was, in all honesty, more spectacular than the exterior. The cushions were soft and clad in fine red leather. There was enough room for a passenger to fully stretch their legs. Diavolo fit perfectly in the driver's seat, like he was in his element.

“You can put your bag in the back,” Diavolo offered and Valentine tossed his backpack to the backseat. Christ, he could probably have amazing sex in there. Good car sex, not that uncomfortable shit in the crumped back of his dad's stolen Sedan.

Diavolo started the car and soon, they were moving away from the neighborhood. Valentine thought back to his life, from his earliest memory to today's lunch and in all his twenty-two years, he couldn't find any instance as bizarre as this. Not a single moment could live up to this one's sheer, baffling oddity. Or its stupidity. He was terrified and confused. He was in Diavolo's car, and there was no doubt it was him, the real thing. And he was alive, alive and well, even after meddling with his precious private life.

The atmosphere inside the car was smothering. He knew how to mask his emotions rather well, and apparently, so could Diavolo. He kept his eyes straight ahead, completely unfazed.

“You're driving over speed limit,” Valentine noticed.

Diavolo snorted. “You're a law-abiding citizen, I see.”

“I obey the laws that are beneficial to the greater good. Driving responsibly is every driver's duty.”

“Do you have a car?”

“I sold it a while ago. I needed money. To research you.”

Diavolo burst into laughter. The sound resonated within Valentine's chest. The man was unfortunately very charming. “I'll buy you a new one, then. To compensate.”

“I don't want a car.”

“What DO you want?”

“Right now, I want you to tell me where we're going.”

“Where do you wanna go?”

“I...have to go pick up groceries.” That was a perfectly normal conversation, only he was sharing it with a don of the mafia.

Diavolo nodded. “I haven't been grocery shopping in twenty years. This could be fun.”

Must feel fine to have others run around doing your shit for you. How old was this guy? Valentine cast a glance at him. His gaze (involuntarily) traveled to Diavolo's strong, muscular thighs. He looked around thirty-five, maybe forty, but he was probably older, having a married daughter and all.

After a few minutes of driving, Diavolo finally stopped outside Whole Foods. Valentine quirked a brow. According to Cesare who run the pizzeria next to Ferdinand's old house in Hoboken and the Godfather trilogy, mafia dons were usually poor, neglected children that wished to acquire quick money and had no qualms doing whatever was needed to achieve that. Apparently, Diavolo had forgotten how to be poor.

“Yeah...I got like twenty bucks or something.” He should probably save those fifty bucks Steven had given him for a new car.

“That's irrelevant,” Diavolo commented as the two of them stepped inside the store.

Valentine prepared to argue but he was immediately mesmerized by the El Dorado of grocery stores. Rows upon rows of endless aisles of fruit and veggies with near cryptic names. He couldn't tear his gaze away from the cheese selection, seriously examining a pack of fresh gruyere as if he could afford it.

“What do you need?”

“Bread, milk, eggs...I have some extra money, I suppose I could buy some avocados. Oh, and cat food.”

“You have a cat?”

“My roommate does.” Valentine walked closer to the products. He reached for a bottle of balsamic vinegar. Oh, this would go amazing with some salad for lunch. He looked at the price tag. He put it back down. He could always reheat mac n cheese.

“This place is too expensive,” he complained. “Couldn't you have gone to a Walmart? I can buy four whole chickens with this money.”

“You shouldn't worry about money,” Diavolo said. He reached for the discarded balsamic vinegar and put it in the cart. “I'll pay for your groceries.”

The older man pushed the cart away. Valentine jogged up to him, blocking his exit. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because I feel like it?” Diavolo shrugged.

“You're paying for my groceries because you feel like it.”

“You're seriously dense, aren't you?” Valentine furrowed his brows at the insult. Shaking his head, Diavolo grabbed a net of avocados and threw it in the cart. “I like you.”

Okay, hold up. “What?”

“I like you,” Diavolo repeated. “You're smart, ballsy, and fucking gorgeous. I like you a lot, to be honest.”

The doors to the supermarket were thrown open and a horde of burlesque dancers rushed in, dancing along to some merry tune. They got in formation and made way for a white limo to pass through. Scarlet popped out of the car's open ceiling, waving a flag that read 'I Told You So'. Once the interlude had concluded, the dancers made their exit, dancing.

Valentine snapped back to reality. He still chose to be dense. “Like...as in...”

“Like.”

“Oh.”

“I want to have sex with you.”

“...oh.” Valentine waited a few seconds before bursting into howling laughter. His knees buckled and he sought support on the nearest shelf, knocking a few bags of sweet potato chips over. The other customers stopped to glance at him, curious as to why such a proper-looking young man would have a laughing fit in public. Finally, Valentine managed to pull himself together. He stood back up and looked at Diavolo, who looked quite offended. “You have zero people skills.”

“What?”

“You don't just...walk up to someone and tell them 'hey, I wanna fuck'.”

“You don't?” Diavolo mumbled, genuinely perplexed.

“How did you have a kid?”

“Times were different then. And I don't really see what the problem is. Isn't my point clear?” He let go of the cart, closing the space between him and Valentine. Valentine backed away until his back met the shelf. Diavolo's cologne drilled his brain, sweet jasmine and a hint of spices. It was intoxicating. Unwillingly, Valentine leaned closer to the man's neck, standing a breath away from his lips. Diavolo cracked a smile. “I'm glad to see we're on the same page.”

“Oh, fuck off!” That wasn't perhaps the best thing one could say a dangerous mafia don, but Valentine said it, regardless. He was at this point where nothing felt real anymore, not even his own safety. He walked away quickly, looking for something to distract himself with. He found the liquor section and fully immersed himself into reading the wine labels.

“No, you don't wanna get that. It costs seven bucks. No good wine costs seven bucks.”

“I'm not looking for good wine, I just want alcohol.”

Diavolo chuckled. “Have I upset you?”

“This is the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me,” Valentine admitted. Suddenly, it was as if this odd sphere that surrounded him shattered, and he realized what was going on. The man standing before him, the one that had offered to buy him groceries and had given him a ride was a dangerous criminal, a threat to the good American people. A few days prior, Valentine had infiltrated his home and had somehow made it out alive, although now Diavolo knew everything about him. Even if he changed his name and fled to Sweden, Diavolo would know.

He would be quiet for now, until he found a way to escape. But was there really any escape? Diavolo knew where he lived, where he babysat and where he worked.

“You should have seen my surprise, when it turned out that the rat that had broken into my house, on my daughter's wedding day, was such a beauty. I don't want to hurt you. I told you; if I wanted to, I would have done so already. I let you walk away and all I ask in exchange is your attention. And you.”

“In exchange for my life?”

“Yes.”

“So you're blackmailing me into having sex with you?” Valentine asked in the middle of the canned goods section. Distraught, a nearby soccer man ushered her son away.

“We should continue this conversation elsewhere.”

Reluctantly, Valentine agreed. In the end, he silently let Diavolo add more items to his cart. The last time he had seen so many groceries, he still used to live with his parents. As he walked back to the older man's car, his mind traveled to an alternate reality, a better one perhaps, where he still had his family and successful career in the military and the situation he was currently in seemed like a bad joke.

He got back into the car. Diavolo drove off. The Manhattan skyline came into view and soon, they were driving in the boulevards, surrounded by towering skyscrapers. For once, Valentine was riding the streets of Manhattan in one of those luxurious cars he often dreamed of. They sped away from the city's golden heart and drove towards the Brooklyn Bridge. Valentine pressed his face on the glass, gazing out. The sea below and the sky above were pitch black. The countless lights reflected on the dark waters, mimicking the starry sky. In the distance, Valentine saw the Statue of Liberty, standing proud and tall, holding the torch high for everyone to see.

“You should have taken Williamsburg Bridge,” Valentine commented idly. “It's closer to where I live.”

“I know it is. I just like this route better.”

No arguing with that. It was way prettier, Valentine agreed.

They found themselves stuck in traffic for a few minutes. “Why'd you guys choose Bushwick?” Diavolo asked as they started moving again.

“We found a pretty decent, budget-friendly place there,” Valentine shrugged. “Scarlet wanted us to live in Dyker Heights but it was too expensive.”

“Why Dyker Heights?”

“Scarlet said it fit her aesthetic.”

Diavolo snorted. “I feel her.”

Finally, they reached Valentine's house. Diavolo parked outside. He turned to the younger man. Valentine's fists were so tight that his nails cut crescents into the soft flesh of his palms. He was sweating. He could just run out and scream for help, run all the way to the police station and have the cops actually do something good for once and shoot Diavolo dead. Idyllic, isn't it?

“You're probably tired of hearing this but I don't usually let the people that discover my identity walk away alive. But I made an exception for you.”

“Why?”

A charming smile graced the mafioso's harsh features. “I'd like to see you again, know you better. I want to know what drove someone so young and beautiful to do something so reckless. You managed to do something pretty incredible and I'd like to know how you did it. I'd be a fool if I let someone so smart walk away.”

“So you're offering me a job? In the mafia?”

“I don't see why not? I'll pay you more than whatever Steel pays you.”

“It's not about the money.”

“Then what it is?”

“The lack of morality.”

“Morality,” Diavolo repeated the word as if hearing it for the first time. “What do you say to discussing ethics over dinner, hm?”

“I say no.”

“I say you'll change your mind.”

Infuriating, smug, persistent. Diavolo reminded Valentine of the schoolyard asshole bully who decided to become a nurse, of all things. Yes, he was thinking of someone specific. He didn't even remember what he said as he stumbled out of the car. Even though he was hurrying and terrified, he wasn't so shocked as to forget the groceries. The only good thing that had come out of this bizarre encounter. He carried the bags upstairs, afraid to look back, see if Diavolo had followed him.

With shaking hands, Valentine unlocked the door and stepped into his apartment. Scarlet was sitting on the couch, watching TV and eating Chinese take out. She opened her mouth to greet her roommate but quickly shut it in confusion upon noticing the bags he carried. Valentine placed them on the counter and exhaled deeply, rubbing his sore palms to alleviate the pain.

“What's all this?” Scarlet asked, curiously approaching the goods. Sappho hopped on the stool, pawing at a bag with interest. Scarlet reached inside a bag and pulled out organic cherry tomatoes, avocados, spinach and some marinated chicken breasts. “Did you steal it?”

“Nope.”

“How on Earth did you buy all this?” She pulled out a bag of quinoa. “Holy shit! Funny, explain yourself!”

“Very well. Sit down.” Scarlet quirked a brow. “I'm serious. Sit down.”

Scarlet sat down on the couch next to him. He looked very pale and his forehead glistened with sweat. “What happened?” Whatever was going on, it seemed serious.

“I was at Steven's, babysitting the kids. I...Diego told me Dio is his grandpa.”

“What? Wait, how is this related to...this?”

“I'll get to it, don't worry. Diego told me Dio is his grandpa and indeed, he is the son of Giorno, Dio and Jonathan's son. I went into the guy's Instagram, trying to find anything related to Diavolo and I found his consigliere profile. As I clicked on it, my phone rang.” Scarlet held her breath. “It was Diavolo.”

“What.” Valentine nodded. She smiled, eyes full f uncertainty. “You're fucking with me.”

“I honestly wish I was. But no. It was him. Somehow, he's monitoring my phone and knows exactly what I do and when I do it.”

“Holy shit...” Scarlet mouthed slowly. She was fully immersed in the story. “What did he say?”

“He wanted to see me. Actually, he had parked outside the house and was waiting for me.”

“Are you serious?”

“Absolutely. He was in his Maserati-”

“He has a Maserati?!”

“Yes-”

“I've always wanted to have sex in a Maserati.”

“Can you please let me finish the fucking story because I feel like I'm about to pass out?”

“Yes!”

“He said he'd wait for me the whole night if he had too-”

“He said that?!”

“Scarlet!”

“Right, yes. Go on!”

“He said that, yes. And indeed, he waited for me. And he took me to... Whole Foods.”

“Whole Foods?”

“Yes. And he bought me groceries.”

“Huh.” Scarlet pursed her lips. She considered it for a second. “Not an ideal first date but it's cute, not gonna lie.”

“It wasn't a date, don't be an asshole!”

Smirking, Scarlet reached for her discarded orange chicken. “What did he want?”

There was no easy way of saying this. Valentine twiddled his thumbs, looking anywhere but in Scarlet's eyes. “...to ask me out for dinner.” Scarlet spat her food on the floor. Pieces of chicken flew out of her mouth, only for her cat to jump on them the next second. She wiped her mouth and drank some water. “He actually told me he wants to have sex with me.”

“Oh my God!”

“It's weird, right? Who says that so bluntly?”

“You're focusing on the wrong fucking bit!” Unable to contain her enthusiasm, the young woman shot up and scooped her fat baby in her arms. Sappho clawed at Scarlet's neck but she was way too excited to notice the pain. “The big scary mafia boss wants you to be his sugar baby!”

Valentine narrowed his eyes. “What are you fucking talking about?”

“Are you really so dense? Can't you see? He wants to fuck you and pay you for it!”

“I'm not a whore!”

“Nobody said you are, buddy. The only thing you are is very fucking lucky. Holy shit...” She started pacing up and down the room, still cradling her daughter in her arms. “This is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“Scarlet-”

“I knew it! I knew the moment he started asking you all these weird-ass questions!” She sat back on the couch, finally letting her poor cat go. Her eyes gleamed with hope. Valentine was a little freaked out. “He wants to be your sugar daddy.”

“Scarlet, stop that.”

“It's the truth!”

“I can't handle the truth! Why... Why me, of all people? Guys like him can have everyone they want!”

“Because you're fucking gorgeous and ballsy.”

“He said the exact same things.”

“Ah, great minds do think alike. My guess, sweet Funjamin, is that he was probably charmed by this dynamic between you. Poor, young, but brave and kinda stupid journalist meets experienced mafia don.”

“Stop reading fanfiction.”

“When is your official first date happening?” she asked, completely ignoring him.

“Okay, just thinking that I would ever stoop so low as to sleep with someone for money is offending me greatly. And I'm dead serious.”

“Why? Look at Frank. He's happy.”

“Frank lacks morals.”

“Morals,” she sighed. People seemed to disagree with his morality these days. “Don't you wish you had what he has?”

“Armani purses in exchange for every old sleazeball in New York knowing what the inside of my asshole looks like? I'll pass.”

“Not every old sleazeball. Diavolo is only interested in you.”

“Okay,” he shouted, standing up. Scarlet was impossible sometimes, tonight more than usual. “This conversation is going nowhere, you're pissing me the fuck off, and I'm going to bed.” He marched into his room and slammed the door shut behind him. Seconds later, he opened it. He walked to the shopping bags and reached for some overpriced edamame chips. He went back into his room and slammed the door shut again.