“Squalo?” Dino’s voice was hesitant as he glanced at the tall, silver haired boy at his side. The school hallways were crowded and he could barely be heard over the din of leaving students around them. Squalo merely scowled in response. Dino winced. He knew Squalo was already upset with him, but it wasn’t like Dino had meant to push him into the school chalk supply. Could Squalo really blame him for the detention they’d received? If Dino could have gone for him, he would have.
“What?” Squalo finally asked. Dino exhaled. At least Squalo wasn’t so mad at him that they weren’t on speaking terms anymore. He looked away and twiddled with his fingers.
“Er, I was just wondering…”
“What, what? Get on with it!”
“Ah, sorry! I was just wondering about Maria.”
Squalo rolled his eyes. “What about her?”
“She hasn’t been to class, has she? I haven’t seen her in weeks.”
“I just…wondered if you’d heard anything.”
“I have better things to be doing than keeping tabs on that brat!”
“Maria isn’t a brat!” Dino protested. Squalo didn’t bother arguing with him and Dino fell silent once more. After a few seconds, he spoke again. “Maybe she has a dancing recital.”
“Or something more…sinister.” At these words, a black spider the size of a toddler dropped in front of the door. Dino screamed and dived behind Squalo’s back. The pair of them wrestled for a few minutes until Squalo, finally fed up, let Dino stay.
“Voi! What’s your damn tutor doing here?!”
“Reborn?” Dino sighed with relief and allowed Squalo to shove him back in front. Then what Reborn had said registered in his mind. “Sinister? What happened? Is Maria okay?”
“Who knows?” Reborn bounced several times on the bungee cord connecting him to the ceiling. “But when people around you disappear, it’s your responsibility to find them.”
“Around me?” Dino pointed at his own face. “What does this have to do with me?”
“You’re the boss of the Cavallone family now. Your enemies will take anyone they can to hurt you.”
“I’m not a mafia boss!”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not!”
“Yes, you are.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Vooooi! Would you shut up?!”
“Listen to Squalo. Shut up, Dino.”
“I meant both of you!” Reborn ignored this and turned his attention back to Dino.
“Anyway, this absence you’ve noted…it doesn’t bode well.” He smirked as he noted the worried frown forming on Dino’s lips. “She might be kidnapped. Tortured. Brainwashed. Poisoned.”
“Ahh, stop!” Dino ran his hands agitatedly through his hair. “Stop!”
“Only you can save her.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Oh, that’s easy.” Reborn lifted one pudgy hand and gave his cord two sharp tugs. With no person operating the bungee cord to be seen, he began to inch back up the way he came. “Just go see her at home. And make sure to bring her this soup.”
The baby chunked a thermos at Dino’s head and disappeared. Dino scowled as he bent over to pick the object off the floor and shook his head. “He could have just said Maria was sick.” He looked behind himself back at Squalo. “Want to come see her with me? Maybe the three of us can watch a movie.”
“Are you kidding me? And have to be stuck there while you two make googly eyes at each other? I’ll pass on the nausea.”
“Don’t be like that. Maria is your friend, too.”
“Like hell she is!” Squalo took a step forward and wrenched the school door open. “You go see your girlfriend! Unlike you, I have a life!” He threw himself outside where he began to stomp angrily off the grounds.
“Well, fine then…” Dino stared after him for a moment. It wasn’t necessarily that he wanted Squalo to spend more time with him, but…he’d never been to Maria’s house here. He knew her parents lived in Spain so he wouldn’t have to worry about her. Maria’s sister, though, now there was a terrifying girl. And from what Dino could tell, she really wasn’t fond of him.
Well, maybe Antonia would let him see Maria if he took Reborn’s advice. At least if he went to Maria’s house he’d get out of practice with Reborn for a little while. His arms were still covered in wounds from the last “training exercise” Reborn gave him. Both of these ideas perked Dino up considerably and when he existed the school building at last, it was with a smile on his face. This mood carried him all the way to the bus stop, all the way through his trip, all the way until he found himself blinking up at the large ornate door with Maria’s address nailed next to it in the wall.
All of his confidence when out the window. Suddenly Dino was worried about what it would look like, him arriving unannounced at someone’s house. He didn’t know if they had servants or not. What if they thought he was there for some weird reason? But the thermos was still burning in his hand and Dino hated to think of what Reborn would do to him if he returned without doing as he was told. Probably something involving multiple angry bears.
Dino took a moment to steel himself, squeezing his eyes shut as tight as he could before he finally reached up his hand and pressed the doorbell. The resulting chime reached him outside. Time passed and no one came. Dino’s heart began to race. Was Maria really in danger because of him? He would never be able to forgive himself if that was the case. Or Reborn, since it was Reborn’s fault he was in this mafia mess to begin with.
“Hey. What’s up?”
“Eh?” He opened his eyes. The door was open now and a haughty looking young woman was leaning against the frame. Though her brown hair and brown eyes matched her sisters, there was just something about the slightly older girl that made Dino break out in a cold sweat. This was definitely Antonia.
“What, are you dense? I asked what you were doing here.”
“Actually you said…” He quailed as her eyes narrowed and her slim fingers twitched toward the edge of the door. “Sorry, sorry! I just…I wanted to see…I brought some soup for Maria!” He thrust the thermos toward her to prove it. Frowning, she pushed it away and lifted a single eyebrow.
“What, you think we can’t make our own soup?”
“No! I just…Maria! And…”
She looked him and up down. Dino felt that his heart might burst through his chest. Antonia was going to slam the door in his face, he just knew it. “Well, at least you didn’t bring that shark idiot with you. I wouldn’t let you in otherwise.”
Antonia shook her head and stepped aside smirking. “I’m just giving you a hard time, kid. Come on in.”
“Er…thanks.” Dino did as she asked and stared around the house while she shut the door. It wasn’t a mansion or anything, but it was quite nice for two girls living in their own in Italy. Then again, he reminded himself, they were in the mafia, just like him. He frantically messed up his hair at this thought. No! He was not in the mafia. He just went to school with everyone else that was.
“So what’s up with you and Maria?”
Dino looked up. Antonia had returned. He could feel himself blushing all the way to his hairline. “N-Nothing!” He stammered. “She just hasn’t been to school and then my tutor said she was probably being tortured, only then he just gave me some soup so I thought she was sick but either way I thought I should probably make sure and…” He trailed off, feeling even worse for babbling. Antonia stared at him and then chuckled.
“You’re cute.” She reached out and mussed up his hair. “Don’t worry, she’s just has bronchitis. She’ll be back to school soon. If you want to see her, just take those stairs and it’s the first door on your left.”
“You’re not gonna…not let me see her?”
Antonia frowned. “Why would I do that? You’re one of her friends, right?”
“Then she’ll be happy to see you. Hurry up, though, before I change my mind.”
“Yes ma’am!” He didn’t wait to see her laughing as she wandered back into the kitchen. As soon as she finished her sentence, he was running up the stairs. As nervous as Antonia made him, the excitement of seeing Maria again after so many days and, hopefully, seeing for himself she was okay seemed to negate that. By the time he found the correct door he was panting. He rapped on the door and a raspy voice answered him:
“Antonia, I’m fine. Please quit worrying about me so much.” Taking this to mean that she was at least conscious for his visit, Dino opened the door. Maria continued. “You’ve got those people from the Vongola coming to see you soon. Focus on that, okay? I could never forgive myself if–”
“Um, actually, it’s me. Er, Dino, that is.”
“…Dino?” Maria sounded confused. Dino half-expected her to add ‘Dino who?’ but thankfully she didn’t. “What are you doing here?”
Dino moved closer through the room. It was dark, the one window in the wall covered by a heavy curtain. It was rather like walking into a cave. There must have been six humidifiers placed in various places about the room. He felt moist just being there. “I…brought you soup.” He winced. That sounded lame even to him.
His eyes finally adjusted to the dark, Dino could see a thin figure as it rose from the twisted mountain of sheets on the bed. With that as a sort of focal point, he made his way to bed. A vacant chair already lay in wait–from the sound of it, Antonia’s. He paused for a moment, then decided she probably wouldn’t him too much for sitting in it. “Soup? Seriously?”
“You don’t have to eat it! I just wanted to see you and Reborn insisted.”
“If Reborn insisted, I probably don’t want it.”
Dino laughed quietly. “True. Then again, he might shoot me for not forcing it down your throat.”
“No, no, no!” Dino practically shot out of his chair trying to calm her down. Even in the shadowy room, he caught her horrified expression. “I mean, he might. But don’t worry about it! You’re the sick person.”
“But he shouldn’t shoot you for my choice!”
“Well, he is completely insane…” This only made her look more upset. “Ah! I’m only making things worse! I’m so sorry, Maria! Please, please calm down.”
She inhaled and settled back onto her pillow. “Okay. Calming down. But if he does shoot you, I’ll get Antonia to return the favor.”
“Would she do that?”
“For me? Definitely.”
“She seems to like you a lot. Your sister, I mean.”
“Antonia’s great.” She cracked a smile and Dino returned the favor. It was good to see that, even if she was really sick, Maria was still herself. “She’s been so worried about me, though. I swear, she hasn’t slept at all since I came down with this.”
“It looked like she was doing all right to me.”
“She always does!” Dino flinched backward at the sudden fierce note in Maria’s voice. “I wish she’d give it a rest. She applied to the Vongola, you know, and if she’s too tired when they show up, she won’t perform well. If she doesn’t get in, it will be all my fault!”
“It’s not your fault you got sick.” Suddenly he realized he was still holding Reborn’s stupid thermos. He placed it on the corner of her desk and gave her a sheepish smile.
“It’s my fault I haven’t got better yet.”
“That’s not true either! And it’s not your fault Antonia’s taking care of you. She just loves you.”
“It’s okay. God, I must look so ungrateful. Complaining about someone looking after me.”
“You don’t!” Dino hastened to assure her. “I just…I want you to feel better, okay? I miss you. Squalo does, too.”
This made her snort. “That’s a lie, Dino.”
“Okay, maybe. But I miss you lots. Really.”
“You’re the best, Dino.”
“N-No, I’m not! Really! I mean, Reborn’s always getting on to me for my grades and clumsiness and everything.”
“I meant as a friend. You’re great.”
“Oh.” He fidgeted. “Thanks.”
Maria yawned. “Um, Dino? I’m really sorry, but I think I’m going to go back to sleep. Is that okay?”
“Of course! I’m sorry for bothering you!”
“You didn’t. I’m sorry you had to come all the way out here only for you to kick me out…”
“It’s fine. Reborn’s probably waiting for me anyway.” He stood up and glanced at the thermos. “Can I leave that here? Maybe he’ll think you ate it.”
“Sure. And I’ll look into eating it when I wake up. Antonia’s just pumped me full of soup herself, so I’m not up for food at the moment.”
“Right. Thanks, Maria.” He paused. Dino felt that he probably should say something else, but he couldn’t think of what it was. He just wanted Maria back at school.
“Eh?” Their eyes met and for a moment, neither of them moved. Then Maria grabbed his tie and tugged his face level with hers. Dino gulped. “Maria?”
She said nothing. Instead, she closed her eyes and pressed her lips against his cheeks. As soon as this was done, she dropped his tie and flipped over so that her back was facing him. “Thanks.” Maria mumbled. “For coming to see me.”
Slowly, Dino straightened. His face felt redder than it had in his entire life–which, being trained by Reborn, was really something. Still, he smiled at the lump of covers.
“Get well soon.”