All characters © Amano Akira


A Lesson in Respect

"What did you call me?" Squalo grabbed the boy's collar with his right hand, raising the left in a tight-knuckled fist. He would cut the latter off in later years, but at this point in Squalo's life the digits were attached to a healthy human hand that was no less dangerous than an artificial one.

"Nothing," the boy sniggered, who was obviously unacquainted with Squalo's temper. "I just said to move out of the way… whitey."

BAM.

Before the other boy knew what had hit him, he was limping toward the dispensary with his cronies supporting him and dislodged teeth in his hand. Squalo sniffed and let out a satisfied "voi," in their wake, carrying on with his autumn day.

This rigmarole continued every week or so—same situation, different people. Squalo knew that albinism wasn't uncommon in the world, but it was still a touchy subject for him. Slapping on disgusting globs of sunscreen every day before he went out, wearing thick contacts to aid his poor vision, seeming utterly colorless compared to the vibrant pigments of others around…it annoyed him. And he would undoubtedly show anyone that questioned this salient feature of his that it made him none the less weak…be it a student or a teacher.

It was a month or so later that Squalo, though he would never admit it aloud, had bitten off more than he could chew. He really shouldn't have taken umbrage at being called "marshmallow," but Squalo wouldn't have been Squalo if he'd reacted any other way. Unfortunately the exclaimer of that insult was one of the toughest kids in the school. A teenage Squalo didn't stand a chance against his senpai, though he stood his ground as the boy's shadow fell over him apprehensively. They both paused, however, at the sound of a new voice.

"Aren't you embarrassed to be picking on lowerclassmen?"

Squalo whipped his head around, nostrils flaring like predator in a forest of thieves. The newcomer merely smiled at his expression and turned to face their senpai.

"I can be your opponent, if you want," he told the other boy, shrugging. The upperclassman blanched, recognition finally stealing over his features.

"You're the Bucking Horse Dino, aren't you?" he asked, looking a little uncertain. Squalo's eyes widened. Even someone as ignorant as him had heard the latest rumors about their school's 'new prodigy,' apparently.

Dino laughed. "That's right," he replied as he drew something out of his back pocket that looked suspiciously like a leather reign.

"Now," his light brown eyes flashed. "Shall I whip you?"

The upperclassman, after a moment's deliberation, turned on his heels and left. Beating up the younger students wasn't worth a sore hide.

Dino ran a hand through his thick, sandy hair, tucking away the whip. "Aaaah~" he sighed, more to himself than to Squalo. "I never like confronting guys like those. But I suppose Reborn'll be proud of me."

He turned to face his company. "Are you alright?"

That seemed to snap Squalo out of his daze. "Voooiiii, I didn't need your fucking help, horse-ass," he hissed. "Mind your own business."

Looking wounded, Dino replied, "That's not a nice way to talk to someone who was looking out for you, you know. What's your name?"

You wouldn't have known it from looking at him, but Squalo's pride had taken a serious blow from Dino. Having someone valiantly jump to his rescue had made him look weak. He didn't like it one bit.

"Superbi Squalo," Squalo found himself saying, despite his annoyance. "I'm only telling you because I've heard you're strong. You should know the name of the man that'll kick your ass one day."

"Fine, fine. You already know mine, therefore I don't need to bother telling you." Dino turned and waved. "We're in the same class right? So I'll see you around!"

"Voooiiii, I'll fight you soon, Bucking Horse!"

Squalo left as well, thankfully at that moment or he would have witnessed Dino tripping over a crack in the sidewalk and landing flat on his face a few minutes later. That would have spoiled his first impression of the guy big time.


A year later...

"VOOIIIIIII!" Squalo banged open the door to the boy's dormitory with a lofty grin on his face. He took pride in finishing his spring exams before anyone else, and by god he was going to gloat about it tonight. Just because he acted on impulse most—ahem, all of the time did not mean he was unintelligent; part of training to be a mafioso meant using your brain as well.

He clomped upstairs with leather boots, spirits high. For once, he had the dorm all to himself. No noisy people and no one to invade his space—just a cool lounge and a free television, which was a rare opportunity that Squalo had every intention of exploiting.

Eager to get out of his school uniform, he opened the door to his area of the dormitory and walked through the lounge to where his room lay. But something caught his eye.

A strip of gauze lay on the floor like a shriveled snake. It was very bloody.

Squalo frowned. There were wet, red footprints leading down the hall in a zigzag path to the public lavatory on the floor. However, there was something…wrong about those footprints, Squalo observed. The left foot didn't seem to fall into the place it should, if he had to describe the prints in words. The sound of running water—sink water, not a shower—could be heard, which effaced all of Squalo's hopes for privacy. He made his way to the bathroom, slightly curious despite himself. And, without bothering to knock, he swung the door open.

"Ah? Bucking Horse?" His eyes widened at the spectacle before him. "Vooiiiii, What the hell did you do?"

Dino barely acknowledged Squalo's entrance. He lay propped on the sink, panting, with a thin sheen of sweat blanketing his face in a shiny veil. Once Squalo's eyes got past all of the blood, he saw that Dino's leg was jutting out at a rather odd angle and that his body was ubiquitous with lacerations. The water in the sink was still running faintly, which implied that he had been trying to clean up before anybody could come in.

"…Fell down stairs," Dino replied with his eyes shut, seemingly in too much physical pain to formulate complete sentences. "Crashed into glass biscotti jar…landed… on… Littorio coffee table…"

Squalo whistled. "Jesus-fuck." Those stairs were two goddamn flights long. He couldn't help but stare at that leg, that leg twisted at an angle which no normal leg should ever be in. By now Dino's complexion was even paler than his, and that was saying something.

"Oi, don't pass out on me, Bucking Horse," Squalo snapped. "No way I'm carrying you down to the dispensary." Great, just great. There went his peaceful afternoon, right down the drain.

Dino let out something that may have been a laugh, but that sounded more like a gasp of pain. "How will I get there then?" he managed, through bloodless lips.

Squalo deliberated for a good minute. Anyone who he could have called would still be taking their exams. He could leave the frigging Cavallone here until someone else found him, but then there would be even more blood for him to clean up.

"Vooiiiiiii…" he grumbled, running a hand through his short white hair exasperatedly. After walking over to the nearest cabinet and opening the door, he retrieved a roll of gauze tape and two hand towels.

"Now I'm only doing this once, Bucking Horse," Squalo stated, unraveling a piece of tape. "So sit still and try not to cry like a little girl." Dino gave a feeble nod.

And he put Dino's leg in a splint. Although only a teenager, Squalo knew a great deal about injury, having sustained (and inflicted) many himself. Dino lived up to his promise and remained silent, even when Squalo set the bone. Cords stood out on his neck and he gripped the porcelain sink top hard enough to crack it (which he actually did, discovered upon later observation), but not a sound escaped his lips. Squalo saw that during the setting, Dino hat bitten his bottom lip so hard that he had torn it wide open; blood dribbled freely down his chin.

It was a wonder that the Cavallone still remained conscious when it was all said and done. He looked blearily down at his leg, which was in its right place again and tightly splinted between two folded towels.

Squalo threw another one of these towels at him, remarking, "I didn't do this out of fucking compassion, Bucking Horse. I did it because you still have to fight me." He gestured to the blood smeared along the lavatory tilework. "Now wash all that shit off before I'm sick. Voooii."

"I see," Dino smiled lazily, picked up the towel, and with the last of his consciousness slowly began to scrub red into white.


?? years later...

Even on mornings when it wasn't raining, Dino's leg still managed to throb with a phantom ache. It wasn't helping much that he had to sit in this uncomfortable hospital chair, and that the patient in question was not recovering as fast as he would've liked him to.

After all these years, it was finally time to return the favor.

"How is he, Romario?"

"There's been no change. However, there's nothing more we can do…"

Dino had slept poorly the past few days, and it was not doing much to improve his mood. "I know!" he snapped, truncating his right-hand man brashly. Rubbing the darkened skin under his eyes and frowning, he continued, "We'll have to get him ready by noon."

At that moment someone entered the room, and Dino instinctively jumped up to shield the hospital bed from view—

—but it was only Tsuna.

When Dino returned to the room after reassuring the Vongola kids that Kyouya would definitely win against the Varia, he saw that the patient had woken up. And, although he now planned to interrogate him thoroughly, the Cavallone couldn't help but feel a little splinter of relief.

"Are you ready to talk now?" he asked, casting his shadow over the white bed as the sun rose outside. "Can you?"

The bandaged figure under the covers moved his lips soundlessly. Eyes, fire burning beneath the filmy blue, started up at him defiantly. Dino leaned over and exhaled.

"I just saved your life, you know. The least you could do for an old friend is say something."

Those lips were starting to form words, and a few scratchy sounds emitted from the figure's throat.

"What was that?" Dino brought his head closer. He realized that when he'd first spoken, he had unconsciously switched to Italian.

And Superbia Squalo, wrapped in bandages from head to toe, with a croaky, dusty voice, repeated his statement.

"Asshole."