Title: The Quick Fix

Series: Katekyo Hitman Reborn! (written July 2008)

Characters: Shamal & Gokudera

Summary: Shamal has syphilis.

Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me. This is the last one, I swear!


The Quick Fix

-x-

Shamal has syphilis.

He stumbles upon this discovery while taking a whizz after lunch. Calmly, he finishes his business, thinking, Maybe attending the Mile High Club orientation was a bad idea after all.

This done, he tucks the afflicted appendage back into his trousers, shelves his initial plan for the afternoon—bypassing the school's firewall to search for Internet porn—and sets about perusing his private collection for a suitably counteractive illness.

Actually, it turns out there is no disease that directly negates the effects of syphilis, but even this is no cause for alarm. Shamal, despite a penchant for unorthodoxy, has a passable understanding of modern toxicology; he keeps a functional if not particularly well-stocked pharmacy besides. This is not the Middle Ages and syphilis, while still not a suitable dinner party topic, is at least easily cleared up with a nice, hassle-free single injection of after-dinner benzathine penicillin.

To which he is allergic.

The alternative treatment option is doxycycline, which is not impossible to obtain but for the fact that Shamal is currently "between suppliers". This is a bane for all practitioners of controversial medicine, but Shamal feels he is not to blame—how was he supposed to know his former dealer would turn out to be the high-strung, territorial type? He never would have suggested that foursome with the Albanian twin contortionists on their second date otherwise.

He briefly considers finding a new dealer, but figures it would take too long. On average, the first lesion usually appears 3 weeks post-contact. Something must be done, lest he enjoys the advent of itchy sores and a perpetual burning sensation in his nether regions.

And that is how Trident Shamal, maverick doctor and assassin extraordinaire, finds himself at the mercy of the Namimori Sexual Health Clinic, sharing a waiting room with numerous shamefaced teenagers and their clearly disgruntled parents.

-x-

All in all, there is a sense of gross but appreciable irony in all of this.

Very few people are aware of the fact that it was precisely his allergy to penicillin—which he discovered at the age of five in a nasty incident involving a simple ear infection—that finally pushed Shamal into developing his subversive yet revolutionary technique of curing illnesses using others of opposing nature. There were other antibiotics available, but Shamal had always known that, coupled with his near-defunct immune system, it was only a matter of time before traditional medicine failed him. Necessity is the mother of invention; one could say that it was his various weaknesses that made Shamal into the person he is today. If one were feeling particularly generous, that is.

Shamal is nothing if not an opportunist, so he whiles away the time flirting with nurses and sending soulful, condolent gazes at all the blushing teenage girls in various states of unease scattered around the waiting area. Some of the revoltingly pimply boys try to horn in on this sympathy, only to receive steely glares for their trouble. His day is looking better already.

He is pocketing a slew of phone numbers—ostensibly scribbled on the safe sex pamphlets thoughtfully placed throughout the clinic—when his name is called, and he subsequently experiences a sensation that can only be described as "chills up his spine".

"Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in."

At this point, his day takes a distinct nose dive, because he's looking up into the twistedly amused face of a certain Asahara Kiyomi, catalogued in Shamal's internal database as Disastrous Fling No. 2162.

-x-

Dr. Asahara is a curvaceous, olive-skinned thirty-something Osaka transplant with exquisite almond eyes and a thick, rolling Kansai-ben accent that drives men crazy. Dr. Asahara also called Shamal a "cocksucking bastard piece of shit" this one time, right after he was caught sleeping with one of her interns ten days into their relationship and before she threw an entire tray of syringes at his head.

"Syphilis?" she asks, lifting an eyebrow in cold disdain—but her mouth is twitching so clearly she's enjoying this. "Are you quite, quite sure? Really, do you want a blood test to confirm this? Hard evidence?"

"Kiyomi, you wound me," Shamal says lightly, recalling that the last time they spoke she had threatened to kill him with a rectal bulb. "Even if you didn't know I was a medical genius when we first met, surely you must have picked it up from the first date we went on that started out with me diagnosing every other patron in the restaurant and ended with monkey sex in the staff restroom."

He smiles innocently as her mouth closes with an audible click.

"Well, I can't just give you doxycycline," Dr. Asahara snaps, scribbling on her prescription pad furiously. "We only prescribe oral amoxycillin here at the clinic as an alternative to penicillin. 3mg twice daily with 1mg of probenecid for 14 days."

"Two weeks?" Shamal almost chokes on his tongue; he's that close to a seizure. "Actually, I was hoping for something a little speedier. Something with immediate effect, for example."

"Modern medicine is not a game, Shamal," Asahara says loftily. "There's no such thing as a magical quick fix for your screw-ups."

At this point, Shamal debates inventing a cure for his penicillin allergy, or possibly just choking down the damn medicine while holding an EpiPen to his thigh and risking the systemic vasodilatation and bronchial edema that would inevitably follow.

He stems this flow of suicidal thoughts long enough to say, "I don't think you have any idea how much of a crimp this is going to put on my social—I mean, professional life."

It's hard to believe his life has come to a point where he has to capitulate to ponderous, outdated traditional medicine if he ever wants to have sex again. What an ethical dilemma.

"It's just syphilis, not commentary on your manhood or anything," Dr. Asahara says breezily, and adds in a dulcet tone, "Of course, this means that you will have to inform every person with whom you've had relations in the past two weeks of your condition. You know, just to be on the safe side."

"But that could take days!" Shamal protests honestly.

Asahara rolls her eyes. "Until then, please do refrain from causing a citywide pandemic." She finishes signing the prescription with a self-satisfied flourish. "You will also need to come in once a week for a routine check-up."

They both know this is never going to happen.

Shamal has poor impulse control, so he just can't help himself from saying, "Is this your way of trying to get me alone?"

Asahara doesn't say anything. Seeing her lips quirk up, equal parts disdain and amusement, he barrels on with, "Because you know, I wouldn't be at all averse to that," laying it on syrupy thick. "I think both us can benefit from a little… closure, don't you agree?"

Dr. Asahara uncrosses her long, shapely legs, sheer stockings rustling suggestively in the hospital air, and leans forward so that her nose almost grazes Shamal's and he can see the curly individual lashes framing her sooty eyes. "Tell you what," she whispers, rolling the hard syllables around in the back of her throat sexily. "Come back when your loins are no longer an itchy and syphilitic hotbed, and we'll see."

-x-

"And then he had the gall to say, 'That's one huge firecracker,' as if the Tenth has the time or patience--"

Day three of syphilis treatment: Shamal has a headache, and Gokudera Hayato is in his office. These two things are very likely correlated.

Namimori is in the throes of one of the hottest autumns recorded, and Shamal's mood is improved by neither the inept ceiling fan nor the presence of his former charge, who came ostensibly to inquire about an order of explosives and twenty minutes later is still showing no sign of leaving. Hayato is supposedly a taciturn bad boy generally found giving perfectly cute girls the gimlet eye—Shamal doesn't know why the kid's in his office, then, taking up breathing space and mouthing off on various recurring topics ranging from The Dumb Cow to That Baseball Nut to Woes, The Tenth Doesn't Love Me Enough.

Shamal is not a therapist, and resents being lumped in with that tribe of new age, pseudoscience-spouting, Freud-worshipping infidels. Besides, it's not like it takes a shrink to see that all of Gokudera's grievances, real or imagined, can be resolved if he'd just stop acting like he's totally whipped.

He's right in the middle of glazing over in the most inconspicuous way, watching the fan blades slicing hot air lethargically, when he notices that the room has gone silent, and looks up to see Gokudera holding a small plastic bottle up to the light, staring at it with curious wonderment.

Shamal's syph-medication.

Shamal doesn't think, Crap, caught. He's survived over three decades of bad health, jealous lovers, being in the mafia, jealous lovers who were in the mafia, and turning down the Varia to their faces—not to mention that time the corner store ran out of his favorite brand of baguette and refused to restock for one entire month. He is, to put a finer point on it, kind of a hardass, and will not be found thinking, Crap, caught.

For these reasons, he's 100% prepared to deal with Gokudera and his smirking glee and his falsely sympathetic, "I didn't know you were such a big hack that even common infections were getting to you, old man," the snide little punk.

"I didn't know middle school students were so intimately acquainted with the concept of syphilis," Shamal says in concern. "Is there something you're not telling me? Does Tsuna know about this?"

Gokudera's face goes from smug to mutinous in one second flat. "Screw you," he snaps, stomping for the door as two spots of red materialize on his cheeks. "You have syphilis. I'm going to tell everyone."

He does.

The announcement is met with various mixtures of non-surprise, indifference, and idle curiosity. Yamamoto says, "Really? Haha, good for him!" and goes back to polishing his bat. Tsuna wonders if syphilis can be passed on via casual contact—unfortunately for him, he wonders this out loud, at the very moment that Kyoko-chan happens to be passing by, which sends him into mortified catatonia and makes her friend Hana laugh and laugh and laugh.

Halfway through the day, Bianchi drops by with a cake which she claims to have baked out of sympathy for his condition. Shamal switches it with one of the home-ec projects; he enjoys chocolate gateaux while half the first year students end up in his infirmary with acute food poisoning.

Reborn sends him a text message. It says, Syphilis? How Victorian.

By the last period, Shamal is fairly sure that Gokudera must be getting pretty frustrated with his utter lack of results.

That's when he gets hauled up in front of the school ethics committee for a round of emergency conduct evaluation.

-x-

That's the problem with being employed by the Japanese board of education: everyone and their grandma have a timeshare in your personal business.

The only thing he's grateful for is the look of kneejerk horror exchanged among at least three female faculty members when the news of Shamal's condition is broken to the room at large. He spends the length of the meeting being mostly bored, while dark, cryptic allusions to the possible influence this development might have on the student body are thrown about, how this might affect the school's public image and rates of enrollment. Privately, Shamal feels that if students of the school are randomly popping up with syphilis, they clearly have a bigger problem at hand than his seriously questionable ethics.

Luckily, by the next day, life is back on Shamal's side. It's not even noon when a group of Triad-sponsored martial artists show up at the school to challenge the young members of the Vongola family to a death match. Very little death actually occurs, though one of the challengers does manage to land a poisoned dart in Tsuna's side before he is neatly dispatched with the rest of his incompetent cohorts.

His door is kicked in at exactly 3 pm. "You have to save the Tenth," Gokudera shouts, bursting into Shamal's office dragging his beloved boss by the arm. Momentarily, Yamamoto wanders in after them, hands in his pockets.

"It's okay, Gokudera-kun," Tsuna manages feebly, looking like a trapped animal. "I'm really, really fine."

He really, really isn't. Clammy skin, jaundiced eyes, shallow breaths—it is clear that the poison is slowly working its way through his system. Without the proper treatment, he'll be dead before the day is out.

Sighing, Shamal puts down the erotic novel he is reading and regards his visitors with vivid apathy. "Do you have a learning disability?" he asks. "I don't treat men, how many times do I have to tell you that?"

"But he would die in horrific pain otherwise," Gokudera protests, and Tsuna, already quite green, gains a color reminiscent of spring radish.

"I fail to see how this concerns me," Shamal says, staring at the ceiling. He purses his lips and muses, "Of course, I am not unreasonable. If you wish to make some sort of bargain, I might not be unwilling to avail my services to your need."

Sure, there are likely conflicts of interest involved in using the next Vongola boss's life as leverage to settle a personal vendetta, but he's certain Reborn would understand—like Shamal, Reborn has always grasped the essential nature of extortion.

Tsuna compounds this point by passing out, hitting the floor with a convenient thud. "Oh look," Shamal points out cheerfully, "I think his kidneys just gave out."

Gokudera turns an unattractive shade of grey not unlike that of the ashen volcano victims found at the Pompeii excavation site, while beside him, Yamamoto is attempting to revive Tsuna by fanning his face with Shamal's abandoned smut anthology.

"I'll do whatever you want," Gokudera says at last, scraping the words out of his throat. "Just save the boss, and I'll do whatever you want." The pleading note in his voice is even almost touching.

"Anything?" Shamal echoes, feigning surprise. "Including, say, coming to my house tomorrow and being my personal assistant in these times of ill health and poor fortune?"

"What?" Gokudera balks. "I'm not going to be your nurse, bastard!"

"Suit yourself," Shamal replies easily. "I'm sure Yamamoto-kun wouldn't mind sacrificing his Saturday to save his boss's life, isn't that right, Yamamoto-kun?"

"What's that?" Yamamoto says, looking up from Tsuna's unconscious face. "Yeah, sure. I have baseball practice tomorrow morning, but after that I could--"

"No!" Gokudera chokes out. "I'll do it!" He glares at Yamamoto, and goes on, "I'll come over tomorrow and—be your nurse."

"Will you bring your own uniform too?" Shamal asks facetiously, and Gokudera makes a bitchy face. "Eleven o'clock, and don't be late."

"Fine, whatever, now cure the Tenth already."

"When are you going to start paying attention?" Shamal asks tiredly. "I already did it while you were mentally picking out a stethoscope to go with your miniskirt."

Both Gokudera and Yamamoto startle and look down in surprise, at the same time that Tsuna gasps and shudders violently into consciousness. Idly, Shamal holds out his forefinger for Pamela to land on, exchanging with the mosquito a deeply exasperated eye-roll.

"Half the antidote now to tide him over for the week," he says, "and the other half after you've upheld your end of the deal. Now get out of my office—the amount of testosterone in this room is reaching toxic levels. I can feel my eyes watering."

Gokudera throws him one last dirty look, and carefully helps Tsuna out into the hall, wrapping his arm around his boss's waist delicately in a protective and highly homoerotic embrace. Shamal is just about to resume his reading when he remembers there's still one other person in the room.

"Do I have something on my face, Yamamoto-kun?" Shamal asks, raising a questioning eyebrow.

"Hahaha, of course not, Dr. Shamal," Yamamoto says, jumping quickly to his feet. "I was just leaving."

He scuttles out of the office. "Smart of you," Shamal mutters with a smile, fingering his bookmark.

-x-

The next morning, Shamal has just finished trimming his stubble into a state of appropriate ruggedness when he hears his front door banging open. A moment later, a distinctly unpleasant smell pervades the atmosphere.

"There's no smoking in the house," he says, stepping out of his bathroom. Gokudera scowls when the cigarette is snatched from his mouth and shoved into the base of a conveniently-placed potted plant.

"My house, my rules," Shamal says easily. "Second hand smoke is very harmful, don't you know?"

"Enlighten me," Gokudera says, completely deadpan.

Shamal clucks at him. "Smoking stains your teeth and fingernails, and gives you premature wrinkles. That's not sexy, ladies don't go for that. In all the time you've known me, how many times have you seen me light up? That's how I maintain my image as an international man of mystery."

Gokudera snorts. "More like international man of crotch rot."

Shamal shakes his head. "Your cheap shots aren't helping Tsuna get better any quicker, you know?"

"Well, what the hell do you want me to do?" Gokudera says testily. "You don't exactly look like you're about to keel over any minute. Unfortunately."

"That's alright," Shamal says leniently. "You forgot the uniform anyway. Instead, you can clean up around here a little." Gokudera's mouth goes a little slack as he takes in the slovenliness of his surroundings."After that, you can make me brunch! Butter both sides of the toasts, and remember, I like my bacon crispy—not burnt."

"And what are you going to do?"

"I'll be in my study," Shamal says simply, walking away. "I have work to do."

In actuality, he's chatting up women on the Internet while watching House, M.D. in the background. Shamal has the first three seasons on a pirated DVD box set bought from a local bootlegger, and he's going to purchase the fourth as soon as it becomes available. Sure, some of the jokes are entirely too American, and the medicine is iffy even for him, but Shamal feels a strange, inexplicable kinship with the titular character—plus, Dr. Cuddy is seriously hot, and her cleavage gets more screen time than half the cast combined which totally doesn't hurt.

Sometimes, he even watches the badly-dubbed Italian version, just to enhance the entertainment value.

Two episodes into the first disc, he's struck up a promising conversation with a very nice woman he met on MSN named Dirrrtydancer911. So far, she hasn't succumbed to any of his casually charming requests for a picture/boob-shot, but has already mentioned her chest—cup size D—twice and made three separate references to various local dance clubs; he feels he has a good thing going here, provided she doesn't turn out to be some psychopathic basement-dwelling serial killer with a cattle prod.

He takes a break and ventures out into the hallway, lured by the smell of food. As he trails through the living room, Shamal notes with dismay that everything seems to be in a worse state than when he left it—like someone at some point made a serious effort to clean but just kept fucking up halfway through.

Then he's in the kitchen, where Gokudera is fighting a losing war with the stove. He has his hair up, and through the rising smoke can be seen stabbing a wooden spoon violently into a frying pan. Carefully, Shamal peers over his shoulder—just as expected, the bacon has curled into blackened crisps.

"Sometimes, it truly blows the mind how you're just completely bad at everything," Shamal comments sadly.

Gokudera jumps, and spins around wildly. Even his detection skills are subpar. "What do you want?"

"It's time for my medication, Hayato," Shamal says, putting the bottle down on the counter.

"What, you want me to spoon-feed it to you?"

"That's ridiculous," Shamal scoffs. "I want you to grind the medicine into my food." He opens a cabinet. "See? There's even a mortar and pestle kit in here. Easy as pie."

Gokudera scowls. "Easy as you," he shoots back, which is at least accurate if not particularly witty or original. "Why'd you have to be such a goddamn nuisance?"

"I am morally opposed to ingesting oral medicines," Shamal justifies. "They're all so deeply unpleasant."

"And being punctured repeatedly by gigantic mosquitoes is somehow a wonderful experience?"

"Shhhh!" Shamal covers his breast pocket protectively. "The girls can hear you! Stop trying to give them a body image complex."

Gokudera does not appear apologetic, and instead does something that looks suspiciously like rolling his eyes. He reaches for the pill bottle.

"No, wait," Shamal calls out, grabbing his wrist. "Not like this."

Gokudera stares at him like he's crazy. The metal spikes on his wristband dig into Shamal's palm.

"Seriously, if you serve me looking like that, I might lose my appetite," Shamal says, frowning. "Hold on for a minute, I have the perfect solution."

He dashes back into his bedroom, and returns with an outfit still wrapped in its department store plastic cover. Gokudera's eyes threaten to pop out of his skull.

"Authentic French maid wear," Shamal says proudly, showing off the black satin skirt and the white ruffled apron. "I got it half off at a sample sale. There's even a little feather duster that goes with it."

Gokudera's response is a strangled noise. He might be having an aneurysm.

"If you smile and don't say a word, it will almost seem like a real girl is taking care of me," Shamal goes on seriously. "Your hair is in a ponytail, and you might just be delicate and fresh-faced enough for it to work."

Gokudera narrows his eyes.

Grabbing the pill bottle off the counter, he pivots around and disappears into the bathroom, slamming the door loudly behind him. Moments later, Shamal hears the sound of running water.

-x-

"What do you mean your dog flushed your medication down the toilet?" questions Dr. Asahara, wrinkling her lovely brows in disbelief.

"More of a puppy, really," Shamal prevaricates, pasting on his most winsome smile. It feels oddly strained against his teeth. "He's very troublesome, and not even housetrained yet, but you know how I love animals!" He pauses, and adds in an undertone, "Even the stupid ones."

"Oh I don't know," Dr. Asahara says with a smirk. "He sounds very smart to me."

"So I'm thinking of drowning him," Shamal cuts in. It's rare that he's found snapping at a woman; this must be the face of desperation. "Look, I've told you what happened, so can I please get a prescription for the replacement medicine now?"

Dr. Asahara's dark eyes flash momentarily. It's terribly attractive, but at the same time, extremely disturbing. "Aren't you forgetting something?" she asks, smiling.

"Am I?"

Moments later, he's in scrubs and flat on his back in an incredibly humiliating position, legs propped up and going slightly numb from the steely cold stirrups. In front of him, Dr. Asahara is pulling on a surgical mask with worrying enthusiasm.

"I'm usually not one to turn down a bondage scenario, but is this really necessary?" Shamal croaks.

"It's just a routine check-up," she says silkily, snapping on a pair of latex gloves and brandishing an ominous tube of clear lubricant. "Surely that doesn't faze you, doctor."

Five minutes later, slimy and cold in places unmentionable, Shamal is starting to question Dr. Asahara's credibility as a general practitioner. He is no stranger to unorthodox methods, both in the examining room and elsewhere, but even he's fairly certain an in-depth anal exam is in no way whatsoever not a million years routine STD follow-up procedure.

"Now, I want you to be mentally prepared," Dr. Asahara is saying. "This procedure is highly invasive."

"You know," he begins, striving to keep the panic out of his voice and failing miserably, "in my various fantasies where you strap me down to your examining table and have your way with me, there isn't usually so much KY jelly involved." He pauses to consider this statement. "Well, not like this, anyway."

"Oh, you have no idea," Asahara purrs. Her eyes flash again over the top of her mask, and in their dark depths, Shamal thinks with unbridled horror, he sees Dante's seven circles of hell—or Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction.

He staggers out of the clinic half an hour later, having lost maybe ten years on his life and the bulk of his debatable dignity—and feeling like BDSM has been ruined for him forever, which is really the tragic part. Very carefully, he begins the long march home, making plans to drown the smart but belligerent puppy in his bathtub at his earliest convenience.

-x-

"I hope you know," Shamal begins, in a grave voice most befitting a good friend's funeral wake, "that your insubordination back there almost cost the Vongola Tenth his tender young life."

In response, Gokudera just makes a faint, hamstrung noise in his throat—but Shamal can totally see the traces of panic building behind his pale irises. Is it appropriate to call something 'criminally easy' if everyone involved is already kind of a criminal?

"But I believe in mercy, so I will give you a second chance." With that, he drops a gigantic leather-bound book onto the table in front of Gokudera, where it lands with a nice, resounding thump.

"What the hell is this?" Gokudera boggles, mystified.

"My little black book," Shamal says brightly, and before Gokudera could start asking idiotic questions like why the book is neither little nor black, he barrels on, "My doctor told me I needed to inform all my recent sexual partners of my condition, but seeing as I've been too busy to get around to it, I'm delegating it to my cute assistant instead."

Gokudera appears to be mouthing the words 'Oh my God, what?' but no sound comes out.

"Here, start with this one," Shamal points out excitedly. "My favorite. 6333-3339. Sixty-nine with a lot of ass."

"You're out of your fucking mind!" Gokudera yells, apparently filled with the sudden desire to throw the book at Shamal's head.

"You could be right." Shamal narrows his eyes. "That antidote formula… I can sense it… slipping from my mind…"

Fifty-three wonderful minutes later, Gokudera has been yelled at, hung up on, and generally abused in the verbal way for a summary of seven times—and he still hasn't made it through the first of the pages Shamal has outlined for his benefit. For his part, Shamal is watching Human Error, which is his favorite episode of House to date. Something in the fellows' abandonment of House strikes a chord in him—not that Shamal actually knows what empty nest syndrome feels like from experience or anything.

"Well, isn't this nice?" he asks, throwing his feet up on the coffee table to facilitate a comfortable recline. He folds his arms behind his head. "Just like the good old days."

"This is nothing like the old days," Gokudera spits vehemently. "In the old days, you used to parade me around in public to pick up women."

"Caught on to that, haven't you?" Shamal says, with some pity. "What tipped you off? Was it the yellow polka-dotted bowtie I used to have you wear, or the fact that I made you recite the words, 'Dr. Shamal owns five Ferraris and several beachside properties in the Riviera,' each time a pretty lady walked by?"

"Try the time you took me to the park for ice cream and then just left me there overnight," Gokudera says sulkily. "I had to sleep under a bridge."

Shamal shrugs casually. "I must have remembered a date. As I recalled, you made it home just fine."

"It was not fine," Gokudera asserts. "It was my birthday."

"Oh," Shamal says shortly. Damn.

Hayato has fallen silent, fingers slackened around the telephone receiver, which beeps indistinctly. His face is caught in one of those rare instances where his emotions are writ large for all to see, and Shamal realizes immediately why instances like these are rare, because they're really awful to watch.

For lack of anything else to focus on, they both find themselves staring nonspecifically at the television.

"That's an old season," Gokudera says, after a moment's silence filled only with TV-noise.

Shamal shrugs. "It's a shame, but the new one hasn't come out in Japan yet." He doesn't ask how Gokudera happened to come by this knowledge—the thought of Hayato watching House is too befuddling even for a mind as brilliant as his.

"Why don't you just watch the episodes online?"

"Cuddy's breasts just aren't the same without the plasma screen," Shamal explains. He clears his throat, and adds, "Anyway, I don't remember asking you to come over and review my TV-viewing habits. Go on, those numbers won't call themselves."

Gokudera snorts, and starts dialing a new number. Momentarily, he says, "Uh, hello, is this Takumori-san's residence…"

Something about that name makes Shamal uneasy, but he can't remember why. He tries to focus on the TV, but when he tunes back in several minutes later, Gokudera is still on the same call, and even more alarmingly, his end of the conversation is not only pleasant but filled with sentences like:

"Shamal is a total shithead, you're completely right. In fact, syphilis is too good for him. He should get infected with something that makes stuff fall off."

"Takumori-sa—what's that? Call you Sonoko? Okay, Sonoko-san…"

"Why, yes, Sonoko-san, I would love to get a coffee with you sometime."

Shamal doesn't blow a gasket hearing this, but it's very hard.

"What's that you just asked? What am I wearing—"

At this point, Shamal throws himself over the back of his sofa in a feat of acrobatics admirable for someone who despises physical exertion as much as he does. He snatches the phone out of Gokudera's hand and slams it down with a satisfying bang.

"What the hell was that for?" Gokudera boggles.

"I just did you a favor," Shamal says sagely. "Takumori Sonoko is a total cougar, always gunning for chicken meat. That's why things never worked out between us."

There is a moment in which he is torn between hilarity and sympathy, watching the naked realization dawn slowly on Hayato's horrified face, even as the phrase 'chicken meat' is likely parsing in his mind.

"Don't be embarrassed," Shamal says soothingly. "There's still much you have to learn about the fairer sex. It's one of the benefits of being in my company. Pretty soon, you'll completely forget that these sad, pathetic days of youth ever existed."

Gokudera's face twists in anger, colored like a maraschino cherry. "And what are you doing with your life that's so great?" he grinds out, furious. "You're nothing but a useless waste of space yourself."

Suddenly, his joke doesn't seem as funny anymore.

"You can go," Shamal says. His voice surprises him with iciness.

"What?" Gokudera asks, evidently thrown. "But I'm not done making phone calls. The Tenth's antidote—"

"You can pick up the last of it Friday night," says Shamal. He turns his gaze back to the television—away from Hayato's confused expression. "Now get out of my house."

"Shamal--" Gokudera begins, and is cut off by the sound of the TV volume being turned up to the max. After a moment, Shamal hears his front door close.

He tries to become immersed in his show, but for some reason fake medical mysteries seem to have lost their appeal. On the screen, Cameron is making a pretty but morally outraged face at yet another of House's sexist-cum-misanthropic comments, and as Shamal studies the arch of Jennifer Morrison's fine, fine eyebrow, he cannot seem to shake the notion that it is somehow judging him.

-x-

They avoid each other for the rest of the week, which is not only easy but just fine with him.

-x-

On Friday, more than a week closer to mental breakdown by sexual frustration, a bright spot appears on the bleak unbroken gray of his horizon, in the form of a rivaling assassin group putting a hit out on him.

Shamal believes in being prepared for every situation, temporary outbreaks of embarrassing social diseases notwithstanding. It pleases his sense of occasion. He does his homework, and learns that the assassin his enemies have sent after him has an acute and deadly allergy to peanut. When the hitman shows up in his living room later that evening, Shamal politely requests to have one final drink. While he's pouring it, Angela, Sandra, and Rita are busy at work, pumping into the assassin's bloodstream a series of tiny yet lethal doses of the highest quality low-calorie peanut oil you can afford on a public school salary.

While the man is dying of anaphylactic shock on his Afghan rug, Shamal sips his scotch and engages in an intense philosophical debate with himself. He ponders his goals and prospects, then realizes this is pointless and starts on his sex life instead. Only in that light do all his mistakes seem to gain the properly depressing weight. He turns on some music, and pours himself a couple more fingers of whiskey…

Just shy of eleven thirty, and two hours closer to systemic liver failure, Shamal hears the sound of his front door being opened over the soft murmur of Carmen Consoli's voice streaming from his stereo. When he opens his eyes, it's to the blurry sight of Gokudera's usual sourpuss face hanging directly over him, and not the sassy double-jointed Indonesian triplets he was hoping to see.

"I came for the antidote," the face says shortly, eyes sliding to the left.

"I left the capsule on the table," Shamal says, placing his hand over his face to put the illusion of distance between himself and reality. "After you're done, just let Mary out of the house. She'll find her way back to me."

Gokudera shuffles off, and all is dark and blessedly silent for a moment. But when Shamal doesn't hear anyone leave, he drags his hand away to see that the kid is back again, standing over him as before. He has a lighter out, but is just playing with it and doesn't light up, so at least maybe one lesson stuck.

"What are you doing?" Gokudera asks.

"Working myself up to a stomach pump," Shamal replies cheerily, eyeing the whiskey bottle. It is at least three-quarters empty. "Going really well, actually, why do you ask?"

"That's tragic," Gokudera says sarcastically.

"Friday night is very special ," Shamal clarifies. "Friday's ladies night at Vixens."

"What's that, a nightclub?"

"Strip joint," Shamal says mournfully. "Cinnamon's already promised me a half-price discount on lap dances if I show up before midnight."

Gokudera looks like he's trying really hard not to roll his eyes. He walks over to the foot of the couch, and sits kind of awkwardly on the armrest. "Then why don't you just go?"

"Just go?"

"Yeah," Gokudera answers, looking impatient. "I don't see what you're freaking out about. You have syphilis, not leprosy. What are you forcing yourself into house arrest for?"

"One, I am not 'freaking out', and two, Hayato, haven't I brought you up properly?" Shamal laments, shaking his head sadly. "Of course I cannot go out in my current condition. It would be disrespectful to my companions of the fairer sex—not to mention ungentlemanly."

"You could," Gokudera says, in fits and starts. "You could try not sleeping with them."

Shamal raises his eyebrow. "I beg your pardon?"

Gokudera's mouth thins, and there's a hint of frustration in his voice when he says, "Why does everything have to end in sex with you?"

"I can't believe you even have to ask that," Shamal boggles. It's kind of like the kid's asking him to diagnose himself. "Well, you could say that's just who I am. I'm not good with delayed gratification—I get bored."

For a moment, Gokudera is silent. His fingers fumble around his lighter restlessly. "And then you move on to something else," he says finally, almost too softly to be heard. It's not a question.

"That's right," Shamal says, smiling faintly in stinging self-awareness. "I always lose interest. I've never stuck with anything long enough to make a go of it in my life. What a complete waste of space, right?"

"I didn't mean that," Gokudera mutters.

"What?"

"The other day," he clarifies. The expression he's wearing is brittle. "I didn't really mean to say your life was a complete waste of space. I was just—angry."

Shamal snorts. "Is that supposed to surprise me? And here I thought you only had three default settings—self-pitying, wrathful, and extremely wrathful."

His scintillating sense of humor is wasted on an unappreciative audience, given how Hayato just goes quiet, shoulders slumping back into that customary defensive slouch, eyes hooded and flashing don't-fuck-with-me signs all over the place. Even when there's no need for them. There's a kid that grew up all wrong, Shamal thinks, and then: well, guess who's to blame for that.

Still, like with everything else in his life, it's useless to point fingers. Maybe somewhere along the line he did mess up, but then again, what else did anyone expect? When a kid gets surly and throws a tantrum, people give him candy and a toy truck—Shamal gave him dynamites. Instead of Disney movies, he took Hayato to grindhouse matinees and taught him how to scale breast sizes to fruits. It wasn't just that he was unfit to raise the boy—he should never have even been considered for the job.

Hayato is a challenging kid and Shamal is a challenging man, not to mention kind of a degenerate. Theirs is a relationship of diminishing returns; it's really no surprise that, after getting off to such a brilliant start, they then spent over half the subsequent decade constantly disappointing each other.

But. Even so.

"Lighten up, won't you?" Shamal says, and kicks the armrest to get Hayato's attention. "You're getting sad pathetic loser all over my couch. Maybe Cinnamon should give you a lap dance, huh?"

Gokudera's head snaps up. "Stupid pervert," he sputters, going a now-familiar bright red that makes Shamal smile, mostly in spite of himself.

"That's more like it," he says, half to himself. What's he worried about anyway? There's plenty of time to undo the damage—Hayato's not done growing up, and for that matter, neither is he.

"I have something for you."

It's his turn to look up in surprise. "It's a not a pipe bomb, is it?"

"No," smirks Gokudera, and holds out a jewel CD case. "It's the new season of House. I downloaded the episodes off the Internet and burned them onto a DVD." He makes a disgusted face. "You were always such a cheapskate."

Shamal blinks, but the world doesn't end and the CD case is still there when he opens his eyes, and so's the slouchy, smirking bundle sitting at the foot of his couch. Hayato, who, despite everything, is still Shamal's longest and most successful investment to date. Shamal could hug him, and maybe—maybe that's it! Maybe the best thing to cap off this whole soft-focus-lens moment would be a little man-to-man physical contact, mano-a-mano, something to make up for all those touch-starved years that evidently carved grooves of issues into Hayato's sensitive inner psyches.

Shamal really is no shrink, but the more he thinks about it, the more it makes sense, so he sits up straight and drags the slouchy bundle in by the messy knot of its school tie.

-x-

Even though Shamal really does believe in being prepared for every situation, he has utterly failed to account for two important factors:

a) Johnnie Walker Blue is 86 proof, which translates to really fucking strong shit, with potentially mind-warping credentials when consumed in large quantities.

b) Shamal is not known in fifty-six countries and several disputed territories as a kissing freak because his preferred mode of physical affection is hugging.

Obviously, somewhere in his nervous system a bunch of neurons are crossing paths and becoming hopelessly confused, because the next thing he's aware of is thinking dimly, Well, damn if I'm going to fuck up a kiss, and his hand is cupping the back of a slim neck, the skin there warm and very, very much alive.

It's not until he pulls away and sees the jagged light in Hayato's saucer eyes, his lips still red and swollen, slippery slick in the dim light, it's not until then that the guilt starts to flood in. All of a sudden, words he's never before bothered with trying to articulate are rising to his lips, things like, "It's okay, I promise," and, "You don't really have the hots for me—you're just young and confused right now and someday that nice boy with the baseball bat will come by asking me for permission to make you an honest man, but until then we can act like men and pretend this never happened, but maybe you can come over and watch House with me sometimes, alright?"

He opens his mouth to speak, but is cut off by a veritable war cry of, "BASTARD!" and by Gokudera's fist, colliding against his chin in a swift uppercut. By the time Shamal struggles upright again, Hayato is fleeing from the house like the zombie apocalypse is upon him.

Shamal rubs his smarting jaw thoughtfully. He had nothing to worry about after all. To be honest, he doesn't totally know how to feel about that—but that'll probably change the minute he's sober. So he picks up the fallen CD case and pops the disc into his DVD player, directing his attention toward another doctor with a lot of bad habits instead. Massive Attack really does sound better when you're shitfaced.

-x-

Epilogue:

"Gonorrhea of the mouth?!"

It's Sunday morning, the sun is high and shining in the perfect blue sky, and Shamal has a new sense of purpose in life. His syphilis treatment is going particularly well. In no time at all, he'll be back to winning ass and taking names—or you know, interesting sexual anecdotes to be used in his eventual bestselling memoir.

The fact that he's standing outside his own bathroom trying to talk Gokudera Hayato out of slashing his wrists like in a scene out of some bad after school special is just the icing on the cake.

"It's really not as bad as it sounds," he soothes. From beyond the locked door, Hayato just makes a feral noise, like this time instead of flushing Shamal's pills, he might just trick-wire the bathroom to blow up every time he has to take a piss instead. This prospect motivates him to thump on the door and shout, in the most sympathetic of bedside-manner voices, "It doesn't mean you should love yourself any less."

The bathroom door snaps open, and a rubber ducky goes skimming past Shamal's head, knocking a porcelain Cupid figurine onto the floor with a tinkling crash. It was a house-warming gift from his mother—Shamal's always despised its hideousness.

He turns around, and is met with Hayato's livid face, framed in the bathroom doorway. "You fucking shit," he snarls, gesticulating wildly. It's the Italian blood in him coming to the fore, Shamal notes with some distraction. "You—you gave me the clap."

"I didn't do it on purpose," Shamal says, holding up his hands defensively. "I didn't even know I had it."

Gokudera seems on the edge of an apoplectic incident. "How could you not know? What kind of a hack doctor are you?"

"Gonorrhea can remain asymptomatic for years," Shamal protests, shrugging. "And you know, given the fact that my body is home to any number of deadly diseases constantly warring for territory, it's really not a surprise that the infection has been suppressed all this time, right?"

Gokudera, clearly blind with rage at this point, lashes out haphazardly and hits the first thing he can reach, which happens to be Shamal's spleen.

"I think you're missing the big picture," Shamal says, trying not to wheeze. "What you have is very special."

"The venereal disease you gave me is special?!"

"A case of mouth-to-mouth transmittance has never been officially documented," Shamal explains patiently. "This could be the start of a medical breakthrough." He wonders vaguely if Interpol would turn a blind eye long enough for him to publish a paper on the subject. "Don't you want to help science?"

Gokudera's answer is a growl and a vicious punch that misses Shamal's jaw by inches.

"I don't see what you're freaking out about," Shamal says facetiously. "You have gonorrhea, not leprosy. It's treatable. I could do it in about five minutes—"

At this, Gokudera perks up hopefully.

"—if you were a girl," Shamal goes on. "Since you're not, I'll be happy to accompany you to the Sexual Health Clinic." Privately, he hopes that another doctor will be on call when they come in for an appointment; Asahara would probably call the cops, not to mention kill him dead with her bare hands.

Gokudera bites his lip so hard Shamal thinks he's going to bleed—the onset swelling of the throat must be really bothering him. His fingers stray dangerously close to belt-territory, which Shamal pretends not to see.

"I am also willing to take over the task of informing everyone with whom you've had relations of their soon-to-be itchy, pus-filled state." Here, he pretends to scratch his chin in thought. "In your case, that should take no time at all."

The entire left side of Gokudera's face has begun twitching rapidly, which anyone with half a brain would know is a sign of impending danger—but Shamal just couldn't resist a parting shot.

"Now, will it be Tsuna or Yamamoto-kun to whom I should direct the first call?"

As a dozen small explosions send his living room going up in smoke, Shamal decides he might as well invent that cure for penicillin allergy after all. Sure, he might die from immunological complications in the process, but at least he'd save on the costs of redecoration.

-x-

The End