Disclaimer: I don't own anything, characters belong to Capcom, yadda yadda.

A/N: as the summary says, this was written for the kink meme. The idea just hit me the moment I read the request and before I knew I had written the first 5,000 words of this. I hadn't felt that inspired in a while. Damn you, brain, why aren't you always focused like this? If I could do this with all fics I'm supposed to be working onto I wouldn't have to always apologize for late updates. XD

Los Angeles, February 1992

The bus stopped at the usual stop exactly at ten past one, like it did every day. But this time Lydia Wright didn't get on it to go home; she still hadn't managed to gather the courage to get back home, and she wasn't sure she ever would... especially since it would mean having to explain her mother what had happened to her favourite necklace.

She held back a sob and reached to wipe her eyes again, shifting on the parked scooter she was sitting onto. She had been such an idiot taking it while knowing her mother didn't want her to, but it was so pretty and she had really, really wanted to wear it just for once, just to show Mercy Burrough she wasn't the only one who could have nice things. She had planned to just wear it at school that morning and then to put it back in its place before her mother even noticed it was missing – how could she know that some guy would steal it outside school, yanking it off her neck and then running off before she could even begin to realize what had happened?

Finding that out was going to break her mother's heart, Lydia just knew it, but she was going to have to get back home and explain herself sooner or later. She sniffled and reached to wipe her eyes again, but she froze and her hand stopped in mid-air as a something close to a roar reached her ears, followed by a voice that was more like a growl than anything else.

"Hey, what youse doin' on my ride?"

Lydia looked up to see a boy walking up to her with a scowl on his face, coming out from the gym on the across the sidewalk. He was a lot taller than she was and heavily built, but he had to be about her age, or barely older – no more than sixteen anyway. He had a still unlit cigarette hanging from his lips, a damp towel thrown over his shoulders, spiky black hair that seemed to defy gravity and skin impossibly tan for that time of the year.

All in all, he looked like he was more than capable to snap her over his knee and more than willing to do so if given any reason to.

Lydia winced and immediately got off the old scooter, taking a few steps back. "I… I'm sorry, I was just…"

"Ya better hope ya didn't break anythin'," the boy snapped before checking the scooter for damage. Lydia held her breath. "Mmmh. Youse lucky all's fine," he grumbled, turning to look at her, and he frowned. "What's the problem? Got ya scared or what?"

It took her a moment to realize she had to look terrible, with her reddened and tear-streaked face and swollen eyes. She always looked like crap when she cried. "I… no. I mean, yes. But it's not that," she stammered, trying to wipe her eyes again and brush her black hair back "I… had a bad day, and I needed to sit down. Sorry I sat on your scooter, I didn't know-" she trailed off as he waved his hand dismissively.

"Nah, it's okay. Ya didn't break anythin', so yeah. No problem," he looked at her more carefully, causing Lydia to wonder if he would have calmed down that quickly hadn't she been a woman. "Think I've seen ya 'round here before. Not in the gym, though."

She nodded. "I attend to the school on the other side of the road. I take the bus here almost every day, that's probably where you saw me, unless… you're in that school, too?" she asked, but she was pretty sure he wasn't. He sure wouldn't have passed unnoticed, not to mention that hers was a private school where someone like him would have seemed incredibly out of place.

He actually laughed at the idea. "Nah, no way. Ain't one for school. Dropped off after failing last year. And anyway, that place's fee is more than I get in a year or somethin', so I musta seen youse at the bus stop," he cocked his head. "So, what happened to ya anyway? Problems with school? That kinda shit's not worth crying over."

"It's not about that," she said a little defensively – who did he take her for? It wasn't like her making such a mess out of herself only because of a bad mark or a failed test! "I was robbed, and it was my mother's favourite necklace. She didn't know I took it and it's going to break her heart that it was stolen…" her voice trembled again, and she fell silent before it broke.

The boy leant against a nearby lamppost, looking suddenly interested. He took a box of matches from the pocket of his pants, struck a match and lit the cigarette he had been holding between his lips the whole time. "Got robbed, huh? Sucks to be you. Did ya take a look at the guy?" he asked, taking a drag of the cigarette.

Lydia hesitated. "Not really. I remember he had red hair, and a grey shirt, and… and…"

"Mhh," he released a cloud of smoke from is nostrils, frowning in thought. "Did he have a hell of a bunch of earrings on the right ear?"

She blinked. "He… yes! He did! How did you know?"

He smirked, clearly pleased by her surprise, and she faintly thought that his teeth made her think of fangs when he smirked like that. "I know the guy. Ross Rell. A friend of mine."

Lydia's eyes widened. "You know him?" she repeated. "Oh, thank God! What's his name again? If we call the police now-" she was cut off by a sound that, for a lack of a better term, sounded like a roar. She abruptly shut her mouth and took a step back.

"Youse ain't callin' no police," he growled, but he seemed to take notice of her scared expression, for he made a visible effort to soften his tone, reaching to run a hand through those impossibly spiky hair. "Look, we're settlin' this my way, okay? Ross' a smart guy. Owes me a favour or two. He'll give the necklace back if I just ask."

Lydia bit her lower lip. Give it back? Would that guy really give it back? She was somewhat doubtful, but that boy looked so certain of it that she almost dared to believe it as well. It would have been just perfect, because it would mean not having to even tell her parents what had happened. "Are you… sure he'd give it back to you?" she asked.

He laughed. "Sure he will. No one wants to argue with the Tiger," he said before climbing on the scooter and gesturing for her to climb behind him with a nod. "Youse goin' to have it back 'round your neck before ya know it. Climb up."

Once again, she hesitated. She knew she ought to say no: accepting rides from strangers was something that knew should never be done, especially when said stranger seems to have ties with robbers. Not to mention she knew riding a scooter without an helmet on was dangerous. But there was a chance for her to get back the necklace, maybe without her mother knowing she had taken it in the first place, and giving it a try was just so tempting…

"What now?" his voice snapped her from his thoughts. "Scared of traffic?"

"It's not that, I just…" she paused "nothing," she finally said before climbing behind him on the scooter, reaching to put her hands on his shoulders as if afraid she'd fall off is she didn't. Even though it was winter he was wearing just a red undershirt probably meant more to show off the muscles than to cover anything, and she found the scent of sweat and smoke and ash coming from him both unfamiliar – she couldn't remember anyone of her own age she had known so far smelling like that – and somewhat reassuring.

"Thank you for your help. My name is Lydia," she said as he started the engine, just realizing she hadn't even introduced herself. But he sure hadn't done that either, so she guessed he didn't think it to be horrible manners from her part.

"I'm Furio. Nice to meet ya and all that crap. Hang on tight now, okay? This is gonna be a fun ride."

Ten minutes - and at least a dozen red traffic lights that were passed through at breakneck speed - later, Lydia had come to the conclusion that Furio's idea of fun was arguable at the very least. And she was pretty sure a scooter like the one he owned was not supposed to be able to speed that much, but of course she didn't quite feel like pointing that out.

"Here we are," Furio muttered as he stopped in front of what looked like a rundown garage. "Bet he's here already. He never passes up the possibility of getting a free beer. Wouldn't mind one myself. Want one?"

"I… no, thanks," Lidya said, refraining from pointing out that neither of them was old enough to legally drink and taking a look around. She had never been in that part of Los Angeles before, and she couldn't say she liked it: the streets were dirty, the buildings ruined and covered with writings and she couldn't see one tree or potted plant anywhere; there was only steel and concrete everywhere she looked. In the district where she lived, each building was freshly painted and there were lawns and parks for people to enjoy or walk their pets. Was she even in the same city anymore?

"Youse comin'?" Furio's voice snapped her from her thoughts, and she hurriedly nodded and went after him as he approached the garage, whose rusty rolling shutter wasn't completely lowered. Despite the fact she now couldn't turn her imagination from the tales she had heard about girls being tricked into traps by low-life scum and then held hostage or worse – God, wasn't she starting to regret agreeing to follow him! – staying close to him felt the closest thing to safety she had for now.

Some voices and laughs could be heard coming from inside. Furio reached to knock on the shutter. "Youse in there, guys?"

"Hey there, Tiger! You're early today. Just a sec, I'm lettin' you in."

If Furio had noticed how close she stepped to him the moment the shutter opened to let them in, he pretended not to have noticed. The moment they walked in Lydia's nostrils were assaulted by the heavy smell of smoke, strong enough to make her eyes water a little – as though they hadn't watered enough that day, she thought – but she did her best to ignore it.

Inside there was only a table with a heap of tools on it, on the far end of the wall. In the middle of the garage there was a car – which someone was apparently trying to fix, judging by the fact said someone's legs were visible coming from under it – and on its left there were some people around their age, two boys and a girl, sitting on a few old pillows on the ground. They all had a bottle of beer on the floor in front of them, and the girl was passing a cigarette to one of the boys. Another boy, probably the one who had opened the shutter for them, was standing by them.

"Did you bring a friend over, Tiger? You shoulda warned, big guy. Woulda cleaned the place. It looks like shit now," he commented with a laugh, closing the shutter behind them.

"Wasn't planned, " Furio replied with shrug. "She's Lydia, everyone. These are Mike, Kenny, Jay and Carla. And Ross' the one under the car."

Shifting a little nervously upon having all eyes on her, but a little relieved to see they seemed friendly an that there was another girl in the group, Lydia tried her best to smile. "Nice to meet you."

"Hi there."


"Nice to meet ya."

"Want a beer?"

"Uh… no, thank you," she replied a little awkwardly.

"I do," Furio said with a shrug, sitting on the ground, and she found herself sitting next to him almost automatically "tell me youse got bottle that's not yet piss hot."

"Sure," the girl names Carla shrugged, reaching to take something from a small portable fridge. "Catch."

Furio easily caught the bottle in mid-air and proceeded to remove the cap with his teeth before spitting it out and taking a long swig. He rubbed his lips dry with his forearm once he was done and turned to the car. "Piece of crap's still givin' ya trouble, eh, Ross?" he said.

"You have no idea. Making your scooter out of spare parts was a piece of cake in comparison," a somewhat exasperated voice came from under the car before its owner came slid out from beneath it and in sight. His face was smeared with grease and it was almost completely black, but Lydia immediately recognized the red hair, and the earrings on the right ear – that was the guy who had robbed her!

For a moment she opened her mouth, but then she closed it without speaking – she had no idea what kind of reaction they could have should she just start speaking accusations and demanding for him to give her necklace back. She just swallowed and turned to look at Furio. He looked back at her just for a moment, but then he lightly touched her hand as though to tell her to wait, and she suddenly felt immensely reassured. She would let him handle it, and everything would be okay.

"Youse good at this kind of stuff. Betcha youse gonna get it fixed by evening," Furio took another swig from his bottle. "Speaking of fixin', see this friend of mine right here? Youse got something that belongs to her."

Ross frowned a little and looked at her a little more closely, then he blinked. "Oh, wait. You're the one in front of that school, right?"

"I… yes," Lydia replied. She couldn't believe that she was having a chat with the guy who had robbed her and that he looked more amused than anything else upon facing her again. Wasn't he supposed to at least feel bad for what he had done?

"What, are you robbin' the Tiger's friends now, Ross?" the boy named Jay asked with a laugh. "Have a death wish or what?"

"Didn't know she was his friend," Ross said with a shrug before turning back to Lydia. "Really, I had no idea. Sorry 'bout that, it's just that you gotta pay the bills. Just a sec, I'm getting the stuff back and you tell me which one's yours, okay?"

"Okay," she heard herself saying, unable to even realize just how surreal the conversation sounded. She looked at Furio again to get a smug I-told-you-so grin from him before he reached to take the cigarette Mike was handing to him and took a drag.

"Here," Ross sat in front of her and handed her a small leather bag. "Should be here somewhere. You tell me when you find it, okay?"

Lydia nodded, taking the bag – my, it was so heavy! – and opening her, trying to find her mother's necklace among the bunch of pendants, necklaces, earrings and bracelets in it. She could faintly hear Furio and Ross speaking.

"So, how's youse mother?"

"Doin' better. Just got out of the hospital. This thing is aggressive as fuck but it looks like it slowed down, so she could be still around for Mack's birthday. Also, thank your old man for getting us the weed. She says it doesn't hurt too much anymore now. How 'bout you? I heard the landlord wanted to kick you out or somethin'."

"Nah, he won't dare. We're getting some cash soon anyway, so he'll get his fuckin' rent and crawl back in his hole until next month. And if he doesn't, I'll make him. The little shit, we already pay far too much for that hole of a place. And he only comes to ask for money when he knows only my mother is home and- did ya find the necklace?" Furio asked as he noticed Lydia was staring at him and Ross with widened eyes, a necklace held tightly in her hand.

She nodded quickly, her face flushing. "I… yes, I found it," she said, feeling terribly embarrassed for being caught listening. But how could she not listen? They were talking right in front of her and she couldn't help but listen, and she had been so taken aback upon hearing that kind of stuff coming from someone who couldn't really be that much older than she was because really, those were not the kind of things a teen is supposed to be dealing with, right?

Her own worry about her mother finding out the necklace was gone suddenly seemed to futile and childish, even though a part of her still knew that it wasn't, and that she'd have every right to be angry at the robber. She swallowed and stuffed her mother's necklace in her pocket before closing the bag and handing it back to Ross. "Thanks, I… I'm sorry about your mother," she said awkwardly.

"It's okay, really. She's doin' better. You're welcome. And sorry again – I'd never take stuff from the Tiger's friends," he winked at her. "I had no idea you were one. Drop by to visit again sometime, okay? We're here almost every day."

"Especially when it rains," Carla added. "Because one thing we all have in common is that our roofs suck and we don't like getting cold showers."

The comment was greeted by loud laughs, and Lydia found herself chuckling a little, if slightly uncomfortably. Her hesitant chuckle was easily covered by Furio's booming laughter. Even that sounded like a roar.

"Well, at least ya can stop that with buckets. Water doesn't drip in my place," he commented. "It just floods in. Getting up in the morning to hear a splash when youse feet hit the ground is no fun either."

"But you get a free pool!"

Furio rolled his eyes. "Ya feel like swimming in sewer water? Shoulda said that earlier. We could just switch."

"Besides, cats don't get along with water, do they? Not even big ones."

More laughter, and this time it was easier for Lydia to join in. It seemed so odd to her that some people could talk so lightly of issues like that and laugh about it. In her school – and generally, among most people she knew – issues were to be hidden if possible, never to be spoken of. If they couldn't be hidden no matter how understanding and nice everyone would be, there would always be some scarcely concealed pity underneath politeness that few could stand receiving. But as they kept talking, she could sense none.

"Ah, well, looks like youse all got more than youse fair share of beer," Furio was saying before he finished his own beer with one last swig and put down the bottle. He turned to Lydia. "Want a ride home? We went the opposite direction as the bus youse usually takin', so I guess we're kinda far from your place."

Lydia hadn't even thought about that – she had no idea at all where she exactly was, let alone how to get back home. "That would be great, thanks," she said with a relieved smile, willing herself not to think of his questionable driving habits.

"Youse welcome. I'm taking youse back where we met, and then ya'll tell me the way," he said with a shrug before getting up. "We're off, guys."

"Bye, Tiger."

"See ya tomorrow. Your turn to bring the beer, remember!"

"And bring your friend over more often!"

Furio chuckled at the last one, reaching to open the shutter so that they could get out. "If she feels like it."

"I… I'd love to," Lydia said with just a moment's hesitation. She wasn't sure it was the truth, but she sure had grown curious about them, about the kind of life they led. From what she had gathered, it was something completely different from everything her own life was – admittedly, she had always been rather sheltered.

"We're counting on it, then. Bye!"

"Bye," she replied a little shyly before following Furio outside. She breathed deeply in the fresh air – even though she had grown used to it enough for it to be bearable, the smell of smoke had been strong – and turned to him. "Thanks again for helping me out," she said "I don't know what I would have done if you didn't."

"No problem. I was coming here anyway. How's the necklace?"

Lydia pulled it out of her pocket. "The chain is broken," she said, but she wasn't surprised at all – it had been ripped off her neck after all "but the pendant is fine. We can get another chain anywhere, or get this one fixed"

"But your mother will know youse been takin' it."

She sighed. "I know, but there isn't much I can do about that," she said, putting the necklace back in her pocket. "At least I'm bringing it back."

His brow furrowed in thought. "Maybe I can give youse something to replace that chain until you buy another or fix that one," he said. "I think my mother's got a similar one. Not made of gold, but looks like it. Ya think your mother would notice if youse switched them for a few days?"

"Well… I think not. Would you really do that?" she asked, surprised. "I've caused you so much trouble already…"

He laughed openly at her statement. "Ya don't even know what trouble is, little girl," he said. "And this really wasn't any trouble."

Lydia scowled at the remark; even though she could hardly deny that she had never had to face problems such as the ones he and his friends apparently had, it wasn't like she never had any trouble in her life. Besides, she didn't like it how condescending he was. "It's not like I live under a glass dome!" she protested.

Furio blinked at her for a moment before smirking. "Yeah, that would kind of suck. Good luck tryin' to get undressed without people starin'," his smirk widened, and it didn't take too much to guess he wouldn't have minded being among the ones who stared. The thought made her blush a little, and she tried to ignore the little shiver running down her back for a moment.

Thankfully, he dropped the matter quickly enough. "So, youse interested in lookin' for a chain?" he asked, pulling the scooter's keys from his pocket before climbing on it. "My place is just a few blocks from here."

Lydia hesitated for a moment, then she swallowed a little at the thought of how angry her mother would be if she were to know she wore it and broke the chain – telling her exactly what had happened and how she had pretty much followed a complete stranger to a garage where the robber plus more strangers were would cause her a heart attack for sure. What if she asked how it broke? Lydia had never been good at lying.

After all, she concluded, if her mother were to never know anything had happened to that necklace it would be for the best. "That would be great, thanks," she said before climbing behind him.

"Youse welcome. Hang on tight," he said before starting the engine, and this time she put her arms around his waist rather than on his shoulders, to get a better hold.

And this time, the ride felt more thrilling than scary.

The building in front of which Furio stopped this time was just as ruined as the ones she had seen around the garage, and it was soon clear what he had meant when he had said that when it rained his house got flooded – his home was underground in the building, where Lydia would have expected the basement to be, its windows at the same level as the sidewalk.

As they stepped inside the scarcely illuminated place, for the first time he sounded uneasy, an uneasiness that hadn't showed at all while he spoke to his friend but that now showed as he spoke to her. "It's just temporary here," he said somewhat defensively. "We moved here in LA just a couple of years back. My old man had some trouble back in the old place. We'll be moving to another house at some point anyway. Either that, or I go living with some friends. We're looking for a place of our own already."

Well, at least now Lydia knew exactly what she should do – change subject to one that would make him less uncomfortable. "So you moved? Where are you from?"

"New York, sorta. Was born in Brooklyn, but my old man kinda lived all over. His family moved in the States when he was, like, ten or something, and he almost never stayed in the same place for long. He settled in New York for a while when he got married, though. Ya should hear him tellin' all the stuff he went through over some drinks. He talks a lot more after he has some."

Lydia couldn't help but chuckle a little. "My father does the same. He can't hold the wine, so every time he drinks starts telling everyone how the car stopped in the middle of his first date with my mother and how she accidentally broke his glasses later the same evening."

Furio chuckled. "I think my parents did worse. Met when they had a car crash with each other and-"

"Furio, is that you?"

They both turned to the couch in the middle of the room, and in the flickering light cast by the television set – whoever was in that room was watching commercials – she could see the shape of a woman resting on it.

"Yeah, it's me. Got a friend over, she's got to fetch something. We'll be done in a minute, Ma."

The woman gave a low hum, not turning her gaze from the screen, and said nothing more. Now that she paid more attention Lydia could see she looked older than she probably was, and that she was rather tiny, almost frail-looking. It was rather striking, considering how tall and broad her son was.

"This way," Furio was saying, leading her into a small hallway that seemed even smaller with him in it and then into another room. He turned on the lights – the light bulbs, she noticed, where just hanging from the ceilings with nothing to cover them, nor there was anything to decorate the walls: only some wallpaper that had seen better days.

She stayed on the door as Furio walked in and looked for something inside the drawer of one of the few piece of furniture aside form a large and still unmade bed. After a few moments he walked back to her with something in his hand – a small chain. "Alike enough?" he asked, holding it up.

Lydia took the broken chain out of her pocket to compare them and smiled. "Yes, they look identical! But are you sure your mother doesn't mind...?"

"Nah, she won't even notice. So take it. And I take this one," he smirked as he gave her the chain and took the broken, golden one with his other hand. "I'll get it fixed and keep it so that I'm certain you'll be giving that one back."

For a moment she frowned, wondering if he really thought she was that unreliable, but she just chuckled as she noticed his amused grin. "Sounds like a deal," she agreed. "Thank you so much."

"Youse welcome," he said with a shrug as they walked outside. Lydia realized that she had no idea what time it was, but it didn't worry her too much – she had skipped her piano lesson, but at least her parents knew she wouldn't be back until late afternoon, so they wouldn't be worried. She gave a sigh of relief and put the new chain on the pendant: now it looked absolutely untouched. She smiled and slipped it around her neck. She was about to hide it under her shirt when she realized Furio was looking at her.

"Keep that outta your shirt while ya can. No one is gonna try yankin' it from your neck while youse with me anyway, and it looks good on ya," he said, not-so-casually leaning against his scooter. "Youse prettier when not crying youse eyes out."

Lydia chuckled, trying to ignore the sudden warmth she felt on her face and praying she wasn't blushing too much. "That doesn't say much. I look like crap when I cry, eh?"

Furio shrugged. "Youse no sight for sore eyes when cryin', no."

She raised an eyebrow. "Well, thanks. You were supposed to say I looked pretty anyway, you know. That's a what a guy says to a lady," she muttered, giving him a playful shove. Compared to her he was a mountain of a guy and her shove wasn't nearly enough to even make him flinch, but he pretended to topple backwards anyway.

"Feisty. I don't see no lady," he joked, rubbing the spot where she had hit him as though it hurt.

She stuck out her tongue at him. "You're not making things better for yourself."

"And what youse gonna do, little girl? Beat me up?" he laughed.

Lydia rolled her eyes. "Don't tempt me," she joked before biting her lower lip in thought. "About the chain, I'll give it back soon. We could meet where we met today so that I can give it back. Are you there often?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Almost every day, really. I help in there most mornings – so many idiots get in a gym not knowing how to use the stuff in there right. But when there aren't too many idiots I get to do some stuff myself. I'm into boxe, mostly," he took a boxer stand and threw a few quick jabs, and her eyes fell on his working biceps for a moment before she looked back to his face. "Got enough to break someone in half," he smirked as though thinking it was something charming to say, and - despite the fact she almost shuddered at the thought of what he could have done to her had he had any intention to harm her when she had accepted to follow him - she couldn't help but find it somewhat amusing.

"Looks like we'll get to run in each other often, then. I walk next that gym every day to get back home."

"Sounds like a plan. I could give ya a ride back home if I'm done there. Come in if I'm not outside. Just say you're the Tiger's friend, and they'll let you in."

She nodded. "I... okay. Just one thing – why does everyone call you that?"

"Call me what?"

"The Tiger."

Furio laughed. "Oh, that. It's for the surname – it's Tigre. Meaning tiger. Besides," he smirked again, and his teeth looked once again like fangs. "Some people says I act like one."

Lydia raised an eyebrow. "Well, no wonder. You almost gave me a heart attack with that roar!"

"That kinda was the idea. Thought ya were messin' with my ride," he said with a shrug before taking the scooter's keys from his pocket and making them dangle in front of her nose. "Speakin' of that, ready for another ride?"

She was.

Despite having spent the whole weekend trying to gather the courage to try visiting him in the gym at the first chance – well, not the whole weekend, but still the significant amount of time only a crushing teen could possibly spend trying to gather the courage to just say hi – when Monday arrived she still wasn't sure she would be able to just walk in and ask for 'the Tiger' without blabbering.

But she was spared that: she saw him the very same moment she stepped outside the school's gate along with her classmates. He was standing on the other side of the sidewalk and he looked incredibly out of place among students wearing school uniforms with his massive frame, black leather jacket over a rather terrible orange undershirt and a cigarette hanging from his lips. And he surely looked like he felt out of place, too, and ready to lash out if given any reason to, at least judging from the glares he kept shooting to anyone who glanced in his direction and from his somewhat defensive pose, with his arms crossed over his chest and his shoulders tense.

Surrounded by her schoolmates – who Lydia found herself thinking of as dull and boring for the first time – he definitely stuck out. He was hard to miss. And in fact, no one missed him.

"Who's that?" Lydia heard someone muttering behind her.

"I hope he's not here to start trouble."

"I bet he is. I mean, look at him. He's got to be trouble."

"He's not!" Lydia protested, turning to glare the one who had spoken – Mercy Burrough, she thought, of course. Who else? "You don't even know him!"

Mercy raised an eyebrow. "Yes, because you surely do, Liddy," she mocked.

"What if I did?"

She laughed. "Are you for real? You're too much of a chicken to even approach a guy like that."

Lydia scowled and was about to snap back, then she paused and smiled. "Wanna bet?" she asked before turning her back to her and walking straight to him. "Hey, Furio!"

He turned to glance in her direction, and his scowl melted in a smirk. "Hey there. Was startin' to think ya skipped school or somethin', but looks like I had no time to rub off ya that much, eh?" he joked, taking a last drag of his cigarette before throwing it on the ground. "Guess I'll have to try harder. How youse doin'?"

"I'm fine," Lydia said, not really sure whether the her smile was due to the fact Mercy Burrough and her friends were surely staring at the mouth agape or because he had actually showed up in front of her school to see her instead of waiting for her to drop by. "My mother didn't notice a thing, you know. She even wore the necklace to a dinner yesterday evening and didn't notice. You saved my life – thanks!"

"Youse welcome. Look what got here," he said, reaching to take something from his pocket and letting it dangle in front of her nose. "Good as new."

Lydia gaped. "How could you get someone to fix it over the weekend?" she asked in amazement, reaching to take the golden chain – it looked perfect, as though it had never been broken. Even in her awe, she couldn't help but feel a tag smug at the thought of what her classmates were going to think of what they had seen, that strange boy giving her a golden chain. That was definitely enough to leave them speechless, and keeping them guessing was going to be so much fun.

Furio shrugged, though clearly satisfied by her reaction. "Ross has a friend who, uh, handles jewelry a lot. He asked him a favor for me. Took him a minute."

"Oh," Lydia cleared her throat, the implications of what he had just said now making her feel a little uneasy. "Tell him I said thanks. And I'll switch it with yours as soon as I can and give it back."

"Nah, no rush," Furio said, dismissively waving his hand. "Ma won't notice anyway."


"Youse givin' it back eventually, sure, but…" his hand reached to grab hers and close her fingers around the golden chain. "Keep it for now."

Lydia stayed silent for a few moments, numbly staring at his hand holding her much smaller one, then she chuckled. "And I can't get rid of you so easily as long as I have something that belongs to you, right, Tiger?" she asked, poking his chest with a smirk and faintly wondering where that boldness came from.

Furio smirked back. "Got me," he said, letting go of her hand to raise his hands in fake surrender. "Youse free this afternoon?"

Her smile faded in a slight frown. "No, my parents expect me to be back home," she said unwillingly.

He looked a little put out as well – was it just an impression or he had bared his teeth for an instant? – but then he shrugged. "Ah well. Better luck next time. How 'bout a ride home? It will take only a few minutes, so we could stop by for an ice cream or somthin' and your parents think ya took the bus."

"Sounds great," she said, her gaze brightening. They stayed silent for a few moments as they walked up to his scooter, then she spoke again. "You know, I was thinking… there is an afternoon course here at school. On creative writing. Thrice a week. I bet my parents wouldn't mind if I decided to attend and stayed out for the afternoon."

Furio blinked a couple of times before throwing back his head and giving a booming laugh. "Creative writin'? Sounds like fun stuff," he elbowed her lightly before climbing on his scooter and gesturing for her to do the same. "So I did rub off ya, eh?"

Lydia shrugged and climbed behind him, a small smile playing on her lips as she reached to poke that impossibly spiky hair of his just a little before slipping her arms around his waist. There was the scent of leather mixing with his own scent now. It fit just fine. "Just a bit, maybe."

Creative writing turned out to be, indeed, one of Lydia's favorite subject. As far as her parents knew, until the whole family moved on the other side of Los Angeles quite hastily a few months later she never skipped a lesson.

April 9, 2013

Lydia tore her eyes from the screen as the phone rang, startling her a little. She took a pause from typing and reached to take the receiver, leaning back against her seat. "Hello?"

"Hi, mom, it's – ATCHOO! – me!" her son's voice came from the other side, along with a powerful sneeze that made her smile a little while holding the receiver a little more apart from her ear.

"You caught a cold again, didn't you?" she asked with a sigh. Sometimes her Phoenix was so bad at taking care of himself that she had to wonder if it had been such a good idea letting him leave for Los Angeles by himself. Then again, he was there to attend to university – it wasn't like she could send a nanny after him.

"Don't worry, I'll… I'll… ATCHOO! ATCHOO!"

She chuckled. "Bless you. Have you been taking some medicine?"

Phoenix sniffled a little before answering, his voice a little muffled. "Oh, sure. Cold Killer X. Can't go wrong with that. ATCHOO!" he sniffled again before his voice brightened. "Also, my Dollie said she'll make me some hot soup!"

Lydia frowned just a bit as he spoke of his girlfriend again. Not that it was of any surprise since he spoke of her almost every day, but sometimes she found it almost unsettling how deeply in love with her he was. Then again, maybe she had just turned into the protective mother she had tried not to turn into. Oh well, she thought with an inward chuckle, c'est la vie. "Sounds like you'll be well taken care of, then," she said.

"Oh, yes! My Dollie is the best. I can't wait for you two to meet. You're going to love her!"

Somehow she doubted that, but she knew it wasn't exactly fair from her part… and it wasn't like she could say that to Phoenix anyway: it would hurt him too much. "I'm sure I will," was all she said. "Take care of yourself, alright? I want you cold-free next time you call."

"Yes, ma'am!" her son joked before sneezing again several times, this time louder. "Uh… sorry about that."

Lydia chuckled. She could just imagine him now, talking at the phone with an embarrassed grin on his face, his hand running through that impossibly spiky hair of his. "Take your medicine. Sounds like you need it."

"Uh… okay, sure. I'll just have to get it back from Dollie. Bye, mom."

"Bye, Phoenix," she said before putting the receiver back in place with a sigh. That 'Dollie', again – why couldn't she shake off a bad feeling about her? She never even met her, and all she knew was that Phoenix was madly in love with her. When he had gotten back home for Christmas he had talked of her almost incessantly and kept showing off that funny-looking necklace she had given him – something that for a moment had made her smile and reach for her own necklace, whose chain had been a fake rather than a truly golden one since the day her mother had died leaving the pendant to her – and she supposed she should have been glad for him, but she still couldn't be completely comfortable with it.

Maybe she was just afraid he would be as careless as she had been and make the same mistake she had done – not that she had ever thought that Phoenix was a mistake, but sometimes she still wondered how differently things could have turned out hadn't she been so careless. But then again she was young, so young – not even sixteen, and when you're that young weeks together feel like months and months feel like years and it's so very easy to think of a crush as so much more and act without thinking.

The vague memory of a tall, impossibly tan boy with spiky hair, a bad attitude and a strong Brooklyn accent who taunted her for getting scared when he speeded on that scooter and then bough her ice cream to make up if she got angry enough showed briefly in her mind, making her smile a little wistfully before she chased away the thought.

No, nothing like that was going to happen to Phoenix – he was older than she and his father had been back then, and so was his girlfriend. They sure knew better than acting rashly and without precautions. He'd be fine: Phoenix wasn't the kind of person who gets in trouble… most times. Not serious trouble, in any case.

Trying to shake off her worries, Lydia Wright got back to work.

But no matter how much she tried, she still couldn't shake off a bad feeling.

The next morning, sitting at his desk – it was one hell of an expensive piece of furniture, and so was the carpet and a lot of stuff that was in there, but now that things were finally going his way and he had money to waste showing it off was kinda satisfying – Furio Tigre skimmed over his newspaper. It was usually the sports page he looked at, but this time there were two more articles that caught his eye – one about a new casino that had just opened not too far form there and that was bound to put a lot of gamblers in need of money, and one about a murder.

The second article didn't hold his interest for nearly as long as the first one, though. He read through it just enough to gather that some kid at Ivy University was arrested for murdering another one by… electrocuting him or something, apparently. For a moment he wondered how had he managed to do that and for another, brief moment the kid's surname – Wright – almost reminded him of something, or someone. Almost.

Only moments later Tigre was lighting himself a cigarette and checking his registers, the newspaper a crumpled ball in the wastebasket, the names of whoever was involved in the murder already forgotten.

It wasn't like any of those guys owed him money or something anyway.