All characters © Amano Akira

Summary: The Varia finally meet someone who they cannot intimidate when a mission takes an unexpected turn.


The White Chrysanthemum

1.

A young woman stepped out of the Venizia Santa Lucia, distinguishable from the other passengers only because her skin was untanned and she wore dark city clothes. Sasagawa Kyoko, 23, smiled in the resplendent Italian sun as it brought out the hidden reds and blondes in her hair. It was a rather large smile, giving that she had never thought this day would come. It was an auspicious occasion, not because it marked a holiday or a birthday or anything like that, but because it was the first time she was running business all by herself.

It felt wonderful, having no escort breathing down the nape of her neck or waiting outside every place she went into like human bulldogs. That wasn't to say she didn't love her family; Kyoko treasured their company like she would a really good chocolate eclair or the silk sheets covering her bed. However, omnipresence could be a bit daunting after eight unrelenting years of it. Even Haru could be exhausting at times, and men weren't the only creatures who needed their space (although half the time Kyoko surmised they believed just that).

Kyoko checked her bag again to make sure the Gavani ring was tightly secured inside. In all actuality, she could care less about the nature of the business. Mafia heirloom, hefty value, authentic ambiguity, personal delivery. As they said on Seinfeld, yadda yadda yadda.

The basics were really all she needed to know. And the Varia, believe it or not, were pros at determining the authentic value of objects (Tsuna reminded her wearily of this point when describing how it had supposedly taken Xanxus five seconds to declare Basil's rings fake at the ring battles).

Kyoko's grin widened when she recalled the long struggle just to get them to let her make the trip alone. It had taken some time to finally convince her family, since no one in their right mind would let Kyoko within 100 miles of the Varia. Plus, Sasagawa Kyoko's name was rising in the underworld as the Vongola Decimo's girl, and was a name in which rivaling families attached an eloquent title of "Ransom Bait" to the end of. She had weapons and mace and whatnot, but she was not a fighter (despite her moderate training in capoeira). On top of that, Kyoko was pretty; a target even for predators outside the mafia circle who lusted for shapely Asian women.

Sure, there was danger, but what was life without it? Kyoko had gone to Hibari, who, predictably, backed her up since independence was his middle name. That is a story for another time and place, but together, the two of them had managed to convince Tsuna to let her go. It had taken one month, several bruises, a broken tonfa, a sedative, and a boxing match that employed at least six illegal moves. There was also the hoarse voice on Kyoko's behalf. It was the first time she could recall that she had lost her temper.

But in the end, she had won. It had been a victory for her, and one of many she foresaw in the near future.

As the taxi zipped through sublime Neapolitan scenery, Kyoko ran through the routine in her head, along with the little reminders and warnings that everyone had given her. She suppressed another smile, realizing that the reminders were more extensive than the job directions themselves. Overprotective, thy name is Vongola.

The Varia knew Japanese well enough, since part of their prerequisites was to have no less than seven languages under their belt, meaning Kyoko only needed minimal Italian to navigate the landscape. However, thanks to the time spent with the Vongola (and those private tutoring sessions with Reborn and Bianchi), Kyoko knew a lot more than she needed, which was always great leverage to have in case the Varia tried to use the language barrier against her.

She had been instructed to deal mainly with Lussuria and Xanxus. Lussuria was the most amiable of the bunch, and Gokudera pointed out that since Lussuria wasn't into women, dead or alive, Kyoko would be fine. She was to sit with her legs crossed the entire time, not proclaim anything to be cute, and to not say the word "blood" in Belphegor's presence under any circumstances. Kyoko knew enough about the Varia once she had been informed that they were not in fact sumo wrestlers, and she felt more excitement than anxiety. It was even making her woozy.

Her first test began at the front door.

It was an ornate thing, fabulously opulent in its oakwood glory complete with gleaming brass lion's heads. But the door wasn't so much a problem as who answered it, which happened to be Fran. Fran was perhaps the only Varia member with remotely any experience in dealing with women; years with Chrome and M.M had thrown him into somewhat of the annoying little brother role. The only problem with talking to Fran was that in the presence of strangers, Fran tended to put out as much response as a brick wall. Hence, he didn't throw down a particularly colorful welcome mat. But Kyoko would not falter.

"Sasagawa Kyoko?" Fran intoned, staring up at her vapidly. He could have been looking through dusty marbles as eyes for all the enthusiasm he put forth. He was much too thin, Kyoko noted absently, and wondered if the Varia were adequately feeding him.

"Yes," Kyoko nodded, bowing and flashing a kind smile. It was her trademark win-over. "Fran-kun, I presume? You have a lovely place."

Fran didn't even blink. "Come in."

Within the Varia Headquarters, the sporadic speckling of neoclassic statues, bronze carvings, and Rococo paintings was considered nothing but protocol. Apparently, the Vongola Nono could afford the expenses. Kyoko marveled at the decor and how neat everything was, despite her hosts' reputed rowdiness. Down one hallway there was a grandfather clock as big as a window. The curtains were made of plush velvet. Paintings of previous dons glared intimidatingly down at her from the walls, their expressions detailed and realistic. Kyoko felt woozy again, and she shook her head. Nono was right there along with them on the wall, and the painted strokes of his bushy mustache made Kyoko feel a little more at ease.

Kyoko had actually met the Varia before, but she usually worked with them through Tsu-kun and never really had much say in their dealings. Officially introducing herself to the Varia wasn't so bad, as it turned out. Levi-san was polite enough, whereas Lussuria-san and Belphegor-kun were a little too polite. Fran was quiet, wary.

"You must tell me what kind of shampoo you use!" Lussuria exclaimed, twirling Kyoko's ponytail in his fingers as she laughed openly. Gokudera would have had a mild heart attack if he had been present. Belphegor was eyeing her in all the wrong places, but Kyoko didn't mind. She welcomed the attention since she knew that she was pretty, and that living in a secluded mansion with a bunch of men could get stifling at times (she should know, haha!). Belphegor seemed a little put out that his staring hadn't unnerved her, so after a while he merely shrugged, gave a little laugh through his teeth, and drifted off to bother Fran.

Squalo would have been handsome, Kyoko decided, if his face hadn't been perpetually molded into a scowl. It was rather unbecoming of him, but she reminded herself that some people just had mean faces. Take Kyouya-san, for example. And Xanxus, as she would momentarily discover.

In a faint way, Xanxus reminded Kyoko of her brother. He was decidedly awkward and restive with others, but he tried to smother it with a blanket of nonchalance similar to nii-san. Only nii-san tended to splutter and flounder more. Nonetheless it was a thin blanket indeed, and Kyoko saw that Lussuria, Belphegor, and, to her surprise, Fran were all biting back laughter at Xanxus's manner. It was understandable; most of the Italian mafia consisted of men, and the Varia were used to dealing with people brusquely and more often than not through coercion.

Kyoko knew that any red-blooded Italian man with...fairly reasonable morals would have trouble threatening a lady. She quickly saw that the Varia were probably even more nervous than she was, since they had absolutely no clue how to interact with someone who didn't present a threat.

"Well," Kyoko exclaimed, eyes meeting Xanxus's reassuringly, "shall we get to work?" Xanxus merely grunted and motioned for Kyoko to follow him. She was all business, which impressed him on some unspoken level. Squalo followed, his long hair trailing behind him in a silvery sheet.

They entered another room which consisted of an impressive oval table and striped chairs. Like the others, this room was almost Renaissance in style and in how elaborate it was. Kyoko shivered as she sat down, feeling cold all of a sudden. She swallowed, hearing her throat click.

"The ring," Xanxus prompted, sitting down and crossing his legs. Kyoko swallowed again, her heart beating as she reached for her briefcase. She suppressed another shiver, although she didn't feel nervous, exactly. What in the world had come over her?

She placed the ring gently on the table. It was an ostentatious thing, really-alleged Egyptian ruby belonging to King Ferdinand III himself. The Gavanis claimed it was real, and more importantly, theirs.

"We tried suspending it in clerici to see if the specific gravity matched," Kyoko informed Xanxus and Squalo, "and it passed the pleochroism test, but even Gianinni-san isn't a gemologist, so we can't really..."

Xanxus silenced her with a hand, rubbing a scar along his jawline thoughtfully and peering at the ring. "Refraction, woman," he said finally, sounding tired. "All you need to do is hold it up to the light." He picked up the ring and twisted it in his fingers for a moment. Kyoko thought his hands looked too big and clumsy to hold such a delicate piece of jewelry, but somehow Xanxus pulled it off with a subtle elegance.

"It's a fake."

"Oh, I see," Kyoko said faintly. The ring blurred slightly in her line of vision. She really wasn't feeling very well, all of a sudden. Maybe it was something she had eaten.

Squalo snorted. "Nothing but a piece of trash after all, huh," he said, picking up the ring and inspecting it for himself with triumphant disgust.

"Shut up." Xanxus smacked Squalo's shins, since Squalo was still standing beside the chair. It was a halfhearted thwack, though, since Xanxus was just as excited as Squalo was. Now that the ring was proven fake, the Vongola had full authority to bash the Gavanis' legal brains in. Which meant more money for them, and possibly some more losers to kill.

"Take this back to the little shits," Xanxus began to Kyoko, placing the ring on the table, "and have Sawada Tsunayoshi sue the ass out of..." he trailed off, pausing once he realized that the woman was no longer listening to him. A little sound escaped him which resembled something of an "uh..."

Squalo made a confused noise of his own and blinked at Kyoko, who was slumped against the couch with her eyes closed. "Did-did she fall asleep?" he asked incredulously. Xanxus didn't care of she was jet-lagged or asleep or unconscious, but he did not appreciate being ignored, not one bit. He scowled, leaned over, and tapped the table.

"Oi, woman." Kyoko didn't respond. Her complexion had gone paler than Squalo's, who was at least entitled to his pallor because he was albino.

For one of the first times in his life, Xanxus did not know what to do. What if it was some kind of female thing? He tried tapping the table again, producing the same results.

Squalo took a tentative step closer. "Is she...injured, you think?" Xanxus didn't answer, so Squalo shrugged and decided to try something new. "Vooiii, woman!" he barked, then decided to have another go with her actual name. "Sasagawa Kyoko!"

At this Kyoko stirred, but didn't open her eyes. "I'm sorry," she murmured into the couch. It was barely a whisper. "I don't feel well at all..."

"Woman." Squalo tapped the table like Xanxus had done. "Hey." Still no response.

From the couch, sounding impatient, Xanxus said, "do something, trash."

So, Squalo went to his last resort, sucking in a breath: "LUSSURIA!"

There was a faint "Yes?" from somewhere else on the floor, muffled by the distance and the walls.

"GET IN HERE, YOU FAG!"

The sound of approaching footsteps amplified until Lussuria appeared in the doorway. He adjusted his glasses and caught his breath. "What is it, Squ-kun?"

Squalo pointed to the couch. "What's wrong with her." It was almost a question.

Lussuria peered over and got a glimpse of Kyoko. "Oh my," he exclaimed, hurrying over. He tilted her head up, felt her cheeks, checked her pulse. "The poor thing's feverish!"

Xanxus felt a vein pulsing in his temple. "Feverish?" he asked, his voice insidiously quiet. "Heal her. Now."

Lussuria smiled sheepishly, fidgeting with the ends of his feathered collar. "Well, Boss, my sun flames only work on physical injury, not illness-"

"Tch." Xanxus stood, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his pants. "Then get that idiot doctor over here."

It was Squalo's turn to look sheepish. "Shamal? He's at Cardarelli, which is two hours away..."

"I don't care! Fucking scum! Just get him here today!"

From the couch, Kyoko grimaced and moaned softly as Squalo stormed off to call Shamal. Xanxus, on the brink of cursing out his subordinates, seemed to reconsider at the sound of Kyoko's moan. He exhaled through his nose and turned to Lussuria. "What do we do with the woman?" he asked, calmer.

"Put a blanket on her," Lussuria replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Which it kind of was. "And then get her some wat-"

"You do it," Xanxus cut in, also heading for the door. "I don't have time for weak people."

to be continued...