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Welcome to Fleet Street

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It was three years later when he first met her.

At 21-years-old, Lucia had long become accustomed to his towering figure of six-foot-two, and, for the past three years, had shamelessly taken advantage of it. In addition to this, he had a grin that was dazzling in its rarity, hair that compelled one's hands to rake one's fingers through it, and a self-deprecating sense of humor that was neither unctuous nor self-pitying.

The metamorphosis he had gone through from the awkward adolescent he was five years before to the man he was now was nothing short of breathtaking.

Which was why, despite the vast gap of age difference and experience that was between them, he found himself gaping at the scrawny child that was fast approaching him.

She was small, most definitely young, if her lack of… assets were anything to go by, and rather quite odd-looking, with her dark red hair that would've looked dyed had it not been for her eyelashes, and the slanted eyes that would usually be found on an Asian's face, but for all she looked her age, she certainly didn't act like it.

Little girls her age would have worn bright colors, like pink or yellow, or in the very least a light green, but as for her, she was dressed from head to toe in nothing but black. Black headband, black turtleneck, black skirt, black lace-up boots…

True, she looked good in black, but how old was she? Seven? Eight?

"Nine," she said, shooting him a winsome smile before seating herself into the opposite chair of the two-seat table with all the grace of a twenty-year-old ballerina.

Stare.

The smile only widened further when he continued to stare at her in bemusement. "Grand-père always said to dress unlike one's age, if she wanted to be taken seriously," she said sweetly, bestowing him another beatific smile that was probably the reason why it was suggested that girls were made of sugar and spice and everything nice. "So I did."

Stare.

"I never liked pink anyway," she continued, gesturing at the nearest waiter. "I look terrible in pink. Too… perky." Another smile, one that was as bright and dazzling and befuddling as the previous one. "Coffee?"

(Somewhere, deep, deep, deeeep down inside of him, in the darkest crevices of his mind, there was a Thought, and a sixteen-year-old voice went "Oh, hell.")

Staaaaa—"Uh, um, no coffee, I mean, no thank you," he fumbled. "I'd tea, rather. I mean, I'd like teadamn." The realizationsomething he wouldn't even think to repeat in the deepest recesses of his mind in hopes of eventually forgetting itis a treacherous hiss in the back of his mind, coiled and quiet, but waiting.

With any luck, it wouldn't occur to him for another ten years. At least.

A dainty hand pushes a teacup in front of him, and he notes the slender fingers before he catching himself.

Hissss.

"Um," he said. He winced, and tried again. "So. You're Benino's daughter. Um." Right. Like that was any better.

"Yes." A pause. Then:

"I know I don't look anything like him," she said quietly, her shoulders slumping as she stared forlornly into her teacup. The light in her eyes had dimmed. "Everyone mentions it at least once or twice, usually the adults when they think I can't hear them, " she continued. "They're always saying how I look like Mum, and how I only act like him, but... colder. Quieter. Eye-dee-kay," she said cheekily, suddenly brightening up considerably. "I'm only nine."

Lucia observed the sudden smile that didn't reach her eyes and came to a conclusion. He leaned forward in his seat and rested his arms on the table. "You don't like it when people say that," he said, watching her carefully. It had been a statement, what he said, rather than a question.

She froze, and then caught his expression. "I don't," she admitted sheepishly. "Is that a bad thing?" she asked, peering up at him from her slouched position.

He paused, and then shrugged. "Not necessarily. Not everyone wants to be told how much they resemble someone else," he said finally. "Not even when that 'someone else' is family, because sometimes that just makes it even worse."

"You do understand!" she exclaimed, and clapped her hands together in delight. She was smiling brightly again, this time for real, and he noted the sudden tightness in his chest with resignation.

"Yes, I do." And so they sat there for a while, staring out the window in comfortable, companionable silence as the rain beat a steady, tapping rhythym against the pane. From the corner of her eye she watched him finger the silver ring on his left thumb, absentminded, and she spoke.

"I know what my family does," she said calmly, without taking her eyes off the street. "You don't have to tell me."

She says it so confidently, so easily.

The sudden thought left a bitter taste in his mouth. His mouth tightening, he began to glare darkly at the ring. "Really?" he asked, his tone carefully, deceptively neutral. "So you already know that it involves bribing and smuggling and killing people?"

Her head shot to him, eyes wide, wide open, before her small face settled into a determined expression. "Yes. So do you."

"Yes, I do, but I don't condone it."

"But you still choose to associate with us," she pressed, leaning forward. "That ringGrand-père gave it to you, and he gives those rings to only his most trusted. That makes you one of us." The last sentence held a distinct ring of triumph.

The sickened feeling worsened.

His eyebrows rose. "'Us'?" he repeated, mockingly. "Already? My, my, my. How quickly the little girl is growing up."

Her lips pursed, she stared back him, her expression becoming increasingly thunderous. "Not yet," she said flatly. "But I will be."

"Really."

"Yes."

"Really."

"Yes," she snapped, struggling to restrain herself from throwing a tantrum right then and there. "They've been training me since Grand-père adopted me."

Since—? "But that was three years ago," he whispered, incredulous. "I bet you don't even fully understand what they're doing to you."

"They're preparing me!"

He couldn't believe he was arguing with a nine-year-old kid! Him! A 21-year-old man! Christ! "They're turning you into a weapon!"

(...Christ, he was just digging himself deeper and deeper...)

"Iwhyit's none of your business!" she hissed, almost angered to tears. He was so nice only a few minutes ago! She had just told him he was understanding a few moments ago! Why was he suddenly being the opposite?

"It is when little girls start playing 'Mob' when they should be playing with their Barbies," he retorted, clenching his fists. "Like you saidyou're only nine."

"Oh!" she gasped, jerking herself back, stung. "Oh! You—!" For a brief moment, she sat there, fuming red and glaring at him with suspiciously wet eyes

(—oh gods don't tell me she's about to cry—)

—and then, without taking her eyes off him, her right hand disappeared into her coat, then reappeared with a black cellphone clutched in its grip, and in one fluid motion she flipped it open, deftly pressed a button, and brought it to her ear.

In a cold, barely controlled voice, she said, "Tony, take me home now."

"Awww," Lucia cooed quietly, mockingly, his dark eyes glittering. His malicious expression—a toothy, wolfish grin—bordered on feral. "Did I make the little Mafia princess upset?"

She only glared at him, rendered almost completely speechless with rage. When she saw a large, bulky man—whose skin was heavily scarred and riddled with tattoos—nearing their table, she flung herself toward him and buried her face in his equatorial girth. Looking only vaguely surprised, the man tilted his head down at her and began to rub her back soothingly. After a few brief moments, the man finally glanced at him, and his pockmarked face broke out into a jovial, albeit disbelieving, grin.

"Il mio dio, if it isn't Lucy DiLianno!" Tony Santino cried out heartily. He swung an arm out to capture the young man in a one-armed embrace and thumped his back joyfully, completely missing the outraged look his charge shot at him. "How are you, voi ragazzo grazioso? I thought you'd be in Genoa for another year at least! Bored with building fancy churches and ready to do some real work again, eh?"

Minding the red-haired brat that was clinging stubbornly to the soldier's waist, Lucia quickly stepped back and led them outside under the awning. "No," he replied cheerfully, matching the older man grin for grin and pointedly ignoring her glares. "I'm supposed to return in a week—"

"Et merci, Dieu," she mumbled under her breath, sulking.

"to continued my internship," he continued without missing a beat, steadfastly disregarding the interruption. Here he shot him a dazzling smile, which only widened further when he caught the brat staring at him, mouth open. "I'll be too busy making 'fancy churches', as you put it, for the good part of next year. I won't be able to visit until next fall, so the guys will still have to do without me."

"Don't look so pleased, voi monello," grumbled Tony, lighting a cigarette. "You know very well how much you're needed. Some of us weren't very happy when Niccolo let you go, and the rest of us aren't getting any younger."

"Yes," said Lucia, sighing in resignation. This was not the first time he'd heard this, and it did not look like it would be his last. Still, he stood firm. "I know. But this is what I want to do, and Niccolo respected my decision. So..."

"Hmph. Well," said Tony, brightening, determined not to let the atmosphere get to them any further. "Niccolo and the family will be pleased to see you," he said, patting him on the back cheerfully. "Welcome home, Lucia."

"Thanks." Dark eyes glanced at the redhead, who was furiously gnawing away at a braid, and the smile became lopsided as his pocketed his hands. "Hey, Princess," he drawled.

For one, brief moment, cobalt blue eyes clashed with dark brown ones.

She looked away. "Yeah?"

"Look at me when I talk to you."

Sluggishly, she turned, grimacing. "Yes?" she asked, impatient. Before she could react, a dark brown hand grabbed her own pale one and held it firmly in its grip. Too surprised to do anything but gawk, she eyed him, too stunned to move.

Slowly, gently, his face descended, and lightly lips brushed against dainty fingers.

As he released her, dark brown orbs caught her eyes, and held. His eyes never leaving her face, Lucia smiled; the smile was mysterious and promising. What he promised

(—ten years—)

was left unsaid.

"...When a decade has passed..."

Fully aware of Tony's narrowed, watchful—speculating—eyes, Lucia stepped away, but allowed his smile to remain. His voice as deep and as smooth and as rich as chocolate, he said,

"Bienvenue vers Manhattan, Princesse. Welcome, Princess."

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"...I'll be coming back for you."

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05.20.08

A/N: ... um. Yeah. Took me more than a month to finish this, but I did it! Yeahh, I did it! (does a happy dance)

To all those whose stomachs didn't go over well with this: if you guys found this not a little bit creepy, please note that there will be no pre-pubescent Lolita thing going on, 'kay? Despite my inclinations towards "older guy-younger girl by LOTS" pairings, -that- kind of stuff (pedophilia) doesn't go well with me, either; this was just a preview of what is to happen to them in the future. 'Kay? And don't forget to review!