Snowflakes were falling and it was cold enough to see her breath. She slowly strolled down the busy city street, ambling along with no real destination in mind.

How long has it been since I've done this? Dragon wondered. Since I've simply walked with no clear objective?

She was outside, away from paperwork, from business, and from people. She had no bodyguard pacing stiffly next to her. Which was probably a stupid decision on my part, but it's too late now. All she had to protect herself was a simple Beretta pistol tucked away into her thick jacket pocket.

The crime lord wriggled deeper into her coat, seeking out every bit of warmth she could get. The hood was pulled over her head so her sight was limited. That was fine, she reasoned, as any of the other groups would be foolish to suddenly attack her on a crowded walkway such as this one. She was safe until she turned onto a side street.

She wished to light a cigarette between her lips, but that would involve moving her hands out of her pocket, something she loathed to do in this weather. Then again, it's been a good few hours since her last smoke, and she was getting antsy. Her golden eyes glanced around and found couples entering and exiting the city's park, holding hands as they walked through the winter wonderland. All the shops were closed by this hour so her only chance of coverage would be a gazebo in the middle of the Central Park. She sighed, lowering her jacket's hood further as passed through the gates.

With one hand clutching her gun, she moved the other and maneuvered a cigarette into her mouth, finally giving into her urges. Hurriedly, she fumbled around her pocket for the lighter, instantly lighting the stick in her mouth. She inhaled the fumes, letting the taste glaze over her tongue before letting out a couple plumes of smoke through her nose. The buzz died down and she smiled, sticking her left hand back into her pocket.

She soon happened upon a wooden gazebo large enough to hold a party of at least ten. It was a little off the beaten path with the entrance facing the park's small pond. Dragon walked over and sat down on one of the benches hugging the structure's walls. She shivered a bit as she touched the cold surface but soldiered through, snuggling deeper into her coat.

Her rare-colored eyes watched as couples shuffled through the snow in front of her station, giggling and holding hands as they helped one another towards the splintered ice of the pond. Her thoughts trailed off to Dominique and Eleanor, who were no doubt enjoying their day off on a perfect winter night such as this. She could easily imagine Eleanor dragging a willing Dominique around, eager to make it to the Christmas tree lighting. A small smile appeared on her face as she remembered talking to Dante about how he promised to buy his two daughters new cell phones for Christmas.

Then there was her sister. Alex was probably harassing her poor bodyguard with the newly fallen snow. Dragon wasn't worried though, she had a pretty good feeling Ren could hold her own in a snowball fight. The image brought a chuckle to her lips and she brought her hands out of their pocket, rubbing them together in hopes of creating some heat.

After a bit, she settled back into her comfortable position, lifting her gaze to the grey skies above. And what about you, Dragon? Some snow started to fall onto her face but she still didn't move. What are you doing out here all alone? Taking a leisurely stroll through the park isn't like you at all.

Her thoughts were soon interrupted when a loud yelp sounded nearby, followed by a muted thump. Alert, Dragon immediately stood and turned towards the sound, her hand gripping her handgun tightly as she took in the scene before her:

Right outside the gazebo sat a small woman in the snow, rubbing her elbow and groaning lightly in pain. Numerous books laid about her person and there was a large dog huffing heavily enough to create a smoky haze in front of its face. The girl winced as she tried to move, instantly cradling her injured elbow to her chest.

Well, either she's sincerely injured, or she's a paid actor sent to lure me into the open. … Well, if it turns out to be the latter, a brawl would help warm me up. Dragon started forward, her grip still tight on the Beretta just in case, her features not belying any of her thoughts or actions as she approached the woman with an aloof smile. "Do you need any help?"

"Huh?" the woman started, looking up at the new voice. They made eye contact, brown meeting gold, and the smaller woman froze. Her already rosy cheeks seemed to flush darker and she adverted her gaze to the ground. Dragon watched this peculiar reaction, intrigued. It was sudden, a curious feeling as far as the crime lord was concerned, but something about this suddenly shy woman made her want to find out more. Odd, as Dragon wasn't known to be impulsive.

And she hasn't given me cause for alarm yet, so it should be fine. Her grip on the gun loosened. "Are you alright?" she repeated and held down her free hand for the other.

Before the smaller of the two could react, a deep bark sounded, followed by a deep rumble. A bit jarred, Dragon turned to the noise and nearly dropped the cigarette in her mouth. Not three feet away from her stood a growling St. Bernard the height of a full-grown Great Dane! What is this monster-dog! Every part of her body told her to run and she was about to oblige when a soft, stuttering voice came from the woman under her:

"N-no, Michael. Down, Michael, down." And with a single point, the fearsome beast was tamed and lying peacefully on the ground, panting breathily. Said beast tamer turned back to Dragon, an apologetic look on her face, "I'm s-sorry about th-that. I don't know whu-what got over him. Please forgive him."

Actually, I'm holding a gun in my hand. Your dog's just looking out for you. Of course the mafia Donna didn't plan on using her firearm unless needed and so far, that didn't seem to be the case. "It's alright," she responded, trying to slow her heart rate after that exciting experience. "I'm just not used to St. Bernards being so… big."

A small giggled sounded from the woman as she relaxed, "Yes, I g-get that a lot." She gave a delighted smile, eyes shining bright behind her glasses and Dragon felt her own smile grow a little in response. The woman then gasped and quickly looked down, her smile dropping as she gazed at the white surface of the dirt path, "S-s-sorry!" The silence that followed felt awkward.

Dragon gave a puzzled frown, "For?"

"What?" came the quiet response as the other looked back up to her.

"I asked what are you sorry for."

"Um, I-uh…" She fell silent, her cheek darkening in shame as her expression fell.

"If you don't have anything to be sorry for, don't apologize." In response, the other's gaze fell away once more and Dragon inwardly sighed, berating herself on her tactlessness. She tried a different approach, "Is your arm still hurting?"

The other woman tried to move her arm but hissed and brought it back to her chest, "A little."

"Then let me help you up." The shorter of the two shyly accepted and Dragon grasped the smaller hand in her own. The raven-haired woman misjudged the other's weight, however, and tugged too hard, pulling the small woman flush against her body. The small woman stumbled, trying to regain her balance but slipped, only to be caught in Dragon's arm. "Are you alright?" Dragon asked calmly, staring down at the other woman.

The other, for her part, could only gape, her face glowing a deep red as she gazed into those inexplicable eyes. Dragon's brow rose at the woman's strange behavior and she was about to repeat the question when the shorter of the two broke away from the hold, "S-s-s-sorry!" she managed to push past her speech disorder, trembling slightly.

Dragon merely stood at her full height. "For what?"

The woman caught herself and looked away, mumbling another apology.

The Donna gave a small, understanding smile, not annoyed in the slightest. "You really need to work on that."

"Sorr-…" She meekly nodded her head.

Dragon changed the subject. "Those books…?" she trailed off, pointing to the now damp book littered around them.

"Ah! My books!" the other exclaimed, reaching down for one and bemoaning its sodden state. She started to pick up the others and Dragon joined in soon after.

Crestfallen, the shorter woman placed the books into a dog-satchel that Dragon had only now noticed fastened around the dog's torso. "Th-thank you for helping me," the woman added quietly when the last book was tucked away. "They must have f-fallen out whu-w-when we were speeding."

"Speeding?"

"I sometimes ride Michael like a horse." The other giggled at Dragon's skeptical look. "Why not? He's certainly strong enough," she answered the unspoken question with an easy grin. As if to further her point, she climbed up onto the dog's back and held the dog's leather collar like a harness. "Don't worry. I've been d-doing this for year—ah!"

Dragon caught the woman right before she fell a second time, moving her upright on the giant St. Bernard. She noticed the woman cradling the wounded elbow once more, a pained expression on her youthful face. "Your arm. You won't be able to ride like that," she elaborated.

"Yeah…" The other gave a dejected sigh at not being able to ride Michael and made to climb off.

"Hold on," Dragon immediately cut in, surprising even herself. "You can sit on top as Michael walks. I'll steady your body and make sure you don't fall off."

"B-b-but!" The woman looked up, alarmed. "Y-you're-I… I don't want to-to trouble you!"

Dragon gave a bewildered frown. "I'm the one offering to help. If it was trouble, I wouldn't have offered."

The smaller one opened her mouth to respond a couple times, but couldn't think of anything. She sealed her mouth and looked away, her face turning red for the third time during their meeting, "T-thank you…"

The words were so quiet that Dragon almost didn't hear them. But she did, and smiled. "You're welcome."

They were off. It took a good twenty minutes before they were at the gates where Dragon first entered. During that time, the Donna had noted that the other seemed frightfully uncomfortable and anxious, but when she brought it up, this only caused the blush to deepen further following a quiet denial. And so they walked through the rest of the park with Dragon leaning the girl's shoulder against her side, silently hoping the dog didn't decide to randomly dart off.

Dragon's worries were for naught, for the two soon found themselves on the busy street, gaining looks from everyone they passed (and, much to Dragon's amusement, wide girth, no doubt due to Michael's size). The mafia leader had pulled up her hood the second they stepped onto the busy sidewalk, flicking away her spent cigarette and placing her hand around the hilt of her gun once more.

"What's your name?"

"Hm?" Dragon came back from her thoughts, her yellow eyes looking down to meet brown. "My name?" She knew what the other asked, but this was her way of biding time. She had only met this woman maybe a half an hour ago at most, and she didn't know if she wanted to relay personal information. Should she lie?

She received a faint nod in response, her bright eyes displaying her curiosity, but never once looking away. This woman could never will at Poker, Dragon off-handedly noted, amused.

"Gabriella."

Brows lifted, before that gaze turned away, nodding. "It's a very p-pretty name."

"Thank you."

A pleasant silence followed before the smaller of the two spoke up. The dirty blonde turned back to Dragon, "I forgot to t-tell you my name. I'm Hope Callaway."

"Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Callaway."

"H-hope, please," Hope said with a shy grin.

"Then Hope it is."

Hope beamed. "And it's a p-pleasure to meet you, Gab-bri-e-ell…" She trailed off, looking defeated. "Sorry," she finally voiced. They turned onto a side street.

Dragon softly sighed, "This again?"

"But m-my sus-stuttering! You mu-must be an-nnoy—"

The crime lord cut her off with a sharp look. "Did I tell you I was annoyed? Give you any indication that your speech impediment aggravated me?"

"No."

"Then don't put words into my mouth. Others might have told you that it annoyed them, but I do not condemn people for that which they cannot control. I know you're struggling, all the more reason for me to patiently listen. I will say it now, I am not bothered by it."

The reply Dragon expected definitely wasn't the shorter woman starting to hiccup, tearing up at the corners of her eyes. The raven-haired woman quickly backtracked, wondering how she had upset the other. She was stopped, however, when Hope sniffled, smiling past a couple small streaks of tears, "Th-thank you. No one has," hiccup, "ever said that to-to me before."

Hope was smiling so brightly, so happily up at her, that Dragon couldn't help but grin back. "It's true."

Dragon offered Hope a small packet of tissues as the blonde silently cried, smiling all the while as they walked.

xXx

They arrived at a quaint bookshop lining the side street in one of the quieter parts of the city. "We're here," Hope announced and Dragon backed away so the blonde could dismount. She fished around for her keys while Dragon surveyed the area.

"A bookshop?" I don't think I've ever been down this way. I wonder whose territory this is.

"Mm. I own the store a-and live above the shop." She opened the door and swung it open so Michael could walk inside. "Good dog." She turned to Dragon, "Do you want to come in? To warm up a bit?"

She considered denying the offer, but her left hand was freezing after exposing it to the cold this whole time. Dragon shrugged and walked inside. She rubbed her hands together to create some friction, listening to the door's bell ring when Hope walked in after her.

"D-do you need anything?" Hope passed her, putting her coat away and turning on the heater and lights.

Dragon moved to the heater and held her hands in front of the warmth, silently sighing when she started to feel some life crawl back into her frozen palms. "No, I'm fine. I won't be staying long."

"Oh... W-well, stay as long as you-you'd like." Dragon thought Hope sounded disappointed, but when she looked, the shop owner was taking books out of Michael's satchel and placing them on the counter. She asked what Hope was doing and the other responded with a helpless smile, "I'm checking to see if they're salvageable." When Hope realized Dragon was waiting for her to explain, she quickly continued, "They were d-dropped in the snow, but some of them might be repairable, if-if knocked down in price. I pick up book orders from the po-post office myself."

"Why not just hire for delivery?"

Brown eyes fell away. "Not enough money…"

Unable to respond, Dragon turned away from the heater and looked down the shelves as Hope went back to work. It was mostly silent in the shop as Dragon started down the aisles, glancing at the selection the store offered, everything from Adventure, to Romance, to Spiritual, to Biographies. "I might stop in every now and then," Dragon announced from a couple aisles down, pleased with what she had found. A book was in her hand as she reappeared and walked up to the register.

The total was rung up and Dragon paid in cash. Before she could pick up the book, she heard that shy voice once more, barely above a whisper, "W-will you?"

She grabbed the book. "Will I what?"

"… Nothing, nevermind." Hope reached for another of the damaged books.

Dragon took in the other's gloomy expression and quickly retraced their conversation. "Ah, will I come back, you mean." When Hope silently lifted her gaze, Dragon continued, "Yes, I like reading, but I haven't for quite some time. Maybe this is that push I need." She smiled, "My study hasn't had any new additions in the past couple years. I need to amend that."

Hope's expression lit up and a grin spread across her face. "Then I look forward to seeing you again, Gabby!"

"G-gabby?!" Dragon's mouth gaped and she nearly dropped her book in shock. The daring of this woman! No one dared to called Dragon 'Gabby,' least they fancy themselves a quick trip to the afterlife! Never before had someone had the courage to give her a cutesy nickname; known as Dragon to friend and foe alike, she was the feared Mafia Donna!

Dragon's face must've been a sight to see because Hope brought her hands to her mouth, giggling uncontrollably behind them as her eyes shined with laughter, "Can I not? Gabby is a shorter version of your name, right?" There was a small, playful spark in her eyes, a challenging look, and Dragon was sure Hope was smirking.

Am I being teased?! "Yes it is, but…" She fell silent, unable to come up with a rebuttal under Hope's jubilant smile. Unable or unwilling? She sighed, defeated. "All right."

Hope humbled herself as much as she could, though she was still glowing, elated. She clasped her hands in front of her and smiled at Dragon, "I'll see you soon, Gabby!"

Dragon stared for a couple second, conscious of her cheeks heating up a tiny but was unable to make anything of it. Instead she just smiled in kind, "See you soon, Hope," and walked out the door, holding her new book tightly in her hand.


I don't know if this is canon with the Built to Subdue universe or not, but it was such a cute idea that I just had to get it down! And no, Dragon isn't clueless about Hope's sudden crush on her. She's just too analytical and to the point, she doesn't really get emotional. That doesn't mean she couldn't develop feelings for Hope; she'd just express them in different ways than someone who's driven by emotion. Oh, and fun fact: Dragon is asexual. :P

Please review and tell me what you think. :)