Title: I'm not a shoulder to cry on (but I digress)

Characters: Vongola Secondo (Ricardo); Sephira; Giotto; Longchamp I; Silvia (OC)

Summary: Ricardo meets Sephira at last.

Warnings: degrading language towards women

Song of the chapter: This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race – Fall Out Boy

Unlike Giotto, Ricardo did not learn how to use these Flames from the mysterious Sephira. In his younger days, holding boys five years older than him in high regard, he had followed Giotto and his friends to a clearing where they practiced setting themselves on fire.

G still liked to tease him about how bratty he had been back then, threatening to tell his parents what they were doing if they wouldn't teach him. It took much trial and error, but eventually he, too, could start and use Flames, a kind even more destructive than the ones Giotto wielded.

His teachers were Giotto, G, and sometimes Simon, and that meant that the first time he saw his cousin's teacher was after he officially joined the Vongola. Giotto had been reluctant, but Ricardo had been an excellent fighter even in adolescence, just like he was in every field, and when he was an adult they had no further excuses to keep him away.

Ricardo joined the Vongola, fought under its name, and six months in, he finally came to meet the mysterious Sephira for himself.

She was no longer the wise woman in the woods, the one that sent little gifts along with Giotto – small cakes, books, herbs – and other than what he heard from Giotto, Ricardo had heard from rumors and reports, about the boss of the Giglio Nero Family.

Leaning back in his seat, letting the wine in his goblet sit instead of drinking it, Ricardo glanced at the woman sitting next to his cousin's pious Guardian, engaged in an animated discussion about faith and compassion. Since Giotto had completely dropped his guard, and even G wasn't keeping his head, one of them had to stay sober and alert.

If rumors were to be believed, the woman playing host to the Vongola was the most ambitious whore in all of Europe, brazenly collecting favors and powers by selling what was between her legs, taking in that of men to play at being a queen. The holy whore, queen of flowers, jeered those who looked down upon the family that took on the emblem of the black lily. The most precious flower was hidden in the robes of a false priestess, and one had to pay a price to enjoy the honey between its petals.

Those were the tamer things said about Sephira of the Giglio Nero.

But those were the wildest, most unreliable rumors, and not just because he knew there was nothing worth less than the weight of mindless chatter of the masses.

It was a faith he had in Giotto, and if not in Giotto, the reckless man who fought on behalf of others, then it was in G, who was Giotto's common sense born in a separate man. It was the lack of faith he had in rumors viciously perpetuated by suitors turned down by a woman who had no interest in sharing power with a man lucky enough to marry her.

Whoever was the father of the bastard daughter that was said to be her spitting image, his identity was a secret to all of Italy.

As for Sephira herself, and his impression of her . . .

The first time they met, it was in a joint negotiation with the Vongola, the Giglio Nero and the Tomaso. Ricardo was Giotto's back, in case things went south. Tomaso Primo had seven men with him, each as ugly as boars and just as well-mannered.

Sephira had a woman just an inch taller than her, who looked more a lady-in-waiting than the Guardian of Lightning her ring identified her as. Even Lampo was more threatening than the slight woman with chestnut hair.

Intimidation was not the way of the Giglio Nero, obviously. She could have brought Sergio Tiberinus, and the Tomaso would have cowered at the presence of the infamously sharp-tongued illusionist, but she hadn't.

Ricardo nearly wrote her off as a woman who did not know how to engage in negotiations, and the Tomaso did too.

Until negotiations actually started.

Every jeer, every condescension, every comment heavy with innuendo – even Giotto's patience was dangerously close to snapping – she was completely unaffected by, merely reminding Tomaso Primo that he was straying off topic patiently.

Not a whore, Ricardo thought. A saint. Or maybe a well-made doll.

It wasn't praise, not the way he thought it. Silvia, at her side, kept a far less composed look, but she kept it reigned in. If looks could kill, then the Tomaso Family would have been down a leader and his entourage in a bloodbath.

"We could take it somewhere more private," Longchamp Tomaso was saying, in regard to discussion about the vineyard that was the subject of dispute. "The Tomaso are always open to beautiful women."

His eyes trailed over Sephira's white-robed form, and then to Silvia. The Lightning Guardian's eyes narrowed in disgusted annoyance, and Tomaso Primo wagged his tongue. "Especially feisty ones."

"A pity that beautiful women aren't interested in you," mused Sephira.

It was said in the same mild-mannered way she had said everything else, and it took Ricardo a moment to make out what words she had actually said. Surprised, he did a double take, and no, he wasn't imagining it – not when Silvia was grinning like she had received everything she wanted.

Longchamp sputtered, face flushing. "What did you say?"

"Given that this is the seventh time you haven't understood what I said the first time," Sephira said, in that same calm voice. She had never once raised her voice, never been thrown off her serene state this entire time. Always steady and secure, unaffected. "I am not surprised you need clarification, signor. I said, beautiful women aren't interested in you."

As far as comebacks went, it was weak, but it was a combination of things that made it more impactful. The first, being that it was from a woman who had until now been rather passive, and the second being that it struck something in Longchamp.

Ricardo expected him to rage. To shout. To insult.

Longchamp's red face – red as a tomato – shook, and then, to Ricardo's disbelief and mild horror, he burst into tears. When he had left the Vongola's headquarters this morning, Ricardo had never expected to see a grown man blubbering about his failures, the pressures of his family, and how he was a disappointment.

Sephira, to that, merely left her seat and went up to Longchamp. His men tensed, wary of the woman they had spent the last hour sniggering at, but she ignored them, and their hands twitching towards weapons, and merely pulled out a handkerchief from her sleeve to dab at his eyes.

It was very motherly, and Ricardo discreetly pinched himself. No, this wasn't a dream.

The calm façade broke, and behind the mask was a compassionate woman, a martyr that had walked off a stained-glass window to mingle among human beings and spread gospel. With the same endless patience she had displayed earlier in the farce of a negotiation she stayed with Longchamp until he stopped crying, and murmured something in a low, soothing voice while rubbing his back with a gentle hand.

Somehow, that set off the man into further tears, and he snatched the damp handkerchief Sephira offered to loudly blow his nose. Without even a twitch of disgust marring her face, she extended a hand behind her, and was promptly handed a fresh handkerchief by her Lightning Guardian, who looked rather used to how this had turned out.

Ricardo side-eyed Giotto, who didn't look surprised either. So that just left him, and the seven goons who were thrown off-guard. Not that it showed on his face as easily as it did them.

Eventually, the wretch finally stopped blubbering, and it was like he was a changed man now. Still an idiot, but now, instead of throwing innuendos like a man who couldn't keep it in his pants for one minute, he seemed to fawn over Sephira's every word, a fanatic at an altar. She remained the same, but Ricardo was more wary of her now. She might not be the temptress, but she was still able to lift and shake the hearts of those she met, and that was dangerous – especially with how easily she pried personal weaknesses, and how she ensnared Longchamp with just a few words and gestures.

Negotiations ended favorably for all sides – the goal that both the Vongola and the Giglio Nero had been pursuing – and Longchamp left after insisting that the Giglio Nero one day be invited to the Tomaso Family for a feast. From an idiot to an idiotic fanatic. As far as personal growth went, Ricardo was not impressed.

Giotto was more focused on something else. "Every day, I think that if I were half the person you are, I'd be satisfied, but also sainted."

Sephira shrugged. "He was just pressured, from all the expectations of those around him," she said. "Demanding that he fit their image of what a man is. What a man should be. It's terribly harmful and toxic, to not just men but women."

His cousin nodded, as if committing her words to memory. "Is that why you didn't bring Sergio?"

For all that rumors about Sephira of the Giglio Nero were abound, there was a reason why few dared to say it to the Family, and especially the Mist Guardian. Sergio Tiberinus was a man who was not to be trifled with.

"No. He's with Felicia."

A man who was known by all who knew him to not be crossed, and Sephira had left him to babysit her daughter. Ricardo's opinion of her was lowered once more.

As if she had heard his thoughts, her blue eyes fell on him for a moment before turning back to Giotto. "Besides, Silvia was looking forward to speaking with G again."

Behind her, the Lightning Guardian sputtered, face flushing.

"Sorry to disappoint," he drawled. Ricardo was observing. It was unsaid, and yet implied, that he was next in line to the Vongola should something happen to Giotto. It wouldn't, not if the Vongola had anything to say about it, but all men died.

But then again, G had been surprisingly eager to push this assignment onto him, and the rumor mill of the Vongola were saying that the last time the Giglio Nero and Vongola met, there had been a lover's spat of sorts between the two.

"But I am sorry that you had to hear that," Sephira added. Ricardo thought back and realized that it was only when Longchamp turned his attentions to Silvia that she finally grew a spine.

No wonder Giotto liked her so much. She was a kindred soul in the white robes of a priestess and ocean-blue eyes.

As long as the alliance didn't drag down the Vongola, he concluded, when she glanced his way and he averted his eyes, the weight of that perceptive gaze heavy on him in a way he was unfortunately, frustratingly familiar with. As long as his family did not have to protect the Giglio Nero.