Intermezzo di Cavallone
Title: Intermezzo di Cavallone
Rating: PG-13 (for language and violence)
Characters: Dino & Hibari, plus a few of my own for zest and flavour!
Warnings: None, that I know of.
Summary: Deals are struck. Old friends appear. People die.
I. Allegro capriccio
Dino wends his way through a warren of buildings, offices, lecture halls and classrooms, periodically checking and re-checking the small slip of white paper in his hand. It is of the finest quality and bears the sign and seal of Hibari Kyouya in red Chinese characters at the top. Below this are a series of instructions printed in Kyouya's own perfect and precise hand. The closer he gets to his destination, the nicer the offices get and the fewer people he encounters. At last, he finds the door he's looking for and steps inside.
A tall, slender bespectacled young man sits at a large reception desk--one of the few pieces of furniture in the sparse but elegant room. He looks up, takes in Dino's travel wrinkled jacket and casual slacks, and adopts an attitude of unmasked disdain.
"May I help you?" he asks in a soft, bored voice.
Dino smirks. A new one. He decides to have a little fun. "I was told I could find Hibari Kyouya-san here. Is he in?"
"Do you have an appointment?"
"No," Dino answers. It's partially true, but he folds the small paper with the directions on it and conceals it in his pocket. "I wasn't aware I needed one."
"Hibari-sama doesn't see anyone without an appointment," glasses-boy says with a self-satisfied grin. Least of all gaijin Euro trash like you, Dino thinks. He has to mask his short burst of laughter with a slight fake cough. Where does he find these guys?
"Well, I'm a good friend. I think he'll want to see me."
Spectacles raises an eyebrow and looks at Dino as if to say, Are you high? Hibari Kyouya doesn't have friends--only enemies and subordinates.
"Not without an appointment," the young man says, opening a large leather-bound ledger and flipping to a blank page. He flashes a wicked, sarcastic smile. "I could try fit you in a month from today...."
Dino winces and sucks in his breath in that way the Japanese have that politely indicates there is about to be a major problem. He scrubs a hand through his already untidy hair. "I'm afraid that's unacceptable. Tight schedule, you understand. Maybe you could...let him know I'm here?"
The thin young man sighs, loudly, and fixes him with an irritated glare. "And who are you?"
"Just tell him Dino is here," he says. His stomach muscles hurt with the effort of keeping a straight face.
Rolling his eyes, glasses-boy presses a button on the sleek silver telephone. "Shitsurei shimasu, Hibari-sama."
In a moment, Hibari's voice rings through the little speaker. Yes?
"Some idiot named Dino is here to see you," he says, and for extra measure, he adds: "He doesn't have an appointment."
There is a pause. Dino hears Kyouya give a small, exasperated sigh. That's because he's the only person I will ever see without one. Please show Mr. Cavallone in. And make some tea. When the connection breaks, there is an audible click.
Spectacles goes white in the face, and within seconds his contemptuous attitude has been replaced with an awestruck and horrified respect. He bows low, the tops of his ears, bright red.
"Go--gomen nasai, Cavallone-sama! Shitsurei shimashita!"
"Not your fault," Dino chuckles. "I should have said from the start, but I was being an ass."
He follows the now chastised young man through a set of large double doors and into Hibari's newly aquired office. Up until a month or so ago, it belonged to the President of the Board of Trustees. Now it serves as a base of operations for the various "services to the school" that Hibari and his new groups of associates provide. Kyouya is marking something in a ledger, and does not look up. Dino takes a seat and waits.
"Tea?" Hibari murmurs and finally looks up at Spectacles, who is still hovering just behind Dino's chair. The young man gives a little squeak and practically flees the room. Dino catches just the slightest hint of a smile on Hibari's lips.
"Sorry about him," Dino chuckles. "I couldn't help myself."
"You will taunt the help, won't you," the dark-haired man says, closing the ledger. "Mazukawa's young, but he's smart. I think he's here for the long term, and as they say, he knows who puts the butter on his bread."
"Him and at least fifty others I passed on the way here. I always said you'd be running this place in no time at all," Dino says and smiles.
"No," Kyouya corrects. "What you said was that I'd be running this place within a year."
"And I was right."
"No," Hibari says again. "It took two years: one to gain control and one to eliminate anyone who could take it away from me. What good is having something if you can't keep it?"
Dino laughs outright at this. Hibari can be so serious, so methodical sometimes, but then again, that's what defines him. After all, they call him The Iron Sparrow now--hard and unrelenting. Dino knows Kyouya's other side--the one that laughs at jokes and sometimes even tells them, whines when he's losing at video games, giggles when you tickle his feet, smiles sometimes for no reason at all other than that he's happy--but he's pretty sure that Hibari doesn't show that face to anyone else, and certainly not in public.
"So, how was New York?" Hibari asks, leaning back in his enormous desk chair.
"The same as always," Dino sighs. "Dirty, loud, and full of coglioni. I swear it gets harder and harder to do business there. Too many thugs and bangers to kill."
"And your meeting?"
"Cosi fan tutte. The old men just grumble and blow hot air up everyone's ass. They're so busy looking for knives behind each other's backs that they can't make a decision about the things that matter. I try. Marcantoni tries. So does Tsuna, but..." Dino shrugs, sucks in his breath through his teeth.
"So they didn't believe you?" Hibari asks, one eyebrow raised.
Dino shakes his head. "They're convinced that that Russian group the Varia took out last year were the ones behind that massive wave of hits."
"Those guys?" Hibari snorts. "They couldn't locate their own dicks to take a piss, let alone come up with something that well organized!"
"Squalo said as much," Dino comments.
"He was there?" Hibari asks, leaning forward in his seat. "What for?"
It's been five years since the battle for the Vongola Rings, and for all his contrary nonchalance, Kyouya never forgets and he does not easily forgive. In his mind, the members of the Varia will always be suspect because they once were his enemies. Dino also knows that Kyouya's dislike of Squalo Superbi runs along a deeper, more personal vein. He's tried to explain some of the history between Squalo and himself, but Hibari doesn't seem all that interested in listening. His exact words: He comes near you with that sword again, and I'll kill him.
"The Vongola have put the Varia out on loan, so to speak," Dino explains. "Together with Reborn, they're trying to track down the real culprits. They're the only ones who can, really."
"And Squalo?" Hibari asks, his eyes hard and narrow.
"We didn't even exchange five words together."
Kyouya relaxes back into his chair and dons his mask of calm serenity once again. Mazukawa arrives with the tea tray and sets it down on a small cabinet beside Hibari's desk.
"Thank you," Hibari says, gracing his subordinate with eye-contact this time. "Now get out. And lock the front door behind you. I'll see you on Monday."
"Understood, Hibari-sama," the young man says, smartly.
He bows low, first to his boss and then to Dino, before making his exit. Kyouya rises from his chair, pours a cup of tea and tastes it. A soft sigh and the gentle clink of the cup on the tray are the only outward signs of his disappointment. Dino grins. For Hibari Kyouya, tea is a very serious matter. Mazukawa has some rather intense training ahead of him.
The sound of a key turning in its lock echoes in through the double doors before Hibari shuts them and comes to stand in front of his desk, inches from Dino's chair.
"So. I have to say, this is a surprise," he murmurs, the miracle of a smile softening first his eyes and then his face. "I thought you were going straight from New York to Italy."
"That was the plan, yes," Dino says, reaching out to grasp Kyouya's hips and pull him closer. "But I missed you. Three weeks is a long time to be away."
"And you hate that fifteen hour flight," Hibari says and buries his hands in Dino's hair. "So I doubt that even you would need it bad enough to endure that. Plus, I know you've got women in New York."
"Yeah," he admits, "but I'm not in love with them."
They share a deep kiss that Dino feels all the way from his head to the bottom of his feet. More than the sex, which he has to admit is still pleasurable in ways he'd never imagined possible, it is this--Kyouya's taste, his touch, his warm breath--that he misses most when he's away.
He still finds it hard to believe that he's been in a healthy--well, as healthy as things get with Kyouya--and fulfilling relationship for the past two years. Occasionally, it still bothers him that said relationship is with another man, but that's only because he can't openly declare his feelings and still maintain his reputation amongst his business clients. Thank God that Mafiosi are a hugging and kissing bunch, otherwise, he'd never get away with the few public displays of affection that he does manage.
Hibari has ceased to threaten him with death or bodily harm, but he still enjoys sparring and is particularly fond of finding new and interesting ways to tie him up and tease him until he begs for release. If Miu-Miu Prada knew exactly how Kyouya made use of those custom silk ties she'd designed for him last fall, she'd probably die of shock. Or ask for pointers, which Kyouya would happily give her, in semi-fluent Italian, English, Chinese, or Spanish whatever her preference might be. Dino is infinitely proud of his lover's intelligence and his facility for languages.
"So," Hibari says when they finally break apart. "What's the real reason for this surprise visit?"
"I told you," Dino answers. "I missed you."
"Fifteen. Hour. Flight," Hibari says again, punctuating each word with another kiss. "Try again."
"Honest reason?" Dino sighs. "You're not gonna like it."
"I'll like it even less if you keep stalling."
"Okay," Dino mutters. "I need you to come to Italy with me."
Kyouya backs off, and leans back against the desk again. He's gone from zero to pissed in a matter of seconds, Dino can tell, and he braces for impact.
"What did I say?" Hibari growls. "What did I say three weeks ago, Dino? I told you, I can't afford to leave right now. I've got these upstart Yakuza thugs trying to elbow in on my territory, the usual Chinese and Korean triad shit, not to mention the jobs this ring shackles me to!" He clutches at the offending object suspended on a chain around his neck and shakes it in Dino's direction. "As much as I really want to, now is not a good time for me to go strolling hand in hand with you along the shores of the Adriatic Sea!"
"How about helping me and a friend of mine put down a pack of rabid dogs that need killing?" Dino counters. "You have time for that?"
This is not the response that Hibari was expecting, and his eyes flash with surprise before he schools his features once again into the expressionless face he puts on when he's thinking.
"I won't bore you with the politics," Dino begins, "but I've got a problem. A family that was formerly allied with us has undergone a...hostile restructuring. The ones in charge now are nothing more than bullies, thugs, and rapists. They're destroying everything my family's spent the past fifty years building. My friend Paolo has offered the services of his family, but there's a snag in the plan."
"The enemy knows your faces," Hibari says, his quick mind keeping pace.
"What's in it for me?" Hibari asks, moving around to sit behind the massive desk. He opens the ledger, picks a freshly sharpened pencil out of the stand, and waits.
"First Paolo and I help you get rid of your vermin," Dino offers. Hibari holds up a hand to stop him.
"Marcantoni?" he asks. "Why is the Marcantoni Tenth so eager to help my small-time operation?"
Dino flashes his most charismatic grin. "Because he's my friend, and you're my protégé, and I like to brag about you."
The ghosts of a smile and a blush fly over Kyouya's face. "Okay. You two help me out here. What else?"
"Five-hundred large for taking the job and another five when we finish it."
Hibari quirks an eyebrow, the edge of his mouth twitches against a smile. "That's a lot of money. Are we hunting dogs or bears?"
"They aren't an easy kill, if that's what you're wondering," Dino remarks.
Hibari writes something down in his ledger. Dino can't see, but he thinks it's a quick series of sums.
"So, I help you beat down some animals in Italy, and in return I get a cool million and a bit of home pest-control." The younger man shrugs and closes his ledger. "I guess it's a fair trade."
II. Battaglia: Molto furioso--Presto con fuoco
Paolo Marcantoni is not a hands-on man. That's something Hibari notices from the start. He's good looking with his classic Roman nose and dark wavy hair, and he's in relatively good shape. But he's not like Dino. Not like Gokudera or Yamamoto or any of the others he works with on a regular basis. He doesn't have that lean, predatory look.
The three of them, plus Romario and Paolo's capo, Luciano, have been holed up in this blind alley for at least twenty minutes, waiting for the first bunch of so-called Yakuza to wend their way through the Namimori pleasure district. Dino is ready, whip stretched in his hands. Romario and Luciano, who could be his shorter, stockier twin, are both packing serious firepower, though at present, they've chosen to go with knives as a start. His own tonfa are out and primed.
Paolo, however, is unarmed. At least he doesn't have any sort of weapon that Hibari can see. Silently, he nudges Dino's foot. The golden-haired Italian looks back at him, and he inclines his head towards their empty handed comrade.
"Eh, Paolo," he murmurs--not that its necessary with the noise coming off the street. "I think you're making Hibari-san nervous. You could at least draw your gun."
"What? Where's the fun in that?" Paolo calls back. "Don't worry Signore Hibari. I'll be just fine."
With that, he straightens his tie, smoothes his suit and steps out into the busy street whistling something from an opera--Rigoletto, perhaps. Hibari uses a mirror to follow Marcantoni's casual stroll down the street towards their quarry. As people pass him by, he nods his head. At first, there seems nothing unusual about the people who signal for taxis to take them away to some other destination. However, when every taxi in Marcantoni's wake vacates the street--some with hostess girls and their handlers inside--Hibari's mouth falls open.
"How's he...doing that?" he whispers.
Luciano laughs under his breath, while Dino shrugs and looks slightly uncomfortable. "I find it's better to accept and not ask. But I think he just tells them to...be somewhere else."
"He tells them?"
"Paolo can be quite persuasive, no?" Luciano murmurs. "It's his special gift."
Hibari checks the mirror again. Save for a few stragglers, the street belongs to Paolo and the oncoming pack of thugs. The Italian appears unaware of the eerily silent void left in his wake. He simply whistles his cheerful little tune and walks, unhurriedly down the center line as if he were a prince surveying a newly conquered city. The Yak know something is up, and they swell like blowfish, knives and chains and other implements of pain and death appearing from beneath coats and shirt-tails.
"Who the fuck are you?" one shouts in very rude Japanese. Hibari recognizes him as Kirihara, the leader of this particular tribe of hood-rats. The sudden mass-desertion of the street has obviously caught him off guard, and like most bullies, he's a coward. Fear will make him do something very stupid in a short space of time.
"Zenchou da yo." An omen, Paolo says, still calm, still smiling. He stops about five paces from Kirihara's crew. Some of the yakuza find his words funny and they laugh. Others snarl and brandish their weapons. Kirihara quivers, but doesn't move.
"Don't fuck with me, gaijin," the young man spits. "Who are you? Who sent you?"
Hibari steps out from the alleyway into the light. Dino and the others are right behind him.
"You!" Kirihara snarls and makes eye contact.
"Me," Hibari answers. He feels the adrenaline start to flow, feels the monster rise up inside of him, itching to leap forward and sink teeth and claws into flesh. As they bridge the short gap between Paolo and themselves, the soft-spoken Italian man keeps talking.
"I've come to give you one last chance to be good little boys and play nice with Hibari-sama."
Paolo's Japanese is as condescending as it can possibly be--which coming from a foreigner, makes it doubly offensive to Kirihara and his crew. The young tough is red in the face, and he waves his gun at the Italian.
"Or what? What are you gonna do? Talk me to death? Get the fuck out of my way!"
Kirihara aims his gun at Paolo's face. The Italian doesn't flinch. Hibari hears the shot and surges forward. In the same instant he sees...something...someone...a shadow...fly into the space between bullet and man. There is the sound of a blade being drawn, an arc of silver light, and suddenly Kirihara's gun clatters to the ground, his right hand along with it.
At that point, the monster takes control, and Hibari crashes into the crowd of thugs like a tidal wave of destruction. He senses Dino at his back, hears the swish and pop of his whip and the snapping of bones when the lash of leather coils around his victims' necks. His own tonfa connect with delicious thumps, crunches and cracks against heads, elbows and kneecaps. Drops of blood sprinkle across his face, his clothes, his hands like life-giving rain. He throws back his head and laughs.
In the brief pauses and transitions in the struggle, just on the edge of his vision, Hibari catches that flash of steel, the slip of shadow, but as soon as it appears, it is gone. When the last of the yakuza rats falls dead at his feet, he looks around, but there is nothing. Romario and Luciano are slightly injured, but still standing. Dino wipes the sweat from his brow, leaving smears of red across his face, and smiles--a blood-spattered angel with a halo of gold. Hibari is tempted to drag him into the nearest alley and have him up against the wall right then and there, but they are not alone, and discretion dictates restraint. Besides, there are questions needling his brain.
Paolo Marcantoni leans against a parked car, unharmed, unsoiled, and unruffled. He notices Hibari looking at him, gives a wide, white-toothed grin, and holds up something small and shiny. Kirihara's bullet.
"Silly boy," the Italian croons. "He should have listened to his elders when they told him, 'Never gamble with Fortune's own son.' Right, Luciano?"
The two men laugh, but Hibari fails to understand the joke. He starts to say something, but Dino's hand on his shoulder stops him. "You can ask him about it later," Dino whispers. "For now, just think of it as something like Tsuna's Dying Will power - or your Killing Stroke. It works. That's what counts."
Hibari studies Dino's strange friend. The man is talking into his cell phone, mobilizing professional "cleaners" to get rid of the bodies and the evidence. He decides to make adjustments to his prior assessment of the man. Paolo Marcantoni lacks a certain hardness, not because he's incapable or inexperienced or prone to letting others handle his dirty work. No. Paolo lacks hardness because for him, it's unnecessary. He is a man who knows that he is untouchable, that his survival is guaranteed.
A hot, wet towel is pressed into his hands, and he looks down to see a plump, elderly woman smiling up at him. She and her husband run the ramen shop on the corner. He takes it and notices others filtering out into the street. They meet his eyes and bow deeply, words of deep thanks on their lips. He feels such an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment, of belonging. This is why he strives and fights and kills. He wonders if perhaps the samurai felt this way after ridding their lands of thieves and brigands.
One of Dino's men pulls up in a shiny black limousine, and the others begin to pile into the back. There's no time to stay and witness the cleanup. They're on a schedule, and time is short--at least for the next bunch of cockroaches who need to die tonight. Hibari wipes his bloody hands and face, folds the towel, and hands it back to the little woman. She bows and backs away from him as if he were the shogun.
"Fortune's own son," he says, once they're all in the car and moving again. "Care to explain?"
Paolo studies him for a moment, and then asks, "What's Dino told you about my family?"
"Only that you're one of the Primeri," he answers. "One of the original families that created the Mafia all those years ago."
"Well," Paolo says, "when la cosa nostra was created, each family was blessed with certain...spiritual gifts. The Cavallone have always found god-like strength in the bonds of Family and Blood. The Vongola have the power of the Dying Will. And the Marcantoni possess the power of Fata e Fortuna--Fate and Luck."
"I saw something," Hibari muses, "just before everything went down. A shadow..."
"La Fortuna," Paolo answers. "She watches over me, guides my path and keeps me from harm. She tells me when it's good to fight, and when it's better to step aside."
"So it was luck that stopped that bullet and cut off Kirihara's hand?"
"And that's what cleared the street, too?"
The man laughs. "No. That was me. And that, I really can't explain. It's just something that happens sometimes--not all the time--but sometimes. When it's very important or when I need something very badly, I can...talk it into happening."
"In school," Dino speaks up, "Paolo was a master of manipulation. We used to get into so much trouble--he and Squallo and I--and no matter how terrible, no matter what it was, every time, he'd manage to weasel us all out of it."
Hibari feels a sharp and hot jab at the mention of Squallo's name. There's something in the history that exists between the long-haired swordsman and Dino, even if his lover swears that there is not. He knows it's irrational, but whatever it is makes him seethe with jealousy.
"Not every time!" Paolo laughs. "He's exaggerating. You wanna meet a manipulator, then go talk to my sister! Five minutes, and Alessa will have you wrapped around her little finger! All those pretty boys! Geez, we used to have to beat 'em off with a stick! Right, Dino?"
Romario snorts. "As I recall, she was pretty good at beating them off all by herself."
Catching the double meaning, Dino playfully elbows his second hard in the ribs while Paolo shouts, "Hey! That's my baby sister you're talkin' about!" The Italians laugh, which makes Hibari relax. Aside from Squallo--whom he hates-- and Romario, he's never met anyone with so close a connection to Dino's past. Oh, he's been introduced to the occasional friend passing through Tokyo on business, but never one from childhood.
He is not one to let down his guard in front of strangers, but something about Paolo puts him at ease. The man has an honest and open charisma that is irresistible, and paired with Dino the two of them generate a magnetic field of electrostatic joy. He thinks he'd be jealous of Paolo, too, were it not for the lack of any attraction between that man and Dino.
"Don't let him fool you, Hibari," Dino says. "It's not just luck that keeps this idiot alive. He can fight when he has to."
"And I might have to sooner than we think," Paolo murmurs, his face suddenly growing serious. He looks out of the window. "Is this the place?"
"Yeah," Hibari answers, recognizing the warehouse that serves as the headquarters for the Korean triad he's come to eliminate.
"It's a fuckin' bunker!" Luciano exclaims and reaches for the case containing the heavy firepower. "Kid, you like to play with the big dogs, don'tcha?"
Hibari grins. "They make a more satisfying thump when they hit the ground."
"Oh, you picked a winner with this one, Dino," the gruff, stocky man chuckles, sliding a clip of ammo into an assault rifle. "It's gonna be a pleasure doing business."
"It's too quiet out there," Paolo says in a soft voice. The man's dark eyes are unfocused, as if he's looking inside himself. "They're know you're coming. We should take the back door."
Hibari exchanges a look with Dino who seems just as surprised. Precognition, then? Is that how he does it?
"Hey, 'Torre," Dino calls to the driver. "Take us once around the block, and then let us out at that loading dock I saw around back." He turns to Romario and the others. "Change of plan. Romario, tell Brizio to take the front, and let Giancarlo take Paolo's people through the roof."
After that, there's not much chatter. Everyone is busy checking weapons and prepping ammunition. Hibari doesn't like guns. While he admits they are effective, he finds them inelegant and impersonal. Half the fun of killing is being able to feel the damage you are inflicting, to enjoy the rattling vibration of force when your tonfa makes contact and the energy transfers all the way up your arm and into your body. A gun is a crutch for cowards, too scared to stand toe to toe with their opponents and look death in the face. Sadly, there are more weaklings in the world than worthy men, and so he's had to learn how to meet them using their instrument of choice.
Dino helps him into a shoulder holster and hands him a loaded semi-automatic pistol. His face is grim, and Hibari thinks he sees just the tiniest bit of worry bleeding through the Italian's hard expression.
"You remember what I told you, right?" he murmurs, and those amber eyes lock on to his.
"Yeah," Hibari answers. "I remember."
Just to be sure, he repeats the litany of instructions that he and Dino have practiced so many times at the firing range. Stay low, and aim. Both eyes open. Squeeze the trigger, don't pull. Precise hits to the head and the chest. It's not his first time using a gun for a job, but it's the first time he's used one in what he knows will be an open firefight. Romario and Luciano will take the lead with the big guns and he, Dino and Paolo will follow behind. He knows that once the battle is engaged, instinct will take over, but it's the waiting that makes him doubt and question.
At last, Salvatore pulls the car to a stop and the five men rush out into the shadows of the loading dock. Romario listens in on his headset, and then silently counts down from five on one hand. The adrenaline spikes. Dino shoots the lock holding the rolling door shut. They explode into the warehouse in a whirlwind of shouts and gunfire.
He is instantly aware of three things. One, Paolo was right. The Koreans are waiting for them and with strong force of numbers. Two, by entering through the rear, they have straight sight lines to their targets, plenty of concealing cover, and the advantage of surprise. And three, were it not for the uncanny premonition that changed their original plan of attack, they'd all be dead.
Dino doesn't see his cousin Brizio go down, but Hibari does. It's like watching an ancient pine fall to the random destruction of a brushfire. Even in death, the man is majestic, and the waste of his loss drives an arrow of loathing through Hibari's heart. That one man was worth more than this entire pit of swine put together!
He wants to lash out, to rip them all apart with his bare hands. He would do it, too, except a moving shadow in the corner of his eye and an odd voice inside his head stops him. It sounds like his own voice would sound if he were a woman.
That one. That one there. The tall one with the bleached hair and the earring. He's the one you want.
Hibari takes aim at the man's head, braces himself and squeezes off four shots - four, because it's the number of death. The kickback of the gun sens the first round flying high, but the next three hit true. Brizio's killer falls to the floor and does not move. He looks again for the shadow, listens for the voice. It doesn't come. They advance upon the triad members, mowing them down like weeds until finally guns are of little use, and Kyouya can at last engage the fight in the way he knows best.
He looks to his right and there is Dino, his whip a deadly blur in the air before it cracks down like lightning. He looks to his left and he sees Paolo, fists flying and knuckles glinting with heavy bars of spiked steel--or are they blades. He cannot tell. Perhaps the hazy flood of endorphins is making him hallucinate. After all, he could swear that when Paolo moves, a shadow moves with him. And sometimes that shadow doesn't move in tandem.
It is over quickly.
III. Lento sostenuto e lamentando
From the moment he kicked down that door, he knew what might happen. At least he died the way he wanted to. On his own terms.
Dino replays Romario's words in his head and he finds a small amount of solace in them. The sun sets over the purple waves of the Adriatic Sea, and the cool air brushes his face and lifts his hair. He closes his eyes and leans into the breeze, acutely aware of the miracle that is smell, and taste and touch. Black coats and the skirts of dresses flutter in the wind like wings.
Ravens. That's what they all resemble--all the aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone gathered together at the palatial home of the Cavallone to deliver a fallen son into the embrace of those who eternally slumber. A great flock of ravens. Murderous birds that thrive on death. He wonders why he was ever born to this.
An endless string of relatives pass in front of his eyes. Hands clasp. Lips brush. They see the burden of guilt he has taken up, and these small benedictions of touch are his absolution. Kyouya is never far from his side. He brings Dino food and softly demands that he eat it. He refills Dino's glass, sometimes with water, more often with whiskey, and takes it away before he's had too much. He proffers his own handkerchief when Dino's has become soaked through with both his tears and those of Brizio's mother and sisters.
Kyouya rarely declares his love aloud, but in these simple gestures Dino finds solid proof of its continued existence. If only the world could understand such things. If only it could believe that such tenderness could exist between the heart of one man and another. He prays to the Virgin and all the Saints in God's Heaven that someday soon he might wake and find it so. Against that day, he is grateful for what he can have--Kyouya's dark, reassuring eyes, and the weight of his strong hand at his back.
Paolo has come. In his old friend's face Dino sees his own guilt and sorrow reflected. The young Marcantoni Tenth has no way to explain how he knew to give them warning, and it eats at him as much as the decision to send Brizio in ahead eats at Dino. These chains will crumble and break in time, but for the present, grief makes their weight nigh unbearable. The Marcantoni boss has brought his other sister, Christina, and he introduces her to Kyouya.
Christina truly is a lovely woman. The flaxen hair that normally cascades in soft curls down her back is swept up in a somber twist. Not even the veil of black net hiding her face can dim the sparkle of her sky blue eyes. There is nothing to fear at all in that kind smile, those soft hands that smooth his hair and caress his cheek. Dino knows at least ten men who would murder their own grandmothers to be her husband. He is not one of them. He understands what she is--or what she is destined to become: The Voice incarnate, the Oracle of the Nine Hills, as old as the Mafia itself, maybe older. Such a terrible power, such a destructive force encased in such a lovely vessel. Father always said that the deadliest things in this world were graced with sublime beauty.
Someday he will have to marry her. He has no choice.
She places a fat, leather-bound book into his hands, and he looks down at it. "I brought this for you," she says. "It's Alessa's, but I think she would want you have it now."
Night is settling down upon the patio, draping everything in soft grey shadows. He cannot really see, but there's no need. He knows what this is: a book of photographs, hundreds of moments shared with his cousin and his friends captured and contained within all those thin squares of shiny colored paper.
"There are so many of Brizio in there, especially from that time in Capri," Christina explains.
Dino needs no explanation. He has known since he saw the album, its leather decorated around the edges in flaking gold leaf. His fingers brush across the mottled surface, and he is twelve years old again, sitting on this very patio, on an early autumn day long past.
"Stop! You're going to ruin it!" Paolo cries, his eyes wide in shock.
"No, I'm not. Just watch," says his dark haired, dark eyed twin.
Alessa carefully paints the cover of the brand new leather book with the sticky white primer under Brizio's watchful eye. Since she started growing her hair long, she and her brother look less like a matched set of cherubs, but they still share those plump, round faces and mischievous expressions. Everyone says that her older sister is the prettier one by far, but Brizio--who is an expert on the subject of girls--tells him that Alessa will grow into a striking woman one day. His friends at school seem unconvinced, particularly the new boy, Squallo Superbi. Dino thinks that's because Alessa often beats him at footraces.
"Smooth and even brushstrokes, 'Lessa," Brizio counsels. "Not too heavy. Yes, that's it."
Brizio wants to go to University to become an artist. Now that he's eighteen, he can operate a powerboat, and he sometimes takes Dino out into Venice, into the old quarters. He shows his favorite cousin the buildings, the sculptures and other works of art that he wants to restore to their former splendor. Dino thinks his cousin is amazing. He can't even draw a straight line without breaking his pencil lead.
The older boy helps Alessa press the small squares of gold foil onto the surface of the book, and when enough time has passed for the primer to dry, he shows her how to remove them. Dino watches the two artists at work with open-mouthed wonder. Occasionally, Paolo puts a hand under his chin and pushes upwards. He pretends to be annoyed when he swats him away.
"It's not very good," Paolo comments when the last piece of foil comes off. "See, it's all patchy and blotchy."
"I think it's excellent for the first try," Brizio counters. "Besides...now it's completely hers. It's got character."
"That's just the nice way of saying that it's ugly," Paolo says, sidling up next to her and murmuring in her ear. She smacks him hard on the back of the head, which sets of an intense war of pokes and jabs and tickles, and Brizio roars with laughter.
"I think it's beautiful," Dino says, because he thinks no one can hear him. But in the midst of the dodges and shrieks, Alessa catches his eye, blushes and smiles.
"Let's go inside, Dino," Kyouya murmurs in his ear. "It's too dark to look at them here."
He nods and allows Christina to help him out of the chair and lead him up the low stairs to the house. His lover and his childhood friend follow behind, each placing a solid hand on one of his shoulders. And there you have him, signiorini e signiori, the great Dino Cavallone--lead about by forces he doesn't understand and propped up by the efforts of stronger men.
He knows it's absurd, but guilt and grief make him want to believe that there's a kernel of truth in there somewhere.
His sisters--with the help of an army of housekeepers--have arranged chairs, couches and tables inside the grand ballroom, its bright chandeliers dimmed and its mirrored walls draped with black crepe. The pendulum of the enormous Baroque starburst clock is still. The hands are fixed at the precise hour when the family had first learned that Brizio was dead. How his mother had loved that gaudy monstrosity!
A place is made for him amongst the cluster of Brizio's immediate family. Dino wishes that Kyouya could sit beside him as he prepares for this dive down into the deep oceans of time and memory. They make room for Christina instead, because they believe that she is his comfort and his rock. That is, after all, the way it is meant to be, and he cannot blame them for their ignorance. He's done nothing to disabuse them of it.
He unties the two pieces of ribbon that hold the album closed and remembers the small sphere of Murano glass that used to hang from it in the days when it encircled Alessa's neck. The little glass teardrop has long since been crushed under the heel of Squallo's boot, but the ribbon still remains, a cherished memento of a cherished gift. The leather book expands, and he opens it.
There's Brizio on a fishing boat, his skin tanned and his blonde hair streaked with white.
"What?" Brizio laughs and tosses his head in the salt breeze. "You've only caught one each?!"
He holds up his net, bristling with fish, and shakes it playfully. Christina squeals as fishy water splashes on her, which only encourages Paolo and Alessa to seek similar ways in which to torment their older sister.
He turns a page, and there are the four of them--Brizio, Paolo, Squallo, and himself--all on the cusp of manhood and trying desperately to pose for the girl behind the camera and look impressive.
She's laughing so hard, she can barely take the picture.
"Hurry up, already!" Squallo complains. His arm is locked around Dino's shoulder, weighing him down.
"Then tell Dino to stop making that face!" Alessa gasps, and erupts into a fresh bout of giggles.
"What face?" he whines, embarrassed that he's the object of her ridicule.
"Just smile, Dino," Brizio whispers from the other side. "Leave the tough-guy act to those two idiots. Besides, I think she really likes it when you smile."
His cousin's youthful face leaps out at him everywhere. It is an endless march of frozen summer scenes, of him and Brizio together, talking, eating, running across the beach, smiling out from under ridiculous hats.
"Oh," Paolo breathes from over Dino's shoulder. "These are the ones he took. She has them marked."
Brizio's mother recognizes the work of her son's hands even without Alessa's helpful swirling script. She pulls the album towards her and runs her fingers over the glossy images, the creations of her son's vision. Dino sees himself in nearly every one, and nowhere does he see the useless, clumsy waste of space he remembers. In Paolo's photographs, Dino Cavallone is a shining, handsome young man, strong, charismatic, and completely irresistible.
"He had a good eye," Kyouya whispers in Japanese, so he knows it's for his ears only. "He captured your true spirit."
The sudden ache in his heart overwhelms him. He wants to go back to that time before, when they were still children and there were no underground businesses to run, no enemies to kill, only a kind-hearted boy and the young man he looked up to like a brother. Dino hands the book over into the care of Brizio's family before he rises and heads for the door. Christina starts to follow, but he waves her back. Alone or with Kyouya--those are the only options on the table and ultimately he leaves the choice up to the Japanese man.
Hibari chooses to give him solitude--probably figures he needs it after a day filled with too many people showing too much emotion. Nobody laughs like an Italian. Nobody cries like one either. Dino wanders without purpose through his family's over-large house remembering games of hide-and-seek and football in the hallways. He remembers jokes and arguments and frustrated tussles. He remembers Christmas Eve dinner and staggering home drunk from Carnivale at three in the morning. His mother had refused to host the annual masked balls after his father died. In every memory, Brizio is there--and Paolo, and Squallo, and Alessa, and Christina, and all the other familiar faces that have made up so much of his early life. Everything and everyone is connected. That's what he told Kyouya, and it's true.
Dino finds himself once again nearing the main part of the house, and he hears the soft resonant ring of the front door chimes. There is a pause and then the click of the enormous latches as one of the tall double doors is pulled open.
"Signore Superbi," he hears Romario say. "This is a surprise."
"I only just arrived in town," Squallo's voice echoes back. "I came as soon as I heard the news. I don't intend to stay, but I would like to pay my respects."
Dino hugs the wall and remains silent.
"It's been a long day for everyone," Romario says, his voice subdued and understanding. "I don't think Dino's up to seeing you right now, and anyway he's with Signora D'Accosta and the family."
"Then please don't disturb them on my account," Squallo answers. "I can call again in the morning. Please relay my deepest sympathies. He and Brizio were close."
"You all were, once upon a time," Romario murmurs. "I will let him know you dropped by."
Dino hears the sound of boots turning on the doorstep. They suddenly stop.
Squallo sighs, his voice worn and weary, "Will you ask him to do me a favour? If he hears from Alessa?"
Dino's heart skips a beat. Why would he think...?
"Would you ask him to tell her...that I miss her, and I'm sorry? Per favore?"
"I can't make any promises, but I'll try," Romario replies.
"Of course," Squallo says. "I understand, and again, pardon my intrusion. Buona sera."
Long after the door closes and Romario returns to his silent post, Dino remains just out of sight, heart thundering in his chest. Squallo has changed. Hard to conceive, but there it is nonetheless. The weight of leadership and the loss of his dearest friend has smoothed the harsher qualities of his personality and softened some of his sharper, more offensive edges. They all have changed. Why, then, is it still so hard to face him? Why does he still feel guilt over the transgressions of his youth? He would ask Brizio, but he is gone, and all the other faces from his past are threatening to ensnare him in a future from which there is no escape.
Dino retreats back into the darkness of the house. They've stopped all the clocks, and it's disrespectful to wear a watch on the day of a funeral, so he wanders alone for an untold length of time, lost in the haze of memory. When he thinks most of the mourners have gone home at last, he finds his way back to the ballroom. Kyouya is the only soul left, a strange sort of invader in a community of empty chairs and tables. He sits on a couch, absorbed in the perusal of Alessa's photo album. When Dino joins him, he pauses, looks up with that unreadable neutral expression that can be so infuriating, and then returns to his slow study of the images.
"Paolo took his sister home," Hibari murmurs. "He says he'll call in the morning before coming by." He hands Dino a glass of what smells like Scotch, the ice only slightly melted. "Drink that. You need to calm down before you go to bed, otherwise you'll have bad dreams."
"Thank you," Dino whispers, and takes a swallow. He means it. Not only for the drink, but for everything Kyouya has done for him since that horrible moment in the warehouse when he realized Brizio was lying dead in a pool of his own blood.
"I know things now that I didn't before," Kyouya says. He turns another page.
"I know without a doubt exactly how much you love me."
Dino puts the drink down and stares at the dark-haired man beside him. He senses that Kyouya is in one of those rare moods that usually lead to profound insights into the workings of his heart or his mind. He throws all his energy into listening, because he doesn't want to lose a single word or meaning.
"For the past...what? Five years? You've introduced me as your student, your 'new project', your training partner, your protégé..." Kyouya takes a breath and his voice grows even softer. "Today, though, when you introduced me to your family, to Brizio's mother, you said, 'This is my friend.'"
"Well. That's what you are," Dino responds.
"Other people use that word," Hibari continues, his fingers brushing over a picture of Dino and Paolo surrounded by their sisters, "but they don't really think about what it means. Until recently, I'd only ever met acquaintances of yours--and you call them that." He lifts his eyes to meet Dino's. "You probably don't notice, but you do.
"Paolo is the first person I've met that you've called your friend, and when I look at the two of you in these pictures, I can see exactly what that means. For you, friends are the people you treasure. I think you love them as much as you love your family. I think they are your family, in a way."
"I don't have friends," Hibari says. "At least nobody you could really call one. You're the first person who truly wanted to be my friend and claimed me as one. I don't think you have any idea what that means to me."
Their eyes meet. Kyouya bites his trembling bottom lip and blushes. They kiss.