There aren't that many people can keep up with Firo in a fight. Maiza, sure. Maiza's the one who taught him to begin with. Firo may have beaten him on the night he made capo, but he's never going to feel like that was anything more than a fluke. But as far as the rest of the world goes – well, people can call him cocky all they want, but he'd like to see them do better. (Claire or Vino or Felix or whatever he's going by these days excepted, but Claire's the exception to a lot of things. Firo doesn't try to compete.)
Ennis is a match for him, though. That's not the only reason he likes her, obviously, but it's up there.
Which is why Ennis is currently kicking off the top of the Gandors' basement poker table, her sharp face cool and focused. Firo takes in that expression, and (more pressingly) the foot flying towards his chin, and leaps backwards. "Hey," he laughs, as he grabs for her leg, "Ennis, careful or -" The quip he's going to make about the threat to his good looks (not that that's a real danger, seeing how things are) is interrupted by a boot hard in the middle of his chest. He wheezes, which makes it hard for him to follow through on either the banter or on that idea of knocking her off balance, and he lets go as he jumps back. Firo's always been pretty aerodynamic, which is a benefit to being a little guy, but that's one place Ennis has him beat. It's weird to be on the other side of the flying kicks to the face.
The thing is, they both know that if he wanted, he could just reach into her mind and figure out where she was going to go next - but that's cheating, and more, it's an invasion of privacy, and more than that, it's just plain creepy. So it's not a thing he does, even though sometimes he thinks she maybe expects him to. It's that wary look she gets in her eyes when she's trouncing him, like it's not allowed for her to be better. He spends a lot of time trying to pretend like he doesn't know where it came from.
It's not that he ever wishes he hadn't devoured the old geezer, because the good that came out of it sure as hell outweighs the bad, but there're parts of Szilard's brain that make even Firo kind of squeamish, and Firo's never been the squeamish type. And he really, really hates that look Ennis gets. It's reserved for him, and he knows it - that's the worst part, though she's starting to have one of those rare smiles reserved for him too, and that almost makes up for it.
So he ducks and darts and punches with observation and best guesses like he would in any other fight - except it's only recently that he could fight all-out with anyone, Ennis or Maiza or whoever, and not worry about either one of them staying injured for long. So it's a funny mix of a real fight, of which Firo has been in plenty, and a friendly sparring match, where everybody used to have to be a little more careful. Not like he wants to hurt Ennis (or Maiza or any of his other friends), but you don't get good if you don't practice, and Ennis is getting better about not holding back with him. Maiza's still funny about it, but whatever - Firo can say with confidence from his vantage point of a year and a half down the line that being immortal is still pretty swell.
Ennis's fist slams into his cheek, and Firo's vision goes sparkly white for a moment; he can feel more than hear the crack of his cheekbone before he catches himself against Mrs. Kate's old storage chest she brought here when she married Keith. "Ennis -" he manages, breathless from the force of that hit, and he's not looking at her but he knows, in the way he knows things about her sometimes now, that she's taken a step back. He can feel her do it, inside his head. "Ennis, that was great!"
He's laughing again now, he's got his breath back and his cheekbone is starting to reknit itself, and he can see the bemusement on her face. He likes to think it's kind of affectionate these days. "Come on, let's see if I can block that this t - hey, Keith!" Ennis half-turns without surprise at Keith's silent appearance in the doorway, and Firo grins over her shoulder. "Sorry, did you need the basement back?"
Keith says nothing, but that's pretty much what you get with Keith. You learn to read it. "Sure thing," Firo says cheerfully. "Is it okay if we come back Thursday?" See, New York City, while obviously the greatest city on earth for most things you could ask for, doesn't exactly provide the kind of living space you want if you're going to be throwing yourself off the furniture all the time. In other words, Firo has nosy neighbors. And while they could practice in some of the Martillo family hideouts if they wanted, then they're likely to get Randy and Pezzo and the other guys coming up and making kissy-noises, and it's not like that bothers Firo exactly but it might bother Ennis, he thinks. At least, once she starts to get an idea of what that even means. Which so far he's pretty sure she doesn't. Which Firo tries not to let bother him either.
And okay, the Gandors might be thinking kissy noises - and Firo figures Mrs. Kate's got a mind to kidnap Ennis for a shopping trip and gossip session one of these days, though she probably won't get much of either out of Ennis - but at least they're too polite to say so.
Keith gives a small smile and a nod to Firo, and a slightly more formal one to Ennis. Ennis nods back; Firo's never actually heard them say two words to each other, which he's pretty sure means they like each other. "Thanks," Firo says, with an easy grin, and heads for the door. Ennis doesn't make much noise following him, but he knows she's there.
"Maiza!" Maiza's head turns instantly at the yell; it's Czeslaw's childish voice with real worry underneath it. Not real fear, at least, so it can't be anything too bad. Seeing that he has Maiza's attention, Czes drops his voice, as well as whatever pretense at innocence he's put on for the benefit of the other patrons. "Maiza, we got jumped - I think it's the Runorata."
Coming from Czes, ‘we' means Ennis, and possibly Firo as well. The immortal child claims no allegiance to the Martillos at large. Maiza murmurs some sort of apology to Jimmy the bartender, and drops some change on the bar. He might be a few pennies short, but that doesn't particularly matter; he keeps a tab here, and they know where to find him, anyway. "They'll be all right," he says to Czes, keeping his voice calm, but he's already hurrying to get out the door.
He keeps up that pace as well as he can, even at one step for every two of Czes' trotting in front of him to lead to the place of the ambush. He knows Ennis and Firo can take care of themselves. But the turf war with the Runoratas has been escalating recently, especially after last week's killing of Tommy Paolini, and Maiza's been expecting some kind of retribution. The very fact that it was a serious enough attack to send Czes running for him says that this could be messy, and there are enough rumors flying around about the oddities of the Martillo family without Firo accidentally adding fuel to the fire.
"Around here." Czes slows to point down a narrow alley. "Just off Delancey Street."
"All right." Maiza smiles down at him, brief and reassuring. He's always been fond of little Czes, and the boy, though an undeniably resilient survivor, isn't much of a physical fighter at perpetually ten years old. "I'll go on ahead. You stay back and keep an eye out for more of them."
"Okay." Czes sidles behind a crate, while Maiza heads warily forward. He can hear thumps now, and the grunts that come from people hitting and people being hit. He slides his hand into his coat to retrieve a knife before he rounds the corner, ready to defend himself at an instant's need.
As it happens, however, all of the Runoratas appear to be too busy slamming into walls to notice that another Martillo family capo has just stuck his nose into the fray. Maiza's grip on his knife relaxes infinitesimally at the sight of Ennis rebounding off a thug's chest; she uses the momentum to wheel a bootheel into another one's face just as Firo ducks out of the way in an instant of perfect, unchoreographed timing.
Maiza should announce his presence, he thinks, but he stays where he is for a moment, watching his protégé and his protégé's... well, Ennis, take on eight men without seeming to break a sweat. As always, Maiza feels a twinge of guilt for the lifestyle he has chosen and the joy he takes in it - but there's no denying that it's a beautiful thing to watch, as Firo and Ennis move in almost unnatural synchronicity. "Hey, thanks!" Firo cackles after he slices open a man's arm from knuckle to elbow, presumably in reference to the way Ennis sent the unfortunate fellow stumbling towards him. Except of course that there's no way Maiza can see that she could have known that Firo would see him in time, not with the number of other Runoratas around, but Ennis is just barely smiling.
Ennis notices his presence first - he can tell from the side-glance she throws his way over the back of the man currently collapsing into a groaning heap on her shoes - but it's only another half a second, if that, before Firo grins over at Maiza and shouts, "Sorry we didn't leave any for you!" Maiza smiles back, and tries not to worry about the fact that he's fairly sure Firo didn't actually see him with his own eyes before knowing he was there. He hasn't made a study of homunculi, not the way Szilard did, and he has no way of knowing the real ramifications of the connection between the young man and the created girl. Firo's tried to talk it out to him once or twice, in a rambling sort of way that does little to clarify the details. He's at the very least confident that Firo does the best he can to avoid imposing on the link that gives him power over Ennis' life; the rest they will have to work out themselves.
Still, the joyous, unself-conscious way that Firo beams over at Ennis as she sends the last Runorata lackey sprawling to the ground (a man, Maiza notices, that Firo tripped into her path not a second before) lifts Maiza's heart a little. If anyone is capable of holding that kind of power over another without being corrupted by it - he hopes, if not entirely believes - it's this young man who is something like his brother and something like his son.
He settles a smile on his face and slides the knife back into its sheath. "It seems you have the situation under control," he calls out, and Firo laughs.
"Sooner or later these Runorata goons'll figure out it's no good." He nudges one particular Runorata family member with a toe; underneath the purpled swelling of his nose, Maiza realizes, his face is familiar. "You wanna talk politics with this one? I think he's old Bartolo's grandson or great-grandson or something."
"His grandson," Ennis puts in quietly, coming to stand next to Firo. "Bartolo Runorata is only seventy-three."
"I think the message will reach him without my help," Maiza says, dry, just as Czes slips around the corner, still wary and clearly ready to bolt if warranted. Ennis' face lightens a little as she sees him.
"Thank you, Czes," she says.
"Glad you got out of the way okay," Firo adds, with the fond sort of condescension reserved by brawlers for noncombatants, and Czes makes a face.
"Some of us are smart enough not to enjoy four-to-one odds."
Firo laughs again and throws up his hands. "All right, all right, I ain't that smart!" Czes laughs too, and Ennis smiles a little. An outside observer wouldn't see anything out of the ordinary in the scene, Maiza thinks, and then looks around at the bodies scattered around the alley and amends that thought slightly. His mindset has been warped by years in the Camorra, he supposes.
So ordinary for him is somewhat different than it is for most, and that's twice as true for Ennis and Firo's strange little family-that-isn't. But Firo keeps telling him he should worry less, and perhaps it's time to start listening. They're not children anymore, not even Czes; his presence, he thinks (and finds himself not displeased by the thought), is becoming less and less necessary.
It's a muggy urban night; the air is heavy with a smog that reflects the orange glow of the street lights. The city is quiet right now, at least as much as New York ever is. Some of that's the heat, and how it saps away the energy of most of the population. The other half, at least for the Martillo family and its associates, is that there's not much strife going on in the city's underworld at the moment. The Runoratas' power faded years ago with old Bartolo's death, and the Martillos' once-tiny territory has grown through its leaders' cunning, perseverance, and (it must be said) discreet but relevant immortality. And this country, well into the post-war boom, is no longer the same place it was twenty years ago. Violence in the streets is down; vice stays discreetly behind closed doors. Especially if those doors also contain air conditioning.
One effect of this quietness is that Firo - still as young and cheerful and cocky as he'll always be, twenty-four years later - is learning to live with boredom. And Ennis, living one room over in a small apartment, would be aware of that boredom even without the quiet linkage between their minds. If she were human, she occasionally thinks, it might get annoying.
Which is why they're out tonight on the rooftop of one of the apartments Firo is theoretically in charge of overseeing, supervising the building by fighting on its rooftop.
There's not a lot of light to see by, up here where the street lights don't reach and most of the taller buildings don't really shine down. The moon is a crescent, and a haze covers the map of stars Ennis knows are there. But that doesn't matter. They know each other too well by now to need light. And even if one of them falls off the building - which they won't - their survival isn't in question.
Firo offered her the choice of weapons tonight, in one of his odd moments of half-joking chivalry, and Ennis opted for knives. They're quiet compared to guns or even fists, and give some spice to a fight that's meant more for letting off energy than as any real practice. No one will see them up here anyway - or, at least, in this darkness no one will get a good enough look to notice blood flowing back into wounds, which is what matters most. Ennis suspects Firo is half-hoping to get caught, just to have the fun of dealing with the fallout.
She drops into a roll, slicing at Firo's ankles; he leaps over her blade, of course, and she ducks automatically under his return strike in the middle of bouncing to her feet. She uses the motion to lash out a kick towards him, but he's already evading, and she keeps moving, slipping away from his attempt to pin her and stabbing down towards his stomach. One benefit of all these practices, she reflects as she eels away from Firo's attempt to twist her arm behind her back, is that they've both been injured enough places to heal fast now. The first time you're injured in a particular body part, it always takes longer to heal. It makes her feel better to know that Firo won't be slowed down by that; she thinks of that reassurance especially on the occasions when she does slip through his guard.
That doesn't seem likely tonight, though. They know each other's movements so well by now that one would think they'd run through every possible variation, but somehow familiarity makes it more interesting, not less so. For herself, Ennis has catalogued a feeling of challenge as it's become increasingly difficult to score a point, and a feeling of what she can only call satisfaction as their movements synchronize into something nearly like a dance. For Firo - she doesn't know specifically; she can't reach into his mind as he can hers, but the brightness in his face as they fight, his constant boundless energy, seems to indicate that their bouts of sparring are one of the few things that never get dull for him.
Someone's feet thud onto the edge of the rooftop and Ennis whirls, sparring forgotten, and feels Firo doing the same at her side. "Oh, it's you guys," says a familiar amiable voice, and Ennis relaxes her guard slightly. Firo's childhood friend has never been anything but affable (if often bewildering) to her.
"Felix!" Firo's bright grin is half-visible, but entirely audible. "How're you doing, huh?"
"Sorry, I'm not Felix any more." The man shrugs and spreads out his hands wide. He talks with his movements as much as with his words, this one - and he talks a lot with his words. Fortunately, the two usually say the same thing. "That name got to be kind of a pain after that whole incident with the Papadakises. Not like I would care personally, and not like it's any trouble for Chane either, but a man wants things to be a little quieter for the kids, you know? ‘Course, even little Pierre's big enough now he could even kill a guy if he needed to, but I kinda get the impression Chane thinks it's a better fatherly attitude to make sure he can wait a while on that one. Unless he wants to and somebody really deserves it, I guess, because it's never a good idea to stand in the way of your kids bein' who they want to be. So anyway I'm going by Brando nowadays."
"Sure, Brando," Firo says agreeably, but shoots an amused glance over at Ennis. They'd gone to see On the Waterfront together last week. This is what people call a private joke, Ennis thinks, and smiles back.
"So how ‘bout you two, huh? Amelie's been talking about needing babysitting gigs for pocket money, so when're you gonna start helping her out?"
"Aw, c'mon," Firo laughs. He gestures at himself with a hand. "Look at me, don't you think I'm too young to be a dad?" Ennis finds it useful that he's always willing to banter back when people make comments like that; she's confused every time. Why would they have anything to do with Amelie's babysitting? Czes is enough family for her. And Czes doesn't need babysitting from anyone, least of all the former Claire Stanfield's daughter. Ennis often isn't sure what Czes does need, however hard she tries, but some things she can be pretty certain about.
Firo's different, complications or not. Firo is her friend every day, from that first day, and she knows he understands her without needing her to understand him; that leads to something she can only call comfort. But she's still often puzzled by most of his friends.
"We can see if anyone's looking around for a babysitter," she suggests tentatively, and the newly christened Brando beams approvingly at her.
"That'd be swell. Lemme know if you do! You can tell ‘em Amelie'll make sure their kids don't get in any trouble. She's real responsible, takes after Chane like that."
"You got it, F - Brando," Firo assures him, and Ennis can still see the suppressed grin in his eye. He'll be laughing about the name change for days, Ennis thinks, and finds herself glad of it. Life is easier when Firo isn't bored, for one. But for another, it's always - nice (she hasn't got a better word) to be reminded that at heart, he really is still the same open, easily-pleased young man she met that first day. "Hey -" He gestures with his knife at the air between Ennis and himself, easy and generous. "We were just killing some time, you wanna take a turn?"
"Thanks," says now-Brando, politely, "but I'm kinda on a deadline here - I wanna get home with some milk for the kids' cereal before they get up for school tomorrow morning, and I gotta take care of this guy all the way up in the Bronx first. It ain't the commute I'd choose, but I honestly just can't let this guy live in my world anymore, you know?" He pauses expectantly to wait for a sympathetic nod, which Firo obligingly provides.
Brando doesn't say what they all know, which is that New York's foremost assassin is on a level far above anything that Firo and Ennis have reached; their bouts would be child's play for him, and probably boring to boot. (Ennis really feels she has a grasp on the concept of boredom by now.) His profession - and, it seems likely, sparring with his wife - gives him as much practice as he might need to stay effortlessly, acrobatically lethal.
"Well," Firo says, "if you gotta get all the way out to the boroughs and back before dawn, we won't get mad if you take off. But don't be a stranger, okay? Feels like we ain't seen you in years."
"Family life keeps a guy busy," Brando sighs, but Ennis thinks it's probably the kind of sigh that isn't really very sad, if she's reading it right. "Have fun, you crazy kids." He takes off back over the rooftop, with a limber grace that seems not at all diminished by his middle age. It's reassuring, again, to know that some things stay the same, even without immortality.
Ennis looks over at Firo, who holds out his hand, fingers curled around the grip of his knife. "Looks like you're stuck with me for another round, lady," he says, smiling as he almost always does when they're talking.
Ennis is all right with that.
It looks almost like a party from the old days, if you discount the lapels and occasional velvet, and the fact that hats have gone almost entirely out of fashion - which never bothers the Martillo family capos, who hold on to their traditional headgear as if their family's status depended on it. Luck spares a moment to be grateful that, as a small organization, the Gandors have no traditions that they can't discard on a whim. The Martillos have garnered a reputation of being old-fashioned that they're unlikely to shed anytime soon. To be fair, they can afford it; they also have a reputation for staying power. If they want to toast Maiza's replacement as conta e oro with a party that could have come straight from the end of Prohibition, who's going to complain?
Still, Luck can't deny that it's pleasant, on occasion, to walk into a room where things haven't particularly changed. Half the faces here have the familiarity of decades of unchanging acquaintance. The other half are easy to spot by their flashier suits and their self-conscious strut. The New Jersey Gambino family still has something to prove. That's why they're here, rubbing elbows with the Martillos, trying to show they're not afraid of an ambush; trying to prove they're confident in their equality. Which, of course, only shows all the more that they're not.
Officially, of course, they're here along with the Gandors and the other established Martillo allies to greet the new conta e oro, who is simultaneously grinning sheepishly and trying not to fidget under all the attention.
Luck drifts over, sipping his martini. (Shaken, not stirred. Berga has a fondness for James Bond movies, and Luck doesn't mind playing along.) "Don't worry," he says, coming up on Firo's left side. "The attention won't last all that long. Bookkeeper's not exactly a glamorous position."
Firo laughs and scratches the back of his head. "I guess people ain't used to seeing a conta e oro that looks so young. Whaddaya think, should I try and grow a beard or something?"
"Better ask the lady," says Luck, with a gesture of demur. God only knows where Ennis and Firo stand at present, other than as a team, but it isn't romantic as far as anyone can tell - despite the fact that they've been good as married for something like forty years. Luck doesn't mind giving a hand there when he can, whether or not they notice. (As a rule, he's pretty sure Firo does and Ennis doesn't have a clue, but it's hard even for Keith Gandor's brother to tell what she's thinking sometimes.)
Ennis blinks at him around Firo's other side, and then looks over at Firo's face. "I think..." she says, slowly, with the careful consideration she gives all pronouncements of opinion. "Not a beard. Maybe glasses?"
"Glasses," Firo repeats. "Huh. Like Maiza. You know, I kinda like it. Make me look bookish, you know."
"That may be a lost cause," murmurs Luck, and Firo gives him a friendly smack in the arm. Luck grins, and then turns, apparently casual, to face the man who's been sidling up to them for the past two minutes.
"Firo, isn't it?" says the man - Gambino, clearly, with a loud checkered suit and snakeskin shoes. "Nice to meet you. My brother's the Gambino bookkeeper."
"Ah - pleased to meet you, too," Firo says, with a smile. "Your brother musta known Maiza, then."
"Not well." The Gambino man shrugs, muscles rolling under the not-quite-fitted lines of his suit. "My brother says he always figured the Martillos would kick him out sooner or later. Musta been skimming off the pot to scram like that, you know what I mean? We've been saying for years, new blood's what you guys need to catch that kinda crap from the old guys before you become a laughingstock."
Firo's eyes widen and then narrow, his hands sliding into his pockets. Ennis, beside him, is motionless in that coiled, watchful way of hers that reminds Luck of Keith sometimes, or of Firo at his most dangerous. "Maybe you wanna say that again."
Luck ponders intervening, but while the Martillos and the Gandors have been on friendly terms for decades, it's still not Gandor business if the new conta e oro wants to make a fool of himself at one of his first public appearances. In private, he can tell Firo he's being an idiot; in public, he's a neutral observer.
The Gambino man smirks and spreads his hands wide. "What'd I say?"
There's no doubt that something is about to happen, and the Gambinos will be laughing all the way out the door. Firo's tensed; his arm is starting to move. Luck, again, resists the temptation to deliver a pointed cough.
Before he can, though, he sees Ennis's eyes cut sideways to Firo. Luck takes another exceedingly neutral sip of his martini and watches her hand rise out of the corner of his eye. It's a quick dart of a gesture, just two fingers brushing against Firo's sleeve, but it clearly and instantly stops whatever motion he was about to make.
Luck's inwardly proud of Firo for not sliding a glance her way. Instead, the new conta e oro relaxes his arm and smiles, the particular disarming grin that Firo has begun to learn to use deliberately. "Ah, nothing. I'm just thinking, a family that messed up so bad on rubbing out Joseph Colombo might wanna think twice before talking about who's a laughingstock, you know?"
The Gambino man flushes, fists clenching below his ugly cuffs, but he reins himself in with obvious difficulty. He's clearly on strict orders not to start anything here. "Hey! We didn't have nothin' to do with that."
"Then you probably wanna get someone on your - what's that term? Oh yeah, PR. Just a friendly suggestion." Firo claps the man on the arm. Luck privately considers the gesture over-the-top. He wonders idly if Ennis thinks the same; she's looking bland again, which could go either way. "Don't worry, you guys are doing great. I'm sure you'll catch up on all this in no time."
It's heavy-handed, but not badly done. Luck looks thoughtfully into his nearly-empty martini glass. There's just one peculiar thing - he's fairly sure, from a discussion they were having about the Gambinos before the party, that as of a few hours ago Firo hadn't had the slightest idea who shot Joseph Colombo.
"Oh hey, Ennis!" exclaims Firo, brightening. "Ain't that Isaac and Miria over there? Hey - what was your name again? - you wanna come meet some friends of ours -" From Ennis's smile, Luck suspects she'd already seen them, but either way she follows on Firo's heels with her own quiet version of satisfaction.
Luck watches Firo wander off with Ennis, as usual, no more than half a step behind him, mentally shrugs, and drains the rest of his drink. There are plenty of things in this world, even about his closest friends, that he's resigned himself to never understanding.
When Czeslaw departed with Maiza in ‘71, he left behind most of his possessions in his vacant bedroom. The whole apartment seemed strangely empty for a long while - Ennis understands the concept of missing someone, but it took her some time to connect that abstract knowledge to her personal reaction - and Czes's small bed and overcrowded bookshelves stayed where they were, by an unspoken accord. But it's a small apartment, even for two people rather than three, and common space is a convenient thing to have.
Over the past seven years, they've taken to using this room more and more, from the first time Ennis found Firo sprawled on the bed curiously perusing one of Czes's books to days like today, when it's pressed into use as a convenient sparring space. They have to keep the fighting noise down a little bit so they don't disturb the neighbors, but it's nice to not have to go over to the Gandors' or the Martillo headquarters or some other public spot - and now that Firo's in a position of authority, however ridiculously young he still looks for the role, it would be somewhat less entertaining to get caught making a ruckus on a rooftop. Czes's room is safer and easier, and by now they've gotten very good at avoiding the more fragile furniture.
"So okay I know it's my own fault for not taking care of ‘em proper, but seriously, a knife should last you more than five years, right?" Firo says, cross-legged on Czes's old bed. He's prodding desultorily at a fancy lock with a set of lockpicks, but Ennis is fairly certain it's the same one he successfully opened last week. Firo has gotten more accustomed to boredom over the years, but he's never taken naturally to idleness. His non-prescription glasses lie on the end table nearby. There's no one around to impress with a bookish mien.
"Yes, it should," Ennis agrees, and Firo shoots her a sharp look before he laughs. Ennis has been experimenting with humor recently; she's proud of her rate of success, even though Firo is probably a generous audience. She finds that she likes the way that he looks when he laughs, though, which seems enough of a reason to keep practicing on him.
"Okay, okay, I'll try to treat ‘em better." The lock springs open, and Firo makes a face at it, presumably for giving in so quickly, before laughing again and letting it tumble to the bed. "But I guess most people don't give ‘em the kind of use we do either."
Ennis nods, granting that point. It's true that not many people find themselves slicing into bone quite as frequently as Firo's fighting style leads him to - and there have been a few incidents of knives meeting brick walls or brownstone. All the same, she's not certain how he manages to wear them down quite so fast.
"Anyway if we do any knife fighting in the next coupla days, you're gonna have the advantage til I get round to picking up some new ones." This is an unsubtle hint; finished with one activity, Firo is already visibly itching for another.
Ennis half-smiles. Firo may have grown surprisingly good at subtlety when Camorra politics demand it, but he tends to leave the political savvy at the office. "In that case, it probably makes sense for us to practice hand-to-hand." She stands, and Firo bounces up beside her.
"I thought you'd never -"
She throws the first punch at his throat before he's all the way off the bed; he wrenches himself sideways with a sharp breath of laughter, and the match is on.
Ennis ducks under Firo's return punch, spinning behind him. She could shove him forward, but he might well hit the little table where he put down his glasses, and it would be inconvenient to have to replace them. (It would also be slightly embarrassing, given that that's what happened to the last three pairs.) Instead she sets her hands against his shoulder and elbow at precise angles - Firo gives a stifled yelp, mostly from recognition of her success, since she's not hurting him yet - and presses just hard enough to send him stumbling towards the wall.
With nearly anyone else, this would end with their face and the wood paneling slamming together, but Firo's been fighting with her for nearly fifty years now, and he's learned a lot of tricks. He shoves back, and Ennis winces a little (and Firo makes an undignified noise) at the crack of his dislocating shoulder even as she realizes - an instant too late to prevent it - what he's doing. In the instant when she's off balance, his foot snakes backwards to sweep between hers and his body twists as he spins with the motion, and gravity and Firo's weight take over before she can retaliate.
Firo's shoulder has already healed by the time her back hits the floor; if she didn't know that by the sound and the look of it, she'd know anyway by the way he uses both hands to pin her arms.
He's grinning with the satisfaction of a trick well-played, his hair (shaggy in all the wrong ways to be fashionable these days, and clumped with sweat) falling into his eyes, and Ennis finds herself smiling back. It was well done. He's learned to use his immortality over the years; the Firo Prochainezo she knew in 1930 would never have dislocated his own shoulder for a throw.
His weight on her is very warm. He's still beaming, and Ennis likes the way it rounds his face, so sharp a minute ago with concentration. She's always liked his happiness, of course, because he's Firo and he's her friend, but this particular appreciation, she realizes, is more specific. She's noticing the pressure of his hands on her arms, too, and his knees on either side of her. She's noticing a lot of things, and it's not in the usual context of how to break the hold during a fight.
Oh, she thinks, and isn't sure if she's surprised or not.
But Firo is starting to look a little questioning, and Ennis doesn't want him to notice what she's thinking, or even accidentally catch a reflection of it off her mind. She wants more time to work through the feeling on her own, as she's patiently worked her way through every other emotion she's earned, and so she twists in a sharp, bucking heave that throws Firo sideways - he's laughing again even as his back bangs into Czes's old dresser - and springs to her feet.
They have plenty of time, after all, and if her other feelings are anything to base a judgment on, this one isn't going to be vanishing any time soon. People have been dropping hints about Firo's patience for the past several decades, and (contrary to popular belief) Ennis has understood the gist of the content, at least intellectually, for some time now. Firo can be patient a little while longer.
Firo mostly likes the music that's usually on the radio these days - it's bouncy and fast-paced, and the completely unsubtle innuendo always makes him snicker, which is proof he guesses that he's still not really all that mature - but he still stops to appreciate it on the rare occasion that a golden oldie makes it onto the air. You don't get much stuff from the thirties these days, but even the stuff from the fifties and sixties makes for a nice nostalgia kick.
This time around, some old geezer's requested "In the Still of the Night," and the DJ - nearly audibly rolling his eyes - obliges. With the 1950s doo-wop version, of course, not Cole Porter, but Firo has a maybe disloyal preference for this one anyway. Firo, sitting backwards on the kitchen chair, starts to tap his feet without realizing it, and then looks over at Ennis. She's perched placidly on the counter reading the paper, looking kind of overwhelmingly gorgeous in her t-shirt and jeans the way she pretty much always does, and Firo resists the temptation - as he still does a couple times a day - just to find out what she's thinking, right now. It probably doesn't have much to do with him anyway.
"Ennis," he says, and she looks up, leaning the paper down a little. "Hey." He nods at the radio, and puts on his best charming grin. "Care to dance, pretty lady?"
Ennis blinks at him, like she does when he's being ridiculous (which, let's face it, is a lot of the time), and then smiles faintly, like she does most of the time too. "All right," she says, and sets her paper tidily on the counter before slipping down to the floor.
Firo lets his grin broaden and stands, holding out his hand with a little head-duck of a bow that's all wrong, but who cares. Ennis places her fingers in his outstretched palm and he reaches out his other arm to slide around her waist. None of this is unusual; they do this sometimes, just because the music is good or they feel like moving, though not nearly as often as they spar. Firo doesn't even know what you'd call their usual dance. It's probably something kind of like a waltz, but neither he nor Ennis ever learned proper - except by way of Szilard, which is cheating, and he'd rather not tap that particular store of knowledge any more than he has to, even aside from the fact that he knows for sure Szilard never thought about trying to shoehorn fancy dances into doo-wop - and again, who cares? Other people can laugh all they want, but it works for them.
Ennis places her hand on his back, carefully, and curls her fingers around his hand, and he guides her around and around in a slow circle, smiling at her, and then twirls her into a spin that narrowly avoids the kitchen table before pulling her back into his arms. The timing's all wrong, and they probably started dancing this way to swing or something back in the thirties, but the way Firo sees it it's more important that they're in rhythm with each other, and they've sure got that part down by now.
It takes him a little while to notice that Ennis is looking at him with unusual steadiness, like she's scrutinizing his face for something. Which is strange, because it's not like she doesn't know everything about him already. And she's smiling a little, too - which wouldn't be weird a lot of the time, since Ennis smiles a whole lot more than she did forty or fifty years ago, but combined with that steady gaze it's kind of throwing him.
Are his palms sweating?
"Ennis," he says, suddenly unsure. She doesn't answer, just keeps smiling like she knows something he doesn't - which isn't a problem, of course, because he trusts Ennis unconditionally and all, except he can't think what it could possibly be - and then lays her head on his shoulder. Their circles are slowing to a kind of swaying, and her hand is starting to slide up and down his back, and -
Okay, sometimes Firo is kind of slow to pick up on things. He would be the first one to admit that. And given the circumstances, his experience has been somewhat limited. But there is no way, no way, that this is the same kind of thing they've been doing for the past fifty years. And she has to be able to feel his heart beating fast, embarrassingly fast, much more than during their sparring matches when they're pressed together on the floor or against the wall or whatever, which is a situation that fifty years have taught Firo to be really, really good at not thinking about.
She doesn't react if she does feel his heart speed up, although outward reaction isn't always much clue with Ennis, but Firo hasn't cared about that in years. And he wouldn't anyway right now, when she tucks her head comfortably closer - and they're close enough to the same height that that means she's pretty much curled into him - and keeps sliding her hand along his spine in slow rhythm with the song.
I remember, warbles the radio, that night in May. It's October and mid-morning and this is, a small part of Firo's brain is suddenly convinced, his new favorite song of all time.
He really wants know what she's thinking right now.
But he can't ask for permission, not without killing this moment completely dead, which is the last thing in the whole world that he wants to do. And she's not giving him any of their covert signals that that would be okay, and besides, what good is fifty years of - friendship, unrequited love, whatever you want to call it - if you can't figure out what a lady's telling you herself?
Firo's left hand, he becomes vaguely aware, is clutching Ennis's a little too tightly. He relaxes his fingers, carefully, and then slips them slowly around her waist to join his other hand behind her back for what isn't a hug - because they've done hugs plenty - but what good old Frank Sinatra would call an actual embrace. He decides he's probably done okay when she does the same thing.
Nothing from now on is going to be the same.
For a couple of unchanging immortals, Firo figures - and he can feel his grin widening now until it just about splits his face open - that's actually pretty damn awesome.