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Another Man's Son

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Dio Brando believes in destiny.

He doesn’t believe in much anything else: certainly not in God or goodness, or humanity in any of its myriad self-concealing masks and variations. He doesn’t even like to call it belief. Destiny is a tangible thing to him, as real as any other aspect of his flesh and bone. It would be wrong to say that he believes in air, after all, or more acutely in gravity. For all his power – indeed, perhaps it is some of his power – when he feels a pull, he follows.

He has felt the pull for several nights now as he made his rounds of Naples (a good city for searching, a good city for nights); it has led him to the Museo di San Martino, which is in itself gratifying, an invitation to indulgence. No hurry. All things will happen when they happen. He strolls in minutes before the last tickets are sold, and knows that he is on the right track when he sees that the museum has on loan a row of phenomenal Goyas from the Museo del Prado. They practically wait for him, his private discovery.

They are unspeakably exquisite: he pauses to give each of them the appreciation that it deserves. He cannot read Italian or Spanish, but they seem to speak his language nonetheless. They are art that imitates a very particular life.

It’s at this moment, between the Vision Fantástica and the Duelo a Garrotazos, that he sees her.

Dio has a memory like a steel trap, inhumanly keen: he remembers all the women he had been with, though mostly through sense-memory, their scent and flavor rather than their faces. As soon as he sees her, he remembers: the delicacy of her skin, the beauty that drew him in as a connoisseur of beauty. The careless seduction, and the breezy oversight of having let her live. Spotting her passing along the paintings with hardly a look, he scowls. She’s a profound disappointment to find at the end of his seeking. This piece of meat, who rattles about between rooms calling out in an exasperated voice:

“Giorno!”

She is disturbing his reverie much more than even her beauty warrants. He is stalking behind her, and is about to get himself the silence he properly needs to appreciate the gallery, when he sees the child.

He knows. He knows at once. It’s as though an invisible thread breaks and snaps back to slap him in the face.

The idea of having children hardly ever crossed Dio’s mind. He would never settle for such a second-rate sort of immortality. But when he sees the boy’s face, he freezes; his mind grinds to a halt, as though he can’t comprehend it, that something can be of him but separate from him. He stares at the child (Giorno – of all things, that he should be named Giorno) with the sudden expectation – perverse, yet completely natural – of seeing the delicate young face crack, melt away and reshape itself in Dio’s own image. Stranger things have happened. He pictures the map of arteries and veins beneath the pale skin – with perfect knowledge of where each of them is – and imagines the blood running through all of them.

It wasn’t strong enough to have left ore than a ghost of resemblance across the boy’s face.

For a split-second, right before his mother catches up and finally wraps her hand about Giorno’s thin arm, the boy turns his head and looks directly at Dio. His eyes widen and go white with terror. It is a petrifying second of dead time before Dio realizes that he isn’t really looking at him, but at the painting hanging behind him.

He turns to look at it, though he knows that even as he does Giorno’s mother is dragging him along with the rest of the crowd that pours out of the emptying museum. Framed in gold on the pale wall, Saturn is gnawing at the stump of his son’s arm, his eyes more desperate than hungry. The centuries-old crimson in the painting is as bright as newly spilled blood. The giant’s maw gapes as though he is in a hurry with his meal. The head is gone; no face to betray.

Life and art, Dio thinks. His search is done.

 

 

He doesn’t go chasing after the boy: he trusts that the world will not dare cheat him. Instead he goes strolling along the waterfront, bypassing the villas, the parks and the pools to search for the run-down areas, the deposits of garbage that the city is as famous for as for its museums. He likes the sight of human decay as much as he likes beauty. Both compliment his immortality; to one who is not human, they are one. The scents of thick and hardy Mediterranean greenery and the salt of the ocean cannot conceal the stench of rot among the weeds that grow almost down to the water. Oil gleams in bright rainbows in the white foam. Dio watches it with a smile. He waits.

He has all the time in the world.

The moon is almost at its zenith when an owl screeches overhead, small forms scatter through underbrush. Fate moves. The boy Giorno comes hurtling down the dirt track, round a low hill, more like a leaping tiger cub than a bird from a bush. He is carrying a heavy white nylon bag clutched to his narrow chest. He doesn’t notice Dio, or perhaps he doesn’t care. He has bigger things on his maybe eight years old mind. He leaps the broken rail, catches one foot on a clump of sand and thorns and whirls and tumbles down through the muck, the moss and the broken plastics to the waterline. There is a small hole in one corner of his nylon bag and he trails a very faint trail of white powder, sending a puff of it into the cold autumn air as he jumps.

Dio has a predatorily keen sense of smell. He sneezes and licks his lips, and concludes that the bag must be worth several hundred thousands lire.

He watches Giorno stumble to the very edge of the foam and lapping little waves, getting the tips of his overlarge sneakers soaked. There are probably many human questions to ask: how and why a child this age comes by stealing – definitely stealing – this kind of chemical goldmine. Where are his parents, guardians, teachers, loyal pet, the rest of the world. But Dio isn’t in the business of asking questions. He observes the slow movement of the boy’s head, left, right, forward. He follows the minute dipping of the brow over the large blue eyes, and the upward twist of one corner of the mouth.

A dog is barking somewhere up the road and a man is running: a heavy, wheezing man, wearing shoes with steel in their tips.

Giorno ducks down to the weeds and layered refuse. Dio watches him retrieve a bag from inside a piece of piping, identical to the bag of cocaine that he carries, down to the tiny rip in one corner. He swaps them with a magician’s speed. Then he glances over his shoulder.

The wheezing man is a tall pile of flesh, almost as big as Dio himself, though with fat rather than muscle. The dog that runs ahead of him is instead a collection of sticks with beaten black leather stretched over them. They dart across the white dirt track in a mess of frothing rage and flailing limbs. The man howls obscenities in Italian. He holds his knife openly in his hand.

Giorno’s arm shoots forward. He sends the bag flying over the reeds. The man’s curses pitch into a shriek of despair as it lands in the gaping sea, then into a gurgle when he sees it settle on slip of sandy bank a few feet in. It lies there, damp but whole and within reach. It is perhaps the most calculated throw that Dio has seen in his life.

The two hunters never slow in their mad rush, now across the yellow and green damp of the seashore and into the few feet of water between them and their prize. Giorno slips a few steps aside to let them pass. They don’t stop by him. He doesn’t run.

Then there’s the sudden hideous sound of man and animal screaming together.

The man plunges past his belt in the water between the bank and patch of sand, propelled by the force of his own speed into a deep ditch where he had expected to find shallows. The dog goes completely under, then emerges again, and when it emerges it is bleeding like a butchered corpse. A long, thick tangle of rusted barbed wire, until now concealed by the dark water, catches its feet, ribs and neck and the more it struggles the surer it is caught. After a few mad turns and strokes it doesn’t surface again. The man is screaming and screaming: the twisted metal, spikes an inch long, has him torn up to his abdomen and he cannot get away from the seawater. A gust of blood explodes forward when the large vein in his crotch is split, pumping, heaving as the more he shakes his leg, the deeper, wider and longer the cut flies open down his thigh. He screams for God, the Virgin and his mother, getting their names and titles garbled and mixed. The dog just howls.

They thrash in amass of pinned flesh, driven to further terror by the sound of each other’s agony. Dio can’t imagine how wide the strain of red will be. Little fish are already gathering about its edges. His mouth is watering.

Giorno. He’d almost lost sight of Giorno.

The little boy who had cringed in terror at Saturn’s painted meal looks on the carnage with impassive eyes. He hesitates only a little before coming closer to the water again, to reclaim the real bag from the pipe where he had hidden it. He isn’t in any hurry; he seems to have all the time in the world. Even as he reaches in and withdraws the treasure, in the sea, final shudders under the surface signal the dog’s final moments. Its front paws come floating up, limp. The man still twists himself about like a fish on a hook, but neither Giorno nor Dio see him anymore.

Dio sees a swath of blood, childish blue eyes and a sweet, sweet face.

Dio believes in destiny, and he believes in blood. Blood leaves stains. One day he will drink the blood of Jonathan’s descendants, and make himself complete by it, pure, and thus strong enough to attain Heaven. Blood marks. A face can lie, but blood never lies.

There cannot be two gods, and there cannot be two Dios.

Saturn’s face floats back into his mind’s eye. He imagines drinking the blood of this boy still hot and bright with the moment after killing. Destinies converge, he knows, and blood runs a course as sure as the currents. He will consume this child as the sea consumes a river.

He is suddenly hot and dizzy with the thought. Surely there is nothing less human than devouring one’s own son? Perhaps this too can be an act of purification and completion, a necessary step along his ascendant path. He is willing. He is prepared.

Giorno is oblivious to oncoming fate. He is creeping, step by step, toward the water. Dio almost darts forward – he cannot allow a final flail of the dying man to deprive him – but the boy doesn’t go within reach of such danger. He leans over and grabs the paws of the drowned dog, and under Dio’s wary eye, begins dragging it to shore.

He is a small boy. It’s slow going, and a heroic effort. He lugs that heavy soaking body, still trailing the wire, and gets it and onto the bank. The dog’s tongue, thick and purple, lolls out of its mouth. It is very, very dead. Giorno leaves it to lie in the filth and weeds and stumbles back, collapsing to an awkward sitting position.

Then he begins very carefully detangling the wire from the animal, a lengthy, brutal task. He frees one still leg and another, a tail, an ear. His hands are now bloodied to his elbows. His small face, that sweet delicate mouth, is drawn and taut in concentration, but still his palms are shredded, soaked with salt water and oil.

The dog has been dead for almost half an hour by the time he finishes his task and sits still to lay his hand on its head. As an act of compassion, it’s worse than useless; it changes nothing for either of them. Dio is just as eager now as he had been moments ago, he tells himself.

But he also feels himself frown before he does it consciously: in his mind, the image of Saturn ascendant still holds, but there is another thing that he halfway sees looking at a boy crouched over a dead dog. It’s an unwelcome thought. He shakes his head to get rid of it.

The dog’s tail moves.

At the first second, Dio thinks it’s a death twitch. Dead things twitch sometimes. But then it does it again. It does it repeatedly, rhythmically, twitch and twitch and wag. The dead dog kicks. It raises its head. It licks Giorno’s bloody hand.

Dio’s heart does not beat, but it does seem to stop.

Giorno is smiling now, and it is finally a smile that looks right on a small boy’s face, alight with simple pleasure, with reassurance. He pats the dog’s head and quietly calls him a good boy in soft Italian. Happiness makes someone else of him, altering the lines of his sweet face, as though bringing up another boy’s ghost: a happy, innocent boy who may never had existed. Putting his arm about the dog’s neck, helping it stay steady as it stumbles up to its feet and murmuring words of encouragement, he looks nothing like Dio, nothing like his nameless mother.

Dio doesn’t need to breathe, but the scar around his neck feels as though it has tightened. There’s an itch flaring under his ribs that had almost subsided with time: it has been years since he last felt so strongly as though his body – his body, now –  is about to vomit out the soul that occupies it. He looks at the boy and his dog and he doesn’t even see a Stand user.

All he sees is another man’s son.

Dio believes in blood, and he believes in destiny. People meet each other for a reason. They become who they become because blood runs thick, blood marks. They become the vessels of each other’s destruction, or sometimes, strangely, beyond sense or reason, of each other’s deliverance.

Giorno is smiling. There is a smile just like that writ large across Dio’s destiny, as sure as the scar around his neck or the birthmark on his back.

He takes a step back, then another. His body is sluggish, disobedient. He remembers Saturn – Cronus, as the Greeks had called him, often enough to confusion with Chronos, Father Time. He had castrated his father and won his kingdom, but then, when his own son came of age…

There is a slight rustle; his eyes focus ahead again. Giorno has taken off his jacket and shirt, and is making clumsy attempts to wrap the worst of the dog’s wounds and stem their flow. Dio’s eyes are keener than any human eye; even in the deep darkness, he can see the dark outline of the star on the back of the boy’s shoulder. There is a smudge of blood on it, he sees, swiftly drying. It shines against skin silvered by moonlight, bright as a brand or the beam of a lighthouse far away.

Dio turns away, and walks down another road.