In all twenty-one years of his life, Nero Vanetti has never been to the ocean. Yet now, here he is. The sun is shrouded by gray clouds above. His shoes sink deep into the sand. Up ahead is the swaying form of Avilio melding into the sea breeze.
If he closes his eyes, he can hear the shuffling of their footsteps. The soft breathing. One by one the waves crash on to the shore, reminding Nero that even gentle things hold violence. Shaa. Shaa.
"The reason I didn't kill you," only one set of feet continue, "Was because I didn't want to."
Nero watches as the white of the other's dress shirt shrinks into the distance. He pulls out a revolver. Points. Aims.
Bang - !
With that sole bullet, with that last pull of the trigger, seven years' worth of strife erupted in a swirl of metal and smoke. All the while, the tides continue to roll.
Hazel eyes widen. Specks of gold sparkle where dull pools once lay.
"Like I said, you don't need a reason to live. You just live." Their footprints are washed from the shore.
This time, it is Avilio that stays still. The eldest Vanetti son, or should it be the only Vanetti son now, sets forth his trudge to the future, no matter how crippled it may seem. Blue eyes peer past into the dimmed horizon.
Nero pauses, turns around.
“No I didn't." Soft. Light. It feels like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders. "Angelo Lagusa is finally dead. He was shot and killed by Nero Vanetti.” With that, he jumps into the wet sand theatrically, watching as his shoes dig into the muddy clumps, footprints eaten by hungry tides. Rolls the legs of his pants up. He waves a hand with his back to the shell of a man behind him. "With this, the cycle is now broken. Haah, how I'd kill for a drink."
"Shh. Dead people can't talk." Nero can picture the look of cold displeasure settling on the other's face. He feels his lips tighten. A small quirk of the mouth."But now...if there was, say, a rebirth of some kind." A few gulls break through the skies. "How nice. Maybe I'd be reborn as a farmer." He clasps his hands together, fingers locking and cradling behind his head. Days of peace and quiet, untouched by red violence, gray smoke. Just the greens of the crops, the brown of the earth. The blue of the sky.
"Please, don't follow me." His own voice sounds alien to him, low and trembling. "I don't know what I would do."
He likes to think the waves wash away their existence, like they do their footprints. Cleanse them of seven years' worth of sins. So when the smooth baritone of Avilio's voice teases his ears once more, he lets it fade.
Eight months pass in the most taxing of ways. With one of the most powerful families of the underworld chasing him like a hound, Nero has no choice but to lay low. He skips town every few days. Barely a day passes when he gets a good lick of sleep. Eight months crawl on, but from the bags of his eyes, the dull of his skin, to the paling roots of his hair, calling it eight months seems to be an understatement.
He's considered changing his last name, but doesn't. Perhaps this is the last embers of defiance toward the Galassias. Even so, not a moment goes by that Nero proclaims aloud he is a Vanetti.
Rough hands slip into pants pockets. They pull out a lighter and a pack of cigarettes. Clink clink.
It's well into evening, orange and reds bleeding into the horizon. Nero watches as the gray wisps of cigarette smoke escape into the atmosphere. He leans against the brick wall of the diner he just ventured in, throwing his head back.
"Excuse me, but have you seen this man?"
Well. There's his sign to go. Across the street stands a man in a dark coat and hat. A glint of metal can be seen in his coat pocket. Nero hops into his automobile, driving off into the distance. The sleepy glow of the moon illuminates the road. He reaches into his pockets again, but this time the pads of his fingers miss the cool of metal.
"Ah, that's great."
He shoots a glance at the empty passenger seat in front. Frowns. Rolls the windows down.
Even though the man is miles from the ocean, for some reason his nostrils pick up the sour, salty stench of the sea. Nero breathes it in, not quite liking it. But he doesn't roll the windows back up, either.
He parks the car off the road, in between long thick trees and fluttering shadows. It's not like he wants to sleep in the car, but what choice does he have? Low on cash and void of any allies, was there any other option?
"What am I doing," says Nero. He curls his body up in the back seat, cheeks settling into the hard cushion. Knees bent somewhat close to his chest. His back is going to hurt later, he can already feel it.
"Goodnight," he says, to no one in particular.
It's a well-lit, spacious house, but that's what makes it worse.
"Nero, go check the upstairs." Dressed in a dark overcoat and matching hat and shoes, the eldest Vanetti son complies with his father's orders. He tears himself away from that mess in front of him, three bodies sprawled over the hard wood floor. Two of them are entangled with one another, the red of life trickling out through openings on their flesh. Nero can almost feel the warmth slip past the thin linen and cotton, and then he remembers his father's words.
"This child will never forget what happened tonight."
Right. He has a job to do. The darker corners of the house beckon him. In his rush he passes what seems to be a child's room. The bed is small and untidy, and a box with toys spilling out sits next to a drawer. Nero pulls himself out of there.
Somehow he finds himself in the storage. It's dusty, dark grays and browns popping through the items shelved neatly in thin spaces. In the corner of his eyes he sees a blue wrapped present. And then he hears someone bolting though the door and foot steps.
Catch him. He needs to catch him. Nero slips out of the house, slips into the fuzzy darkness that that child is trying his best to escape to. He pulls out a revolver. Points. Aims.
The night falls.
He wakes up, blue eyes adjusting to the glare of the sun. His neck and back ache. His hair feels like a bird's nest.
A yawn escapes from dry, chapped lips.
"I'm hungry." Nero sighs, dropping his gaze at the dusty flooring. He picks himself up from the back seat.
The drive to the next town is a quiet one. His automobile rolls through long, twisting dirt roads. However, the buildings look well-maintained. There's a cheap diner, at least. Before stopping by for a bite to eat, though, Nero finds himself parking his car across the street from a large cathedral.
There's something bubbling in his chest, tongue heavy and dry as he pushes the large door open in front of him. An urge to just rush in is quelled by the piercing silence. The lights are off, candles snuffed out, but the glow of the sun rains down through the large stained glass windows. His nostrils catch the thick of incense. Nero takes a few steps forward. The soft tap of heel hitting floor echoes through the wide space, shadows bowing over as if asking for forgiveness.
Small cherub-like statues adorn the peripheral columns. Nero wonders if they can see the darkness swirling around him. At the end of the room stands a podium, showered by light. Yellows, reds, blues, greens. These shades of color trickle down from the towering stained glass window behind it, and at the center is a lone figure.
It is far away and hunches over, almost as if in prayer. Nero approaches sparingly, not quite sure why he is still in motion, when the figure flips around.
"You..." And then he throws his face into his palms. Groans. Or, is it a chuckle? "This must be a bad dream."
"Why are you here, Nero?"
"I could ask you the same question." The brunet coughs into his sleeve. There's a mixture of emotions swirling in the pit of his stomach. It's confusing, and Nero is not quite sure how to take it. He realizes his hands are shaking, rolls them into fists. A sudden thought, a memory flashes through his mind. "How does it feel to be reborn?"
"Angelo Lagusa is no more."
"But, so is Avilio Bruno."
"Then, pray tell, who are you?" A good ten seconds crawl by before the silence is disrupted.
"Just Avilio will be fine."
He realizes he hasn't moved any closer to the younger man, still locked in a stalemate of sorts. Avilio's eyes seem to glow even more gold in the dim lighting. They are unblinking, like Nero remembers. But, unlike with his memories, the gaze is no longer stagnant.
"You've changed," says Nero.
For the first time since entering the cathedral, he sees Avilio avert his gaze. Because of this, the last remaining Vanetti is able to study the youth in front of him. His dark hair has grown longer, curling slightly by his neck. His lashes splay like a fan above his eyes. There's a beauty mark on his earlobe and - oh. Clear, striking gold meets with chilled blue.
"And so have you." He pauses, doing a quick once-over. "Although you've certainly looked better."
"That wounds me."
"But, what are you doing here? In a cathedral, I mean."
"I came to see if I try to repent, would I feel anything?" His gold gaze is directed at the empty benches. "But it seems like I've been mistaken. No one is here."
And Nero throws his head back and laughs.
"T-that's because it's past visiting time." He sneaks a glance at the other while still holding his stomach. "I can imagine you just standing there for hours and hours."
"I did not," says Avilio. But his lips are a bit tighter than usual and, perhaps by trick of the lighting, a hint of pink dust could just be seen on his cheeks. Just a bit.
"Are you staying?" Nero doesn't wait for an answer, though. He spins on his heel and heads back to the large, heavy door up front. The quicker he moves, the better. A low rumble reverberates from the pit of his stomach. He feels restless all of a sudden, a rush of energy zipping through his veins like lightning.
And when his ears catch the pita-pat of an extra set of footsteps trailing after his, Nero swears he doesn't smile.