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the balance of devotion - part 1 [Dec. 27th, 2011|03:02 pm]
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Primo fic!

This is Giotto/G. I figure Giotto and G for being very like Tsuna and Gokudera if they’d grown up together and always had the security of knowing the other one was around. Which would probably make for more stable personalities, higher self-esteem…a disturbingly codependent relationship…

My futile attempts to impose logic on this series continue unabated, and so the fic is set around 1875. If you would like to know why, there’s an explanation in the reference notes. Because once again, there are reference notes. *hides*

Again, the notes shouldn’t be necessary to understand the fic—they’re just for people who must know more. The mid-1800s were really interesting, though. While there was a lot of talk of revolution in the 1960s, there was a lot of actual revolution in the 1860s. *_*

Spoilers through the end of the Inheritance Arc. KHR does not belong to me, it belongs to Amano, whom I doubt has spent much time freaking out about Risorgimento and the Meiji Restoration. MUST BE NICE.

Thank you so much to zephy_magnum for the beta! :D


The Balance of Devotion


“We’re going to fix this, G,” Giotto says, eyes narrow and determined, face earnest and troubled. He’s standing against a background of stark, rocky hills and faded blue sky, and the light cradles him, catching in his hair and brightening his eyes. My Giotto, brave and beautiful and stupid.

Really, really stupid.

This hasn’t even started, and already I know how it’s going to end. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.

When you grow up with a guy, you end up knowing everything about him. Everything. The good and the bad. The time he hid in a cellar and refused to come out until he’d peed his pants, but also the time I fell into a lake and almost drowned and he saved my life. Things neither of us have ever told anyone.

They’re not exactly secrets, these quiet things we know about each other. They’re just parts of us, too dull and fundamental to be worth talking about, but still important, for all that.

And because I know Giotto, I know this place is dangerous for him.

We’re in Lucania visiting his cousins, and Lucania, of course, is infamous for its poverty. Giotto’s cousins live in a cave with all their animals; it’s like the Stone Age, for fuck’s sake. Matera, that’s the name of their town. Beautiful from a distance. It’s only when you’re close to that you notice the dirt and disease and dying children, the suffocating malarial heat. Lucania, where the peasants worship the brigands as heroes, not because the brigands do anything for them, but because they don’t do anything for anyone. The peasants may not be winning, but they’re not the ones losing, either.

It helps when you don’t have anything to lose.

Lucania is a place where kindness is regarded with suspicion, and only defiance is respected. People fight the land knowing it’s futile. They die like animals, but never give in. They refuse to owe anything to anyone—that would take trust, which is too much like hope, and hope is cruel. They know exactly how the world will treat them. No hope. No dreams. No lies.

I should never have let Giotto come here, cousins or no cousins. We’re not exactly nobility ourselves, but we grew up in the big city, we grew up in Napoli. And yeah, it’s no paradise, but at least it’s a port town, at least it recognizes that there’s a wider world out there.

Lucania recognizes nothing outside of itself. Hard life, early death, unforgiving land, and that’s all they’ll ever know.

“People,” Giotto says, “shouldn’t have to live like this.”

“You sound like Garibaldi’s understudy,” I tell him. “And do you know how many times that guy’s been booted off the continent?” This observation won’t even slow Giotto down; bastard always does exactly what he wants anyway. But I have to throw it out there. Doing my best friend duty. Reserving the right to say I told you so when it all goes to shit.

Giotto smiles, of course. “I don’t plan to be quite as…loud as Garibaldi. And at least I don’t sound like Ninco Nanco.”

His immediate jump from freedom fighter to brigand, there? Troubling. “Yeah, you don’t sound like him yet. Point is, this is going to end in tears.”

“G. It won’t end in tears.”

“Tears and disaster. You’re talking about organizing brigandage—what kind of fallout do you think that’ll have? This is a stupid idea. You remember the last time I told you what you were doing was stupid?”

“We were twelve, that doesn’t count.”

“We were twelve, you jumped off a building and broke your ankle, nothing has changed.”

“There was a cat.”

“I remember. A cat that ran away when you tried to catch it on your stupid broken ankle. And like I say, nothing’s changed. The cat doesn’t want your help, Giotto. Don’t fuck yourself up over it.”

“Cozart says…”

I knew Cozart would come into this sooner or later.

“Cozart thinks I can fix this. He thinks I can help, G. Everyone with power is so corrupt. If I can get a little power, make people’s lives a little easier—don’t I have a duty to try?”

Cozart, see. A decent guy, useful in a fight, but he hasn’t known us very long and doesn’t know us very well. There’s a little something he ought to have been aware of before he opened his mouth, which is that you don’t say shit like that to Giotto.

None of the responses that spring to mind (Yeah? Well, Cozart doesn’t have to live with you, or This place is screwed no matter what you do, or even I’ve known you all your life, and I’m telling you you’ll fuck it up) are particularly helpful. “I think he’s wrong,” is what I eventually come out with, and it’s true. It just isn’t going to work.

Giotto turns away from his contemplation of the hills, and for the first time this conversation, he gives me his full attention. Which always feels like being bathed in sunshine. Someone needs to get this guy under control before he accidentally takes over the world.

“I think he’s right.”

Giotto’s a good man, a brave man. He’s a much better man than I am, and I would die for him without a second’s hesitation. That said, I can’t deny he’s a screaming megalomaniac. “Fine. Just remember I told you it was stupid.”

He’s smirking at me. “I see you’re carrying your bow.”

“Shut up.”

I used to use guns. I was happy with guns; I understood them. But Giotto, never content with the status quo, had to give me this G Archery thing as a present. He was so insufferably proud of himself that I was driven to declare it a throwback and swear I’d never use it and what the hell was he trying to steal my guns for, anyway?

I didn’t realize how ridiculously badass the bow was at the time. How could I? Nothing like it existed before. Giotto’s antisocial little monster of a friend (Pietro no-family-name) made it. Pietro has a genius for weapons design; he makes the impossible mundane on a daily basis. There’s no predicting him. I’m guessing that’s why his family disowned him.

“But G, I’m glad you like it!”

“You knew I’d like it, asshole. Better range, better accuracy, not as likely to blow up in my face—and if you’d told me any of that when you—”

“I remember you swearing you’d never use it.”

“That was—”

“Never! ‘What kind of barbarian do you think I am, Giotto?’ you asked. And because I love you, I never answered that question.”

I sigh. Fact is, I lost this argument before it started. I probably lost this argument when we were ten. May as well stop struggling. “Yeah, well, what can I say? I’m indecisive.”

“G…” He’s laughing now. “You got a tattoo on your face.”

“What’s your point?”

“Not the act of an indecisive man.”

“Any idiot can get drunk and get a stupid tattoo.”

Giotto smiles sadly, because obviously he knows better. “You were sober. Anyway, that’s hardly the only decisive thing you’ve done.” And with a possessive joy that’d make anybody weak in the knees, “I know you.”

Inside out and backward, yeah, he does. But like I say, that works both ways.

* * *

The tattoo is one of those in memory of tattoos. I guess that’s traditional, among a certain crowd. Sad bastards who know too many dead people, and want to be sure to remember the important ones.

To make a complicated story simple: there was a guy who felt that my dad had cheated him on a land deal, so he burned our house down, and I was the only one who made it out alive. I’m not actually in danger of forgetting. Still, it seemed like I owed something, to my family and to the fire.

I never blamed the fire for killing them. The fire had no intent; the asshole who set it had intent. The fire couldn’t help its nature, couldn’t help killing my parents and my sister—and couldn’t help but let me escape. I owe my life to the nature of fire, that’s what the tattoo says. And I owe the murder of my family to the son of a bitch who set it.

Which is why he’s dead.

I turned into a real wild cat after that, for years after that. Giotto might even say I’m not over it yet, but trust me, I’m nothing like as bad as I was.

Most everybody you love gets wiped out when you’re twelve, it does weird things to you. Takes different people different ways, of course. Me, I was always prone to violence and hating everyone, and once everyone I loved except Giotto was dead, well. What was there to stop me? According to my parents’ will, I was supposed to stay with some cousins I’d never met in Calabria. Fuck that. Parents wanted a say in my upbringing, I guess they shouldn’t have let themselves get burned to powder.

Yeah, that’s not fair. But what is?

After my family died, the way I looked at new people took a turn for the insane. I’d get introduced to someone, and the first thing I’d wonder was when they were gonna kick it. For all I knew, soon, right? So it wasn’t even worth getting attached to the assholes. They were only gonna go and die on me.

Let’s pretend I’m over that.

It’s weird, but through everything, I clung to Giotto like it never crossed my mind that he could die, too. Only person in the world I trusted to stay alive. Thinking about what I would’ve done if Giotto had died around then freaks me out even now.

As a guy who’d lost track of his body count by fourteen…I’m not better than the people Giotto wants to take down. I’m probably worse. At least they do it for the money; I did it because I couldn’t see any reason not to. I have no idea why Giotto put up with that.

He did, though. I’d disappear for months, then crawl into his window in the middle of the night, bloody and reeking of smoke, and he just…dealt with what was left of me. His parents were weirdly tolerant of my bullshit, too, and with less reason. I was the kind of bad influence other parents have nightmares about.

Always supposing anybody could influence Giotto in any direction, which, in fact, no one can (except motherfucking Cozart, apparently). Maybe his parents clued in to that quicker than I did, and that’s why they didn’t worry about any wild-eyed, maniacal friends he might have.

So that’s the story. Giotto saved my life when we were kids, and he’s owned me ever since. He knows it, too, the bastard. He pretends he doesn’t, maybe he even kids himself into believing he doesn’t, but he knows. Wherever he goes, he’s sure I’ll follow. He doesn’t even bother to check anymore.

It’s humbling and irritating at the same time. But that’s life with Giotto in a nutshell.

So when he starts gathering up dangerous lunatics with which to surround himself, what do I do? I smile and say, “Welcome,” that’s what I do.

Sometimes, you just. You look at yourself, and you can’t figure out where it all went so wrong. Sure, I see the danger signs along the way, but I still can’t wrap my head around how they added up to this, can’t pinpoint the moment I got so fucking weird.

Dangerous lunatic number one is a Japanese flute freak who came here to learn about, I don’t know, Italian culture or something. I guess nothing says Italian culture like a plot to undermine and/or overthrow the people in power.

This guy must’ve bolted out of Japan the instant he could legally do it (or maybe even a little before—you have to wonder), but he couldn’t dress any more old-school Japanese if he were Genji. What’s that about? And he’s always so polite. He’s always so nice. He cuts people down like a bloodthirsty savage when they irritate him. And in between times, he plays the fucking flute.

To be honest, I don’t like him. But Giotto’s the judge of character around here, or so he tells me. He claims my hatred is meaningless, seeing as I hate everyone.

What can I say? Most people are worthless; that’s why the world is such a shithole. I’m pretty worthless myself, so I know what I’m talking about. I’m not wrong.

So, yeah. Ugetsu the flute freak. I’ll tell you why I put up with Ugetsu: he looks at Giotto and has freaking stars in his eyes. Blindsided. Head over heels. Basically, we see eye to eye on Giotto. If we have to be alone together, we talk about Giotto and nothing but Giotto, and it works fine as long as nobody breaks out a flute.

Next there’s Lampo, who’s a friend of Giotto’s Pompei cousins, apparently. He’s weird like those cousins are, too. Apparently his dad was an earth master, whatever that means. Given Lampo, it probably means the guy was really good at digging holes to hide in.

I’m gonna go ahead and make a sweeping generalization here and say that people who booby-trap their own homes are not well. But maybe it figures; the kid’s Sardinian, and of all the states that make up this theoretical new country of ours, Sardinia may be the weirdest. Between all the attacks and invasions and random power shifts, I think those guys are collectively punch drunk.

So maybe it’s a Sardinian thing. Maybe they have a tendency to booby-trap their own homes, teach themselves how to conduct electricity through their bodies, all that.

Something makes me doubt it, though.

The bad news is, the bloodthirsty Japanese flautist and the hysterical, sparky kid are the least annoying of the so-called guardians.

Giotto has managed to round up a priest. A boxer who killed a guy and then became a priest, to be specific, which tells you all you need to know about the Roman church. Giotto knows how I feel about priests. It’s pretty much the same way I feel about cops and the government, but more on that later. “He’s an old friend of mine,” Giotto says, but what the fuck does that mean? I don’t know the guy, so he can’t be a close friend. Giotto probably met him once buying groceries and decided they were lifelong buddies. He does that.

Priests. Un-fucking-believable.

I have faith. I do. But my faith is more in line with the peasants’ faith. They don’t expect anything from their god except a spark of life, the release of death, and a bunch of punishments in between for things they’ll never understand and couldn’t help if they did. That’s pretty much the god I believe in, too, and I fear Him, all right. The god of volcanos and fires and earthquakes, the god with the Black Madonna at his side. I don’t ask that god for anything. It’s too dangerous.

My faith is a world away from this religion centered around some old guy in Rome who wants for nothing and claims to talk to Jesus. Rome. Might as well be its own country. No, Africa feels closer than Rome; Rome might as well be its own fucking planet, you ask me.

No one did, though. No one did, and now we’ve got ourselves a Catholic boxing priest called, of all things, Knuckle. Always asking his god for everything, for peace and happiness and luck. Always asking way too much, and it’s making me seriously uncomfortable. That much whining has to be a jinx. Priest’s a jinx.

Giotto. Can’t live with him, can’t imagine life without him. Priests, for fuck’s sake.

And then, as if to showcase his ability to outdo himself, Giotto finds us a spy. A fucking spy.

“G,” Giotto says, beaming, gesturing proudly to a scowling, bored, blond maniac. “This is our newest family member.”

“What are you?” asks the maniac, twirling a set of handcuffs, staring at me like I might be edible. In the cannibalistic way, not the sexy way. And what the fuck kind of question is that?

“I’m his dog,” I tell him, jerking my head toward Giotto. One thing: it’s true, sad to say. Another thing: it makes people uncomfortable, and that cracks me up.

Well, it makes normal people uncomfortable. Bondage Guy just nods, like, I don’t know, the world makes sense again. He catches the cuffs in one hand, yawns, and proceeds to ignore me completely, like I really am a dog.

Is he a jerk, or is he doing this because he thinks it’s funny? Or is it both?

“This is Alaude,” Giotto tells me, simple and happy. “He used to lead an intelligence service, but now he’s agreed to work with us.”

I like how he doesn’t say which intelligence service. I can’t tell, looking at Alaude. French, Prussian, Austrian? Could be anything. And what happened with that, huh? He get axed for his wacky sense of humor?

Hardly matters, he’s a spy.

Spies. They’re the worst possible combination of government and cops. Sneaking, lying, slimy weasels, all of ‘em.

“I hate spies.” I figure we should sort this out early in our relationship. He ignores me, though, which I should’ve seen coming. Because dogs don’t talk, right? Ha ha, this guy’s a dick.

“G disapproves of the high level of corruption in government, and among government officials,” Giotto explains, as if diplomacy is worth the effort with spies.

“Corruption isn’t the fault of the institution,” Alaude says. “It’s the fault of the individuals in question.”

This is blatantly and demonstrably untrue, and I’d tell him so, but, you know, dogs can’t talk. If that’s how we’re playing it. So I growl at him instead.

That gets me a smirk from him and an entertaining choking noise from Giotto. Nice when things work out.

“I punish corruption,” Alaude announces, almost like he’s trying to reassure me. But if that is what he’s trying, it’s not working.

“Alaude seems to have been fighting corruption the world over,” Giotto tells me. “I’m trying to convince him it would be more effective to concentrate his efforts—one country at a time.”

Alaude shrugs. Presumably he doesn’t give a shit as long as he has a steady supply of people to put in cuffs. Which is completely normal, I’m sure.

What I want to know is, how does Giotto find these people?

Last and least, there’s Daemon Spade. No, I tell a lie, there’s Elena—Spade just comes attached. Elena is wild-eyed and idealistic and has big plans to fix the world. She’s essentially Giotto’s richer, female twin, and I have no problem with her on her own. The problem is that she comes as half of a pair; the problem is that Spade is her right hand, her enforcer, her tool for influencing the world. Meanwhile, she’s the center of Spade’s universe and his personified moral compass. She is his everything. Rich boy thinks he’s devoted to the cause of the oppressed, but the truth is, he’s devoted to Elena, and she’s devoted to the oppressed.

There may be a parallel or two there with my own lifestyle. And yeah, Ugetsu makes me uncomfortable, Lampo and Alaude make me tired, Knuckle drives me crazy, but this Spade guy? He’s a tragedy waiting to happen, and the very last thing this motley crew needs is another me.

Too bad that’s an argument I’ll never successfully pitch to Giotto.

Love’s supposed to be a beautiful motivation, right? The problem is, different people love in different ways, and if a guy is, say, fucking psychotic, it may actually be better if he hates you.

Spade bothers me. I’m bothered.

* * *

“Giotto. I don’t like to sound…agitated or anything. But your head is on fire.”

“Oh. Oh! It is?”

“I love that this surprises you.”

“I wanted to show you my gloves.”

“Yeah, nice. I see they’re on fire, too. Like your head.”

“It’s a new thing Pietro and Talbot developed. Dying Will bullets. If you get shot with one, then—”

“You let Pietro shoot you in the name of science. Is that what I just heard you say? Because I think that’s what I just heard you say.”

“He tested it very carefully before—”

“On what? Rats? Dogs? Peasants? Oh shit, it was peasants, wasn’t it? I told you not to let that crazy sonuvabitch leave the basement!”

“…In any case, if you’re shot with a Dying Will bullet, then you’re reborn determined to do whatever—”

“Did you just say reborn!?

“Well, it’s only a technical sort of death.”

“Where’s Pietro right now?”

“…Nowhere. Gone. Missing. Don’t you dare—G—no, you can’t kill him, I need him!”

“He shot you to death!”

“I’m standing right here!”

“Your fire went out. That some kind of metaphor?”

“Will you just—it is not a metaphor. I don’t have the endurance to keep it up. Yet.”

“So it is a metaphor.”

“I know you’re unhappy I let myself get shot, G, but I’m warning you, this isn’t a fight you want to start.”

“Yeah, right. So how are you building up endurance?”

“Oh…I thought I’d climb cliffs. I’ll go visit Cozart in Meta; they have some nice cliffs overlooking the sea.”

“You’re fucking with me.”

“Yes and no.”

“Had to be Cozart, didn’t it?”

“Remind me what your problem is with Cozart; I can’t keep track of all of your problems with people.”

“He made himself a ring with tentacles. Tentacles never end well.”

“That is the most—no. Fine. I’ll bring you along, if you want.”

“Obviously I’m coming along, jackass. And if you fall to your death from a cliff, I’m jumping right after you. You die, I die. And it’ll be your fault.”

“G. Don’t threaten me with your safety.”

“Giotto. Don’t climb fucking cliffs.”

“…I have to.”

“Sure you do. I guess we’re all just doing what we have to do. Not like it’s all your idea or anything, and even if it were, your ideas are always great, right? Speaking of, have I commented on your spiffy cape?”

“If by that you mean, have you mocked it every time you’ve seen it…yes. Yes, you’ve taken care of that.”

“It is awfully spiffy. I mean, a weaponized cape. That’s some kind of classy genius right there.”

“Thank you, man with a tattoo on his face.”

“You think it’s hot.”

That’s not the point.”

* * *

Giotto’s the dreamer, the visionary, the big picture guy. That leaves me to be the practical guy, and I think we all know who got the short end of the stick, here.

It’s my job to figure out who they are and what they’re good for, these misfits Giotto collected. It’s my job to make them useful. Also to make them wash their clothes, sleep under a roof sometimes, and eat.

I’m so young to be the mother of six grown men. Well, five. Elena rides herd on Spade for me, so that’s something.

Domestic bullshit aside, I guess it’s not so bad. It’s fun working out what people are like, how they deal with pressure, what their fighting abilities are—not least because there’s a quick, easy way to do all of that.

Drunken brawl.

Step one: go someplace where you don’t know anyone and never plan to go again. Like Puglia. Who the hell goes to Puglia? Not me, I vacation in Lucania, that garden spot. Step two: find out where people go to drink, and lurk there until the good kids head home. Step three: Figure out who the most popular guy left in the room is. Step four: Shout something incoherent about his mom and punch him in the face.

The rest pretty much takes care of itself.

Ugetsu, blessed be, does not kill people in a brawl. He knocks everybody in his vicinity unconscious in short order, laughing like a creep the whole time, but it’s nothing people aren’t gonna recover from. From this we establish that Ugetsu is not as crazy as he first appeared, and that those people I watched him cut down must’ve been real bastards. So fine. He’s cool, he’s calm, he’s disconcertingly happy all the time. He’s scary and deadly when he needs to be, and he loves his boss. He doesn’t even play too much flute when we travel, which I admit I was worried about. Well chosen, Giotto. (I believed in you, beautiful, really I did.)

The priest knocks everybody out, too, but under some kind of self-imposed three-minute rule. (No idea. Just…no idea.) Then he stands over the moaning bodies telling them he hates violence and that they should repent, confess, turn to God. Or something. While the whole song and dance is annoying enough to make me scream, I can’t deny he’s useful. Well, he’s useful for three fucking minutes, after which he’s deadweight, but he is really, really useful for three minutes.

He has a slight tendency to freak out about me and Giotto, which is unfortunate. For him. For me, hey, I am the kind of guy who gets his kicks needling the clergy. And Giotto just pretends not to notice, in that never-touched-down-on-earth-in-my-life way he has.

The novelty is sort of interesting. No one’s ever tried to get between me and Giotto before. We’re pretty well known, see, and everyone loves Giotto so much that the rules don’t apply to him. So on the one hand, people know it’d make Giotto sad if they took me away from him, and no one wants to make him sad.

And on the other hand, they know I’ve killed men for less.

Yeah, we meet blind eyes everywhere we turn. People are so cute, too, acting like they have no idea. “They’re as close as brothers!” they say. Which makes you wonder what their brothers get up to.

But Knuckle refuses to bend on anything, forever pitching himself headlong at walls. At least the way he goes about it is funny. Not so much that’s a sin, but more, I just don’t get it. Think we’re really expanding his worldview. Poor guy.

I know he’s praying for us, though, and if anything worries me, it’s that. Last thing I need is somebody annoying the shit out of God on my behalf. Only a matter of time before we all get struck by lightning.

Speaking of lightning, this may be wishful thinking on my part—it almost has to be wishful thinking—but sometimes it seems like Lampo’s got a thing for the priest. I don’t know whether to hope I’m right, for the hilarity in it, or to hope I’m dead wrong, because, shit, Knuckle would panic and break the kid’s heart and then Lampo would electrocute us all, no need to wait for God. Although, note that it would still be Knuckle’s fault.

Lampo’s actually the scariest one in a brawl, because he’s the most scared. Scared people tend to overreact, and that’s how random bystanders end up with smoke curling out of their ears. You see where this gets awkward.

Kid booby-traps his own home. I’m just saying.

But fine, if he’s gonna treat everything like a battle to the death, we’ll keep him in reserve until it really is a battle to the death. No problem.

Alaude, now. Alaude has the soul of a hunting falcon, and like a falcon, he’s only loyal to one person. Not my style of loyalty (or Spade’s), but the distant loyalty of a solitary predator. Not something we pack animal humans are equipped to understand.

Kill for Giotto, yes. Comfort Giotto, never.

Present Alaude with an unstable situation, and he will beat the crap out of people and cuff them to things until the situation isn’t unstable anymore. Then he wanders off, bored.

Conclusion: Alaude is useful, if weirder than shit.

That leaves Spade. It’s cowardly of me, but I don’t want to know what Spade would do in a brawl if Elena weren’t present—and I’m not letting Elena tag along to a brawl. Not sure whether I’m more afraid she’d be traumatized or that she’d have a blast. Either way, I can’t handle it. I have a delicate constitution.

In place of the brawl, I take Spade to visit Giotto’s cousins in Matera. If nothing else, it’s cheap amusement. None of Spade’s illusions work on any of the cousins—not even the tiny ones. They just watch him, ignoring or flat-out not seeing the columns of flame, the heaving earth, the menacing waves. They watch him, and then they turn to me with their jaded, tired eyes. The eyes you’d turn on a storm cloud, coming in to wash away an entire day’s work. Why? those eyes ask, knowing they’ll never get an answer. Why did you bring this to us? What have we done to deserve it? Scary fucking thing to see on anyone, but especially on the kids.

It makes sense that Giotto and Cozart picked weather names for us, given the way anybody with power seems like a force of nature to those without it. Unstoppable, unfathomable, unavoidable. And uninteresting, for all of those reasons. There’s no percentage in being interested. Best to just close your eyes, bear it, and hope it eventually goes away.

The lack of reaction gets on Spade’s nerves like nobody’s business. Apparently he can’t function without oohs and aahs. I’m finding more reasons to like this prize of a man every day.

I did learn one thing about Spade on this trip that cheered me up: I can take him, if it comes to that. I’ve seen how his mist tricks work, and I’ve seen right through them. The sad truth is, I’m not so different from Giotto’s cousins with their creepy, dead eyes. We’ve all seen a lot of bullshit, fuck knows, and it’s never done us any favors. We don’t waste time looking for miracles.

* * *

There are ten of them, there are seven of us. There are ten of them, they’re bigger than we are, they’re better connected than we are, and they’re more familiar with the area than we are. That’s why we’re surrounded.

This was not one of Giotto’s more brilliant attack plans. Obviously I should’ve read him those passages from The Art of War and The Prince and every battle strategist’s book ever where they tell you how freaking critical it is to know your ground.

Too late now, I guess. This time. But I know what Giotto’s bedtime reading for the next six months is gonna be.

Ain’t all bad, though. For one thing, they’re arrogant—they don’t realize how horribly outgunned they are. For another thing, I’ve got Ugetsu on my left, Alaude on my right, Knuckle and Lampo on the wings, Spade lurking out of sight, my back pressed to Giotto’s, and we’re about to start a free-for-all with some guys I always hated.

Times like this, I really see the beauty of Giotto’s vision for a brighter future. I do. I just wish he’d picked better ground, that’s all.

“Go, Lampo.”

“But, G, I don’t, I didn’t, I—”

Get moving before I fuck you up.”

He charges off, wailing like a lost soul. Sure, it’s because he’s terrified; that’s obvious. But Lampo is living proof that a terrified man is liable to do anything.

I enjoy the faces of our enemies when that realization hits them. That’s right. There is a screaming, sparking hysteric headed for you, and he has no idea what he’ll do.

In this case, our enemy happens to be Giovanni Di Alberto, and I’ve wanted that bitch dead since we were kids. He was one of those dog-torturing little shits who really ought to be exterminated before they have a chance to grow. Unfortunately, he did grow. He grew up enough to make Giotto bleed when we were fifteen—I can’t remember why. Giotto must’ve thrown himself bodily between Giovanni and something he had his eye on. Money he was about to steal? Dogs he was kicking? Small children he was aiming to maim? Could be anything.

Point is, he made Giotto bleed. People don’t make Giotto bleed and live, not in my world. I don’t like how long the day of reckoning has been in coming.

Not much longer now, though.

Lampo takes out the Pirozzo twins, making a nice gap in the circle and dealing a pretty nasty blow to morale, too. The rest of them tighten in; they’d like to attack Lampo, but don’t dare. Smart of them.

“Knuckle,” I say, “that’s Salvatore Esposito to your left. He’s a former boxer, too.” He’s also a decent guy who just happened to fall in with assholes. Knuckle never kills anybody anymore—a priest thing, I guess—so it’s a good match-up.

Knuckle thinks so, too—he grins at me like a kid. “Ultimate!” he cries, and bounds off, joyous and simple. I don’t really get it, but you can’t help but be happy for the idiot when he’s so happy for himself.

The rest of them take this time to charge us, so that’s all the pick-and-choose I get. That’s okay, though. Giovanni goes straight for Giotto (no surprises there), and his partner in crime goes for me. It’s the way I’d have picked it anyway.

Well, we do all know each other. Yeah, we’re old friends. The guy charging me is Roberto Morena; I killed his dad. His dad, the guy who burned down my house and killed my family. We’ve got a whole little history between us. Had to be sorted out sooner or later.

We begin with our usual friendly banter. “So you figure this for a good day to die, Robbe’?” “I figure it for a good day to put down the psycho who murdered my dad, that count?” “Your dad! Yeah, I remember that guy. Real sweetheart, but he cried like a girl when I kicked his teeth in.” “You shut up about my dad.” So on and so forth. Predictable. Comforting, in a way.

Eventually Robbe’ gets bored with chatting and pulls a gun, meaning he’s serious. We’ve never been allowed to be serious, before—always kept in check by the fact that our bosses didn’t officially hate each other. But lucky us, now they do. The gloves come off.

I’m using my bow today because Giotto gave it to me and this is Giotto’s fight. I didn’t even bring my guns, which turns out to be a shame. Would’ve been an even fight if I had. With the bow, the fight is over almost as soon as it begins. Robbe’ fires at me with his handgun—easy to carry, lousy aim, lousy range—and I fire back with G Archery.

And bam, he’s dead, it’s over, blood everywhere. Really unsatisfying, when you consider how long I’ve waited for this. That’s the problem with Giotto’s scary weapons; they suck all the challenge out of a battlefield. Still, I’m not quite crazy enough to drag a fight out just because I can. Unlike certain Cloud Guardians, I don’t play with my food.

Speaking of whom, wow, that man does not have the makings of a spy. No way should spies enjoy the shit out of brawls. How he came to lead a bunch of spies is a mystery for the ages.

He’s taken on two guys and has everything under control, of course. Besides, he’d fuck up anybody who interfered in his fight.

Ugetsu knocked out his two guys in, I would bet, about thirty seconds, and now he’s prowling around the same as I am, making sure nobody’s in trouble.

I check Ugetsu’s guys. He never kills anybody unless he’s got a personal reason to do it, and sometimes I have to clean up after him. He’d have left Giovanni alive, for example, because he doesn’t know the history, and I’d have had to kill the guy while he was down, which is always a creepy feeling.

But nah, I don’t have to kill any unconscious men today. These are just low level thugs, not responsible. They can live.

Everything else is handled, so it must be time to muzzle Spade.

Cats do a thing when they’re not hungry where they maim some little animal and watch it crawl around, bleeding and suffering. If the mood strikes them, they eventually kill it. Otherwise, they get bored and wander off.

Spade pulls this exact same trick. He’s not like Alaude—Alaude loves the fight, but not the suffering. Honestly, I’m not sure Alaude even notices the suffering; he’s a special flower that way.

Spade’s creepier, though. Out of Elena’s sight, he is always and forever the creepiest.

Spade’s opponent is Alegretti from Grassano; the good news is I hardly know him. The bad news is he obviously no longer has any idea where he is or what’s going on. He’s shaking, crying, bleeding all over the place. He’s dropped his gun and pissed himself.

This isn’t a fight. I don’t know what you call this, but it’s going to stop right fucking now.

I’ve taken two steps toward Spade when Ugetsu swoops in fast and cuts Alegretti down. It was a mercy, by then. Ugetsu flicks most of the blood off the blade and turns to Spade, sword still held like he’s thinking about using it. They face off with cold glares of mutual loathing for a while, but then Ugetsu abruptly reverts to his calm, happy face. Never realized what a façade that was until now. Yikes.

“You seemed to be having some trouble,” Ugetsu says, peaceable. “I thought I could help.”

“He was a monster,” Spade insists stiffly. “He lorded it over everyone weaker than he was. He abused his power, he flaunted his wealth, and he didn’t deserve your pity.”

Quoth the aristocrat.

“Oh, I wouldn’t call it pity,” Ugetsu replies, possibly honestly, holding on to that eerily pleasant tone. “But it’s inefficient your way, don’t you think? We don’t want to waste time.”

Spade hesitates over that, but eventually nods, deciding it’s sound. He skulks off to cry to Elena about being misunderstood, or maybe to stomp on baby chicks. Whatever it is he does with his free time. So yeah, crisis averted, but if Spade ever pulls this shit with an ally, I don’t care what Giotto says, I’m killing him myself.

It comforts me that there’s a difference between me and Spade, and it’s that Spade thinks he’s the champion of the little man, but I know I’m a monster. Maybe it’s the only difference, but it’s an important one. Depressing, though, in a way. Spade’s clearly having more fun in life.

On the bright side, I am really coming to like Ugetsu. And Alaude, for that matter, who was also watching that little drama, sharp-eyed and interested. Though he puts on a great show of apathy when he catches me looking, and wanders off, twirling a pair of handcuffs, leaving his guys moaning on the ground behind him. In cuffs. How many of those things does he have?

That guy. I don’t even know what to think about that guy. He’s such a dick, I kind of love him.

Knuckle, fortunately, missed the whole show, because apparently we’re so swift—or our opponents were so pathetic—that he’s the only one who took his full three minutes, even with Alaude dragging things out. (Esposito’s on the ground, unconscious but breathing.) It’s lucky Knuckle was busy, because he’d have had a shit fit if he’d seen. All’s well that ends well, yeah?

So that’s nine down on their side, none down on our side. Well, none really down. Lampo’s sitting between two electrocuted bodies and having hysterics, but he’ll get over it.

That leaves Giotto and Giovanni. Giotto could have killed Giovanni a hundred times over by now, but what’s he doing instead?

He’s talking.

And not just talking, but talking bullshit. How could you? this, have you no compassion? that.

How could he? He’s an asshole. Has he no compassion? Fuck no.

At least Giotto went to the trouble of breaking Giovanni’s ankle and freezing his hands together before launching into the heart to heart. Otherwise I might have to be really annoyed. Giovanni’s sniping back about what a pussy Giotto is, but since he’s the one incapacitated on the ground, it’s hard to take him seriously.

No, Giotto’s no wimp. The problem is weirder and more annoying than that.

I step up behind Giotto and put a hand on his shoulder, and he stops talking. He freezes, in fact, because he knows what I’m about to tell him, he knows I’m right, and he doesn’t like it.

“If you won’t kill him,” I whisper into his ear, “I’ll have to.”

He drags in a shaky breath and holds up his gloves; I move back a respectful distance and watch. To look at him, you’d think he was completely calm, with his steady hands and cold eyes and fiery head. I know better.

“I’m sorry, Giovanni,” he says, and he honestly is sorry, but it’s not enough to stop him from freezing Giovanni into an ice cube. Not when he’s doing it for his family, for the people he loves.

“Vongolaaa,” Giovanni croaks, the last thing he says before ice closes over his face. He’s not exactly dead, but it’s close enough for my purposes. Maybe I’ll find him later and hit him with a hammer for insurance. It’s tough, but for Giotto’s sake, I refrain from any and all victory dances I may feel like doing.

But wow. That was some last word.

Luckily for his authority over his maniacal followers, when Giotto’s upset, his face doesn’t show it. He doesn’t cry or throw up, either, though that’s probably what he feels like doing. No, he shakes. It’s not that noticeable unless you know to look for it.

He’s shaking now. Over Giovanni Di fucking Alberto.

I want to go over there and hold him, hide him from the world. At the same time, and no less intensely, I want to go over there, grab him by the shoulders, and really shake him. Shake him until his teeth rattle. What the hell did he become a vigilante for when we both knew he couldn’t handle it? Shit, I warned him.

In the end, I throw an arm around him to make sure nobody else can see the shaking and dig my fingers savagely into his shoulder. A compromise. “Someday, beautiful,” I tell him. “Someday I want an explanation for why you named us after shellfish.”

He huffs a weak laugh, understanding everything I’m not saying. The shaking damps down to something less alarming.

So. Veni vidi vici. Caesar was obviously bored, too.

* * *

On a purely personal note, not related to illegal activities, government overthrow, or catastrophic long term consequences: the priest has this sister.

The priest. Has this sister.

Now, okay. The sun rises in the east and women love Giotto. Fine. Giotto always gave every sign of being oblivious, so I never cared.

As much as he’s trying for my sake, he’s not oblivious this time.

I’d ask, What’s she got that I haven’t? but there are way too many answers to that question for me to be comfortable with it. (Sanity, tranquility, a functioning conscience, the list goes on). The answer that’s least hurtful to me is, of course, a womb, so I’ll just be sticking with that one and not thinking too hard about the others.

Giotto’s going to want kids, eventually. I always knew this about him. Imagining him without his own flock of blond menaces is impossible. He should have kids; he should have a dozen. And this is one thing I definitely can’t do for him.

But damn, the process is gonna be awkward, here.

Upside: the sister—Maria, which is strangely appropriate; Ninco Nanco’s knife-toting lover was a Maria, too—is not weird about us the way her brother is. And I wouldn’t call her Catholic, exactly. She seems to look on the whole priesthood thing as a cute hobby of her brother’s which has nothing to do with her. (I imagine she felt the same way about the boxing. I worry that she feels the same way about the vigilantism.)

No, Maria shares my faith, which is the faith of strength in defiance of futility, of taking what you can get from this world while you can get it.

Giotto kissed her hand when they met, because he’s the kind of guy who can get away with shit like that. She smiled at his shamelessness and his charm, flirted for the fun of it, threatened him with the wrath of her brother, took nothing seriously. He smiled back at her with a half-stunned happiness that I’m only accustomed to seeing directed my way (and, okay, Cozart’s. Fucking Cozart).

Maria kept laughing until she saw my face, at which point the laughter stopped dead, and she abruptly looked like a woman thinking, say, I’m too young to die. She stepped an extremely polite distance away from Giotto, and nodded carefully to me.

Clear-sighted woman. Just like that, she and I were on the same page.

The problem is, she can’t actually step down. Giotto can’t stop himself from going after what he wants any more than he can leave people behind. Just expects the whole world to fall into the palm of his hand, my Giotto. Maybe that’s why sometimes it does.

So Maria and I, we take walks. We have coffee. We’re courting each other, that’s what we’re doing, and we’re doing it in something like a panic, because this will be awkward as all get out but it has to work. Eventually Giotto will break and say something, and by that time, we need to be a team, she and I. We need to have learned to share and get along, and most of all, we need to have killed any hint of jealousy, because that would tear Giotto apart. He doesn’t do jealousy himself; he doesn’t understand it. He thinks it’s a much more horrible and uncommon emotion than it actually is. It upsets him.

And we would all bend over backward to avoid upsetting him, wouldn’t we? Yeah, it is that sad.

I think we can make this work, actually. We’re most of the way there already. Maria’s sweet and smart and sensible to the point of terrifying, and according to her, I’m cute. I don’t think I like where she’s going with that, but whatever, it’s a miracle she’s crazy enough to be going along with this at all. It’ll work. It has to.

“You realize there’s still one major problem here,” I tell her.

She smiles at me over her cup of coffee. “What’s that?”

“When your brother figures out what’s going on, he’ll kill all three of us.”

This doesn’t even put a dent in the smile. “He won’t kill me.”

Nice. “Well, that’ll be a comfort to me, I’m sure.”

“He won’t kill you and Giotto, either, don’t be so dramatic.”

“No, that’s right, he’s got morals or something. So he’ll just castrate us, which is better, but not by a lot.”

“He really won’t. If this works out, my brother will assume that you’re, um. Suddenly lovers of women. Probably because of God.”

“And he’ll be okay with both of us being into you?”

“Oh, but G, that’s tragic, don’t you see? Because here you are, courting me like a proper gentleman—so proper, in fact, that anyone would think you had no interest in my body at all—”

“Imagine that.”

“And that’s enough to touch a brother’s heart on its own. You’re courting me, so you must have given up this whole thing with men, on account of God and of course my blinding beauty. Don’t make that face, try to think like a brother. But then you’ll lose me, won’t you? I’ll marry Giotto, your best friend, and you’ll have to be brave, and then you’ll grieve forever and never marry, and it’ll all be extremely sad and noble. It’ll fit into a shape my brother understands. Anything confusing won’t exist.”

Good to know. Add that to the list of Knuckle facts for future reference: wacky imagination, check. “That’s both weird and stupid. And yet oddly reassuring.”

“Hm, yes. My brother.” She tilts her head at me thoughtfully. “You’re really worried, aren’t you?”

“Well, yeah, Maria. My manly bits are on the line, here. Shouldn’t you be more worried? I thought you had a personal stake in Giotto’s manly bits; wasn’t that how this whole mess got started?”

She giggles the giggle of a person who knows her reproductive organs are safely tucked away inside her. “I haven’t gotten a chance to inspect the merchandise yet, so I won’t know what I’m missing.”

“Well, I’ve inspected the merchandise for you, being selfless like that, and I’m telling you you’ll be missing a lot.”

“What are you two laughing about?” Giotto asks, confused to find me willingly talking to non-family, but pleased to see people he likes getting along.

He’s always had awesome timing, and choosing to walk into this conversation right now, well. It’s got to be unsettling to walk up to a table and have everyone at it turn to stare speculatively at your crotch.

Giotto kneels down so the table’s blocking everything below the neck from view—spoilsport—and says to me, “Stop that.” He’s used to this kind of behavior from me. Then he turns to Maria, a little more flustered. “And you stop it, too. And I’ve changed my mind. I don’t ever want to know what you were laughing about.”

I smirk at him, and Maria laughs outright.

Yeah, I do believe this will work.


Part 2
 
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[User Picture]From: makeste
2012-01-01 10:57 pm (UTC)

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BEST WAY TO START THE NEW YEAR.

When you grow up with a guy, you end up knowing everything about him. Everything. The good and the bad. The time he hid in a cellar and refused to come out until he’d peed his pants, but also the time I fell into a lake and almost drowned and he saved my life. Things neither of us have ever told anyone.

Oh gosh. I love how you basically summed up everything there is to know about their relationship in a few sentences and a pair of anecdotes. I know any fic I read by you is gonna be good, but when I got this paragraph, it confirmed that yes, I was going to love this fic.

Giotto turns away from his contemplation of the hills, and for the first time this conversation, he gives me his full attention. Which always feels like being bathed in sunshine. Someone needs to get this guy under control before he accidentally takes over the world.

Loved this part right here. Sums up his appeal right well, and it's equal parts fascinating and just-this-side-of-creepy.

Love the backstory you gave to G, and his descriptions of the other guardians. Perfect.

“Giotto. I don’t like to sound…agitated or anything. But your head is on fire.”

YESSSSS.

“Remind me what your problem is with Cozart; I can’t keep track of all of your problems with people.”

“Giotto. Don’t climb fucking cliffs.”

“Speaking of, have I commented on your spiffy cape?”

“If by that you mean, have you mocked it every time you’ve seen it…yes. Yes, you’ve taken care of that.”


THIS ENTIRE CONVERSATION IS JUST. just. dfkldsjf

The scene with Spade being a giant creeper and Ugetsu cutting the guy down to put him out of his misery and afterwards he and Spade have an uber-polite YOU'D BEST WATCH YOURSELF showdown with G and Alaude watching was amazing. Out of all the scenes thus far that's probably the one where I could see the essence of Yamamoto and Mukuro and Gokudera, etc. there too. But at the same time they are their own characters. Ahhhh I don't even know how you did that but DAMN.

That guy. I don’t even know what to think about that guy. He’s such a dick, I kind of love him.

G SUMS UP MY FEELINGS ABOUT MANY KHR CHARACTERS.

In the end, I throw an arm around him to make sure nobody else can see the shaking and dig my fingers savagely into his shoulder. A compromise. “Someday, beautiful,” I tell him. “Someday I want an explanation for why you named us after shellfish.”

Guhhh I love how there's this realness to their friendship where they act like real people would and they don't get all mushy or anything, G just makes a joke and the meaning of it is understood and it works and Giotto calms down a little, ahhh so much love there and on top of that the line was hilarious too.

Maria! Love triangle! So interested to see where this is all going.

So I guess I'd better fucking read that second half then. *gets to!*
[User Picture]From: metisket
2012-01-02 04:47 am (UTC)

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:D I'm so glad you liked it!

The more I wrote Giotto, the more just-this-side-of-creepy he seemed. Really, the only thing that saves Tsuna from being creepy is that he's dead sure he's a loser. If he didn't have that... o_O

And I'm glad you liked the disturbing Spade and Ugetsu moment! I think that was my favorite Ugetsu scene, partly because he was closest to Yamamoto there.

That guy. I don’t even know what to think about that guy. He’s such a dick, I kind of love him.
G SUMS UP MY FEELINGS ABOUT MANY KHR CHARACTERS.

I KNOW, RIGHT?

Giotto and G's relationship was so fun to write. Just that comfortable, nagging-means-love, known-you-forever thing. ♥

*goes to read part 2 comment!* :D
[User Picture]From: daigranon
2012-01-07 10:51 pm (UTC)

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Fucking hilarious. I really like how you adopted G's voice--it's a really different voice than your other writing, and it puts all of the First Gen. craziness in a humorous light. The depth of G and Giotto's friendship is one of the most compelling qualities of this story so far. It's not easy to write about the First Gen. (I've thought about it from time to time) but I like how you've improvised their personalities based on their contemporary counterparts--they have many of the same qualities but they are different.

(Just a tiny little thing- during the 10 vs 7 brawl you accidentally refer to Knuckle as Ryouhei. Freudian slip? xDD)

I will get to Part II later tonight :) keep up the great work.
[User Picture]From: metisket
2012-01-08 05:46 pm (UTC)

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Thank you so much! G was a nice change for me, too--there are so few characters in KHR with that "BURN IT ALL" attitude, G was refreshing. :D And I'm glad you liked my take on the Primos! It's true we don't know much about them, but that gives us a lot of freedom to mess around with them. Which is fun. :)

(Fixed the Ryouhei thing, thank you. I was so worried about messing up Lampo and Lambo that I let the Ryouhei SLIP RIGHT BY. *headdesk* XD)
[User Picture]From: daigranon
2012-01-09 01:20 am (UTC)

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Haha, agree with you there- maybe Shamal or Xanxus, but rarely any others. Although I can't really see Shamal (or Squalo, for that matter) being that pessimistic.
There are far too many characters that we know so little about. I was toying between writing a Skull fic and an Iemitsu-Nana fic to get back into writing after my hiatus...

LOL. It's easy--sometimes I mess up G and Giotto when I am writing their names. -_-;;