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where your loyalty lies

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All and all, Alessi considers this arrangement— this forced servitude under a man who can’t be bothered to clear the premises of his own corpses— completely temporary.

But, speaking honestly— as he always does!— Lord DIO would be utterly lost without someone like him.

He builds his flock with amateurs, and then tightens his grip on the few real assassins he has to his name when the sheep run dry. Those drawn in by his supposed good looks (and he wouldn’t know, having never seen the man’s face because he seems to have an aversion to modern appliances and keeps his manse lit with candles like a goddamn crypt keeper) and the charisma he apparently oozes are utter fools.

Money talks louder than either, and right now, DIO is the highest bidder for his professional services. He doesn’t come for free , after all, but there’s a reason he’s at the top.

When he hears about an unexpected landing and a withered old man in the carnage, Alessi doesn’t bat an eye. Gray Fly had it coming. That old geezer was always practically begging to get caught, and probably senile when he did not charge his usual rates.

(And he’s heard he’s always been cheap, cheap and messy because he’s got an appetite for destruction and no subtlety at all. The fact he hadn’t been caught and sent into an early retirement sooner is merely a testament to how disgustingly lucky amateurs can get.)

Alessi understands Gray Fly. It’s the other scant few that aren’t sniveling idiots or bright-eyed, greedy half-pints or literal animals (he’s seen the hawk that “Lord” DIO the invader brought with him and the ghastly thing it summons, and would love nothing more than to see him served spit-roasted on a fire) that gives him pause.

 


 

The first time he’d met Midler, she had worked under a different name and had thought it funny to steal his job from right under his nose, which was startlingly bold for someone who just started making a name for themselves. Oh no, it didn’t do much to make such powerful enemies. He is a patient man, of course, but such disrespect can’t go without retribution.

But that has always been her status quo: a healthy distance away from her kill, carrying out orders to a “T” and letting anyone else caught in the bloody crossfire be collateral damage.

—Like his shirt, and the shoes he’d just had polished to look sharp for the evening.

The man in question was rich, and cocky, and as far as Alessi was concerned, that was all he needed to know. Trailing him was almost too easy and he figured he’d be in bed before sunrise, hands scrubbed clean and a fat paycheck on the way. He’d stayed meters behind them, ducking behind buildings to be safe even if they were the only ones out on the street this time of night.

He doesn’t even see a thing.

Clearly, the kind of braggart that really deserved more than the mercy he intended to give, as Set slid down the sidewalk, melding into the shadows of streetlights. He was flashy and talking loudly and there was a woman hanging off his arms and everything looked good for a sweep. One pass through Set while stumbling through the night like rowdy teenagers and they were done for, very good .

Alessi didn’t see the claws forming from the coiled metal of the streetlight until it was far too late to react.

Set had retreated back into Alessi’s shadow in the same beat the woman’s head lolled off to bleed against his shoulder, gone in a drunk stupor and then doused in red from the large chunk of her throat suddenly gone . The instant a silent scream started bubbling in the target’s throat, it was too late.

A glance all around, and he remembers stomping out of the shadows, eye twitching and hand reaching for his gun, tucked in its holster. Something pulled itself from the lamp-- another Stand, clearly, because of course , it’s just his luck-- and piercing eyes stared back at him before throwing its entire body back to laugh.

The Stand was hideous, a horrible whirlwind of claws and fur that is shaking with glee in one instant and gone in the next. He blinked once, twice, almost made to wipe at his eyes to make sure they weren’t playing tricks on him when he hears a shrill voice, right up next to his ear: “Ohohoho! Was this one yours?

Needless to say, a swish of bells and he’d ripped every single one of them from his person. All grace gone out the window to unload his bullets against brick. It mixed with the same ear-splitting laughter that still seems to go straight through his body to touch every last nerve he has.

It was mocking him.

Silence.

Then an eruption of laughter from behind and a woman stepped out of the shadows, brushing past him fearlessly to hover over the corpses.

She was draped in dark blue, with heeled sandals that fell heavy on the pavement with each step. This interloper regarded the last sparks of life of the pathetic corpses between them with vague interest— and, more infuriating than that, pointedly ignored him.

The insolence, the nerve, the

“You went and wasted all your bullets,” she’d said, not even meeting Alessi’s gaze, “so don’t go waving that around at me! You keep your nasty little Stand to yourself, too.”

She lifted the head of the poor fellow from where he’d slumped to the ground, paying no mind to the blood pouring out of the nasty hole in his neck.

“What a shame. He was pretty handsome, don’t you think?”

Two sets of eyes stare back at Alessi, and one smirk follows.

He’d been past fury, so stunned and silently seething, teeth grinding against one another, that he’d barely registered when she’d stood up again and closed the two or so feet between them.

“You can take care of the clean-up, right, old-timer? I won’t take all the fun!”

Instead of a handshake, she’d patted his shoulder and brushed past him again, one long swipe to use the sleeve of his shirt as a glorified napkin .

(The fury lasted for days; the corpses are nothing but a gory mush by the time he’d gone and disposed of the evidence.)

 



(She’d been Rose first-- The Rose, as Alessi had soon started hearing others call her-- and no one had ever seen her face, and no one believes him when he speaks to the contrary.

Every time she’s mentioned, his blood pressure spikes and his temple aches and his lips curl into something like a snarl.

She really was fucking with him that night.)

 




Even on a good day, as magnanimous as Alessi is, he hates the D’Arby Brothers. But a few years back, they’d offered a lavish safe house to him and his associates in exchange for a little hush money. The place, a mansion in Cairo older than all of them combined, is dusty and looked as though the original occupants had left in a hurry-- or, the more likely outcome, simply disappeared, tucked into a frankly creepy poker chip collection the elder D’Arby is more than happy to display if prompted.

But it’s way better than springing for a motel, and way bigger than the flat he has in Luxor. Much more fitting for a gentleman of his clout.

The D’Arbys served one other fair purpose, one reason they were handy to keep around despite both being equally a pain in the rear. They were habitual globetrotters, hardly killers by trade but tricksters and very good informants. They had the time and want to know as much as possible, with methods to get that information and a want to collect it.

So, put another way, the mess Alessi found himself in was all their fault.

The name Vanilla Ice only surfaced in hushed whispers shortly before he and Alessi had ever crossed paths. It is, by far, the stupidest alias he’d ever heard of, and before their encounter he’d thought very little.

Information was scarce: he was a man with no past, no apparent motive, but someone was sponsoring him. He was there one instant, gone the next, but with nothing substantial to prove him a threat (and such a gaudy name to boot) Alessi dismissed the chatter. No one with a name like that could ever be a serious threat.

(Aliases were nice, he supposed, but really, any assassin worth their salt would dare to use their own name like he did. He’s untouchable; what’s there to fear? He’s not going to cower behind a fake name like some timid child!)

He dismissed him until he couldn’t, until he was there, standing above him with a severe glare, entire weight of his body zeroed in on the foot holding Alessi’s face down. There’s a chunk of his side just gone, as well as his sunglasses and axe and he can’t concentrate enough to call Set forward to retaliate.

“My master will be staying here from now on,” were the only words he ever spoke to Alessi.

(As far as he knows, at least. He wasn’t about to get killed by a man with such a stupid name-- he’d rescinded in a strategic retreat.)

 




“N’Doul’s up and left us, hasn’t he?”

Mariah sits opposite him with an ashtray in between. The heat is stifling and Alessi is ungracefully mopping at sweat at the back of his neck with the cloth napkins provided— the outside fans are busted in this backwater cafe and someone is going to pay for his dry cleaning.

“Good riddance,” he grumbles shortly afterwards, not waiting for her reply, although one raised brow says more than enough.

They’ve kept their ear to the pavement, of course, but no reports of a blind “masseuse” with a self-assured laugh have made it to them. It’s not strange, nor troubling, not really; N’Doul is a grown-ass man with a penchant for drifting and, as long as Alessi’s known him, has never once shown an ounce of fear.

He’ll be fine. Infuriatingly so, probably.

No, no, N’Doul’s untimely disappearance isn’t nearly as annoying as the other trail they’ve been following, dead before they’d even begun searching in earnest.

N’Doul? The blind wandering man? I’ve seen him! ” says the ashtray, and Alessi almost falls out of his chair. His sunglasses slip down his nose and he stands halfway before Mariah looks up at him, faintest hint of a smirk on her lips.

“What the hell is she doing here?!” Alessi demands, face growing redder by the second. In the same breath Mariah’s blowing smoke in his face and barely holding back a laugh at his expense, muttering, “ Now, now, don’t make a scene.”

The ashtray has a face in the center of it, and ahh, there’s the characteristic laughter like nails on a chalkboard and Alessi’s eye is twitching, hands curling into fists on the table as he slowly sits down, cloth napkin abandoned somewhere beneath his feet. Fingers dig into the chintzy tablecloth and he’s tempted to drag it off in one go and let High Priestess go flying into the air.

(No one’s really quite sure when The Rose started using the name High Priestess, or when The Rose became Midler, or who was even left alive to relay that information to their business circles and acquaintances.)

“I called in a favor-- and my, so fast. Although I didn’t ask about our good friend N’Doul, now did I?”

Hey, I did my job, too! It just so happens he and this Mister Vanilla run in the same circles now.

“You’re kidding,” Alessi growls. He finally busies himself by crossing his arms and leaning back into his chair. Underneath the table he’s grinding the cloth napkin into the ground with his boot.

Of course I’m not! Do I look like a liar, old fart?! ” High Priestess’s teeth are bared after the fact and it’s starting to peel itself from out of the form of the ashtray, as if to strike him. Mariah, unphased, pushes against High Priestess with a gloved hand, as if to confine it back to its inconspicuous shape.

“And what have you heard?” Mariah’s expression has gone serious now, warning glance between Alessi and his twitching eye and the gnashing teeth of the Stand.

Tell me! Do you know Lord DIO?

 



(When N’Doul finally resurfaces, days later, there’s a smile on his face so serene Alessi’s certain he’s finally lost it.)

 


 

When one rumors rears its ugly head, more crop up, all swirling together into a headache Alessi feels for the next year. This “Lord DIO” has several names he recognizes in his pockets, and several he doesn’t, and all things considered he’d rather not get involved, still seething from his humiliating loss by whom he now knows is his right-hand man.

It’s Midler who shocks him most after N’Doul, and their similarities are striking. Proud, as Alessi has known them. Beholden to no one, not even fear, with no concern for the natural order of things or his own peace of mind. They even laugh the same, although N’Doul’s is far more palatable and mercifully short, even if they’re both seeped in the same sort of self-righteousness that makes his eyes roll and temper flare.

When Mariah suggests they go back to Cairo, a week or so after Midler had interrupted their lunch, he’s nearly falling out of his chair all over again.

She’s one of the few people in this world who isn’t a complete lost cause. Mariah is rational, with a good head on her shoulders and a keen eye for business. Impulsive isn’t her style, and if she thinks it’s worth making the trip back…

...then she’s wrong. Just this once, she’s completely lost it, too. The keen look in her eyes doesn't fool him, he’s been in the business long enough to know when he’s walking right into a mistake.

No, no, not good at all.

But, nonetheless, he follows her against his better judgment.

If her wrong intuition happens to not backfire spectacularly, there could be a payday in the future.

 



(The first and only time he met this great, revered Lord DIO, it lasts all of ten minutes and Mariah stands with him, arms crossed and hip cocked to the side. The younger and far more smug-looking of the D’Arbys had greeted them, and Alessi in all his generosity had to restraint the urge to trip him on his way out the door as he leads him down to the library-- as if they didn’t know where the damn room was themselves.

He’s not wearing a shirt and he’s sprawled across the couch, reading in silence for a full minute before he dares acknowledge them. In the void of the shadows is his ridiculously-named bodyguard. Alessi’s scowl deepens.

When he rises to full height, he towers over the both of them. His voice is somehow full of ice and bubbling with a certain strange warmth and Alessi’s biting back the urge to tug at his collar. His brow furrows, and Mariah’s expression is as severe as he’s ever seen it, when he watches her from the corner of his eyes.

“And what can you do for me?” he asks coolly. His first instinct is to feel belittled, like he’s meant to prove something to this invader-- but there’s another undertone in his voice, as if he already knows the conclusion of their conversation before either of them have spoken a word.

It's over in a flash, even with a strange stuttering in time and senses Alessi attributes to something about DIO’s person warping the space of the room entirely. It’s not chills down his spine he’s feeling-- it’s not, it’s not , he’s not some kind of coward! -- it’s a trick of his voice, or the light or lack thereof. It’s because his face is enshrouded in the same void that fills the corners of the room and obscures most of Vanilla Ice sizing them both up.

There is nothing but silence between him and Mariah when they leave, silence except for laughter Alessi’s sure is ringing in his ears until the laughter grows and grows and High Priestess’s face is coming out of some gaudy wall decoration as they pass by.

Isn’t he wonderful?! ” sighs the shrill imitation of Midler’s voice.)

 



The place is a literal dump. Perfect for grandmothers past their prime for their own craft, fitting for Enya the Hag’s ugly mug as a final resting place.

He’s hardly being promised his bare minimum, and this isn’t hard, but it’s a waste of Alessi’s natural talents and a pain and he’s definitely not getting paid to pick up after the damn targets.

“We have a guest,” Mariah muses, utterly unconcerned and exhaling smoke into the dead air. In the next breath, there is a scream, loud and high and absolutely grating that sounds something akin to an animal dying echoing from somewhere deeper in the ruins of the ghost town they’ve been picking through.

With Bastet, it’s a waiting game, but Alessi is terribly patient if he must be, and if she’s willing to do all the dirty work, he will oblige, hands in his pockets and glasses sliding down his nose when he looks over his shoulder to see what they’re up against.

In the next, he’s swearing when the sand underneath their feet erupts beneath them and they’re all but seconds away from losing a leg to the little devil.

To his horror, it grows larger, shifting sands split into a sharp-toothed grin.

To his annoyance, it laughs again, the same ear-splitting caterwaul ringing in his ears long after they’d shut it up.

Midler has always had a flair for the dramatic, slipping in unannounced and utterly unwanted and striking just so as to elicit the biggest reaction out of her captive (and typically bleeding) audience.

She has clout now. High Priestess is feared for a reason, versatile and unpredictable and cruel. Endlessly useful for DIO, too, as a way to send orders across the globe.

She is a pain in the ass.

What’s this?! I come all the way out to this dump to give you a message and this is my greeting? So ungrateful!

(Tick, tock-- Bastet’s power is unmatched when it gets going but Mariah’s Stand is sure taking its damn time powering up and finding something big enough to knock her out cold . Alessi would do it himself, of course, but in these sorts of situations Set is no good, not at all.)

Ohhhhh? Is that so? A Message?” he deadpans, lips curling into a snarl and sparing no attempt to veil dissatisfaction, as thin as his lies usually are. Mariah meets the development with hardly a reaction, collected and now dangling the cigarette between her fingers, as if debating putting it out against the same shining teeth that were a hair away from clamping down on them.

“Oh? From Lord DIO, I presume?” Eyebrows raise and even in the shadows cast by the setting sun there’s a glimmer of something in Mariah’s eyes when she smiles.

(Of course, it does nothing but infuriate him, like it always does, but Alessi’s brow furrows deeper and he turns his glare momentarily to his comrade as though she’s lost it.)

He wants the two of you back immediately! He’s changing plans, and the two of you are-- hey, hey, call off your tacky Stand, good-for-nothing wench! ” High Priestess lets out a distressed hiss, and somewhere in the distance there’s the clattering of something metallic against the skeletons of buildings and against something living.

“So it’s finally time to get moving.” There’s a cryptic smile at Mariah’s lips; it better be from Midler’s comeuppance as High Priestess turns to sand again.

About damn time to end this all. Very, very good indeed.

 



(N’Doul is gone. The cocky grandson left his cane as a marker in the sand, some mockery of a grave marker he and Mariah stand at. Both smoke and seethe in silence.

It’s his own damn fault for trusting in that bloodsucker that much. Alessi will do better.)

 



By the time Alessi finally gets a chance to duck out from behind the outcropping of rocks, his legs have gone numb. He staggers on the first steps but catches himself before his face plants, cracks his back and grumbles at the sound it makes. Between curses there’s a vain attempt to brush the dust off his knees that have more than likely been stained beyond repair with wet sand and dirt and who knows what manner of shit buried into it.

The exact time is lost on him except for vague measures: it’s sunrise, and he’s spent approximately for-fucking-ever crouching like a scared little child at his mother’s coattails, waiting for the targets in question to stumble aimlessly out of sight. To stop gawking at the same damn thing that comes up every morning and the furious woman writhing in the sand and foam.

Mercifully, they decided to simply leave her there.

A good thing for him: otherwise, they’d have parted before he got the last word in.

(Alessi could have shown himself at any time, of course, but five-against-one are odds he’d rather not dive into. Gloating but on high alert and already raring to go after such a humiliating display on her part-- no, no, it wouldn’t do to jump in after her.)

When they’re finally alone, he takes his sweet time sauntering over to her. The morning sun casts his shadow long and over hers; if he really wanted, Set could overtake her in an instant.

It’s the first time he’s seen High Priestess’s user in years, and the first time he can say he’s seen the real her, surely. Furious, blood pouring from her mouth and falling all across the front of her and her soaked yellow dress. Adorned in stars and scattered teeth, and he thinks of a conversation he and N’Doul had the night they’d all been summoned to the keep that should be rightfully his .

(He spoke of heaven, which seemed out of place for N’Doul but even more so as an ambition for someone like DIO. N’Doul had always called himself wicked with a peaceful smile on his face-- where this came from, Alessi had no idea. DIO is no wicked savior, he’s a paycheck, a benefactor in the loosest sense of the word, and everyone he knows has lost their damn mind. )

“What’s this?” Alessi crouches down to meet Midler at eye level. “ Well, well, look where your loyalty has gone and led you.”

He, at least, has enough sense to sidestep the claws forming from the bloody sand before they go for his throat.