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Vecchie Ferite

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You are three years old the first time you meet your brother.

He is presented to you like a gift, the tiny, squirming bundle of him. You are too young still to hold him, but you touch his face carefully as your father offers him to you. He blinks at you, eyes still unfocused, burbling quietly to himself. You are not sure what to make of him, but you know that he is going to be important.

"Hayato," you say, for the first time.

---

You are five years old when you walk in on Hayato sitting at a piano with a strange woman by his side. He is yet too small, too unformed to play properly: you know this because you have heard your father talk about it to one of his friends, watching Hayato poke experimentally at the keys of the piano in one of the reception rooms out of the corner of his eye. Still the woman has him sitting upright before the instrument, carefully guiding his short fingers over the endless white-black-white-black-white in front of him.

You stop as soon as you enter the room, confused as to why Hayato was playing, to who this woman in your home was. You are used to visitors, but none of them wore white dresses and had silver hair that flowed down their backs like moonlight. You are used to suits and dark glasses and men so tall you could see only their chins, not their faces, when you stood in front of them.

The woman turns, startled by the sound of the door opening, and smiles when she catches sight of you.

"Hello! You must be Hayato's sister."

She rises and walks towards you, leaving Hayato to clamber over the piano stool until he can see the both of you. She kneels in front of you to take your hand, and her eyes - red-ringed, is she tired? - hold a seriousness that you have seldom seen in your young life.

"You must promise to take care of your brother, okay? You have to be responsible for him. You must always love him."

You nod, confused and startled at the graveness in her voice.

She smiles again, and it is as if the past moments never took place.

"Thank you, Bianchi. Now, could you give us a little time? Hayato will be able to play with you soon."

She stands, returns to Hayato, who stares at her, as confused as you are. She smiles at him, too, but is a different smile to the one she gave you. There is something sad in it that you are not accustomed to seeing in smiles.

You close the door behind you as you leave, and hear the piano play again.

---

You are nine years old when you first cook for your brother. You have been bothering the cooks for some time, and an undercook named Giulietta has finally acquiesced to letting you try your hand in the kitchen, with appropriate guidance. Hayato, whose talent has grown exponentially in a scant few years, is due to give a recital to your father's associates and friends, and you want to give him your support.

It takes time to make the cookies, but you work diligently and carefully, measuring ingredients precisely, improvising a little when you think of things which might improve the flavour. This will be a personal gift, and you want Hayato to taste them and think of you, not merely a recipe book. The cookies are ready twenty minutes before he is due to perform and you present them to him proudly, your father smiling at your side. Your brother does not seem as pleased as you had hoped, but he dutifully eats one, and you smile.

Some short time later the gathered suits are standing enraptured as Hayato pounds at the keyboard. It is not a piece you recognise, and in truth it hurts your ears somewhat, but the rapturous applause when he finishes - collapses? - assures you that he must have done well. You're sure it was at least partly thanks to your gift.

---

You are ten the first time your brother nearly kills himself.

The explosion rattles the mansion to its foundations, shaking dust from the ceiling and panicking the maids. The cry goes up – Una bomba! Una bomba! Trovare la famiglia! – because this is not the first time your home has come under attack, nor the first time your governess has hurried you to the bunker.

You have only a vague idea of what exactly it is that your father does, but you know that he is important, and that important men are often in danger. You are accustomed to the strong men standing by doors, lumps under their suit jackets. You are accustomed to not being the first person to taste your food.

You sit in the bunker, your governess’s arm tight around your shoulders, almost tight enough to keep it from shaking. Hayato is nowhere to be seen.

Half an hour later the door to the bunker opens and the guards usher you back into the house, the air now hazy with gently drifting smoke. Sirens wail in the distance and you see your father, face blackened by smoke, suit singed, staggering out of the east wing with a small, limp figure in his arms.

He is in hospital for three weeks. The doctors say it is a miracle that he survived at all – the blast could have taken his life as easily as it took out the windows in his room. He says little to anyone, silent when your father vents his rage at him, silent still when your governess breaks down and weeps by his bed. When you are alone he tells you quietly, his voice hoarse from disuse, that he had been experimenting. He does not elaborate, but you do not see Doctor Shamal for some time afterwards, and your father refuses to tell you why.

---

You are thirteen when your brother leaves home, never to return.

His departure follows a monumental row with your father, the two of them striding from room to room, the sound of their shouting echoing through the house. Your brother is so young, so small, but fury fills his slight frame like fire, makes him scream as if he could tear down the whole edifice of your father’s creation.

He leaves with the clothes on his back and little else, and your father will not suffer to hear him spoken of for months afterwards. But you have heard him giving orders in low tones to his men, know that there are quiet men in nondescript clothes standing guard at the corners of the streets your brother sleeps on, and that is almost enough to quiet your anxious mind.

But he is a child. He is ten years old and you – with all the wisdom of your thirteen years – know that the fierce world will consume him and leave him scarred and pitted, like the urchins you pretend not to see on the street. His fire will not protect him forever.

You are so afraid.

---

Time passes. You hone your craft and come to understand the nature of your family’s business. You miss your brother both more and less with every passing day, a deep wound healing to a dull ache. You have forgiven him, though you are not sure if your father has, but you cannot forget.

You think of him when you sit in the leather chair, antiseptic filling your nostrils, and watch as the old man carves your symbol into your arm. Hayato would have appreciated the symbolism. The bite of the needle grounds you, and you put thoughts of him away.

You do not expect to see your brother again, and certainly not alive.

---

You are seventeen when you meet your brother again for the first time in four years, and he has changed. He is tall – taller than you, just barely – and his eyes are hard and his mouth is cruel. He turns from you, falls to the floor in what could be pain or shock or sickness, but the man you love is there and you know now that your brother is hardy. He has survived this long, after all.

Later, when your plan to free Reborn from his obligations has failed, you sit in the bedroom of a child – the same age as Hayato, forever a child in your eyes - and watch your brother crumble at the sight of you. It is not for some time that you understand why, and when you do, it takes some time for you to forgive yourself.

You learn and grow and love side by side, ships passing in the night barely hailing each other. It has been too long, and some things are too painful. But you are proud of him, in your own way. He has grown so much. He is no longer the angry, frightened boy who ran from your home and never came back. He is still hotheaded, foolish, loyal to a fault, and painfully ill-tempered, but he would not be your Hayato if he were any different.

You go through Hell together. You see death and life and a world you don’t know if you want to save, and you stand back-to-back with him when you can, but his destiny lies far from yours, and you do not begrudge him that. He has found his own Family, though he shares no blood with them.

You tend to him when he comes back three-quarters dead, and talk him down when he is nearly mad with despair and shame. You try to train him, and fail, but know that he will succeed anyway, because anything less would be unworthy of him. You know that once this is over, you will have to let him go.

But you have one more duty to discharge.

You hand him the letters. You tell him that he was loved, that he was valued. You do not tell him that even if his parents had not felt all of those things for him that you do, you always have. You hope that he knows, even if you cannot say it. He doesn’t believe you, but you tell yourself that he will, in time.

You watch him walk away, back into the past, and you remember a promise you made long ago. You offer a silent prayer to the woman who asked it of you, believing in Heaven just for this moment, to tell her you kept your word. You hope she can hear you.

You have always loved him.