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Death Is Not The End

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To know, know, know him
Is to love, love, love him
Just to see that smile
Makes my life worthwhile


 Sorbet naps. 

Gelato chatters.

Abbacchio stares out the window and watches the world pass by. 

They eat breakfast and lunch together, but Abbacchio’s taken to eating dinner alone; partially to enjoy the silence and partially to give the two time alone, a precious commodity on the train.  Whenever he can, he slips away into the compartment of the tobacco baron to trade bandages for cigarettes.  He started smoking shortly after he joined the force and quit smoking after everything fell apart in his hands.  Maybe that was the one healthy decision he made back then, even if it was only because he decided throwing the last of his money into drowning himself in wine would kill him quicker than the cigarettes would.  He managed to keep away from them after that point during his lifetime, but now he uses them as an excuse to leave the compartment, if only for a few minutes.  The guides don’t like passengers roaming the corridors except at meal times, but they’re lenient for smoke breaks as long as he doesn’t linger in what’s become the designated smoking compartment for longer than a half-hour at most.

He returns from a smoke break one night and shuts the door behind him carefully so as not to wake Sorbet, but he’s sitting up against his throne of pillows, Gelato nowhere to be seen.  That’s unusual.  Abbacchio didn’t know they could be separated.  For all this time that he’s been on this train (and although he’s lost track of the days and nights, he knows it’s been awhile), he’s never seen Gelato more than a few feet at most from his fiancés side.  There are so many arbitrary rules governing the afterlife that he’s spent all this time assuming they were bound together cosmically and never would they part.

In the starlight (always dancing, never staying still; Abbacchio thinks they move more than when he first boarded the train, but he’s not sure), Sorbet looks wan, old.  The light highlights the lines at the corners of his eyes, the whisper of grey at his temples, the shadows under his eyes.  He’s only forty in the same way that Abbacchio’s only twenty-one and always will be, and even though he used to think anything older than thirty was ancient, it’s not.  It’s really, really not. 

Then again, he’s an assassin.  Or was an assassin.  They don’t have long shelf lives.  By the standards of Passione, maybe Sorbet is old.  Abbacchio’s the oldest in his little group and the thought scares him sometimes.

The dark-haired man’s eyes flicker towards him as he shuts the door but then he resumes staring, unfocused, down at his hands.  He breathes quickly, shallowly.  Abbacchio sits down on his bench and draws his legs up against himself, resumes leaning against the window as he had been before.  You fall into easy rhythms on the train.  You fall into familiar patterns and each day and each night blends in together. Wake up, eat breakfast, look out the window, smoke a cigarette, ignore Gelato as he chatters on about nothing in particular, eat lunch, smoke another cigarette, read the obituaries with Sorbet, worry about the kids, pay attention to Gelato when he gets on an actually interesting subject, eat dinner, splash water on your face in the bathroom, look at the stars, remember Bruno, remember Bruno, remember Bruno, smoke a cigarette, look at the stars, catch a few hours of rest curled up in an uncomfortable train seat and dream about the beach or, on better days, him.

Deviation from his routine unsettles him.

“Hey,” he says at last when it becomes clear Gelato isn’t returning anytime soon.

Hey?  Is that really the best he can come up with?

“Hello, Abbacchio,” Sorbet says.  He always speaks lowly, always speaks quietly, but there’s something uneasy fluttering around the edges of his words tonight as if he’s about to either snap or shatter.  Abbacchio wonders if he’s been crying.

The glass is cool against his forehead.  If he shuts his eyes, he can pretend he’s on a train to Napoli.  He does.  He tries, but it’s ultimately unrealistic because if he were really on a train to Napoli, there’d be at least one screaming child nearby.  Probably Narancia.

“…Did you see Gelato in the corridor?”

“No.”

Sorbet breathes deeply, stares at his hands.  His fingers twitch.  They always twitch when he’s on edge, which is to say, often.  Gelato curls on him protectively when he detects the most imperceptible movement from him, intertwines their hands together to distract him, but he’s not here.

Are you okay?’ he wants to ask but doesn’t.

“You want me to get him?”

“No.”

Shit.  Abbacchio can tell for certain now.  He has been crying.  He’s been crying and Gelato’s not here, but Abbacchio doesn’t know for certain if he’s crying because he’s not here or if he’s not here because he’s crying.  He suspects the former.

“No.  Thank you, Abbacchio.”

They pass the time in uncomfortable silence.  He tries to sleep but the quiet sits heavily on his chest.

“Abbacchio…” Sorbet says finally, his fingers beating a nervous, muffled drum against the velvet of the seat, “are you asleep?”

He could lie.  He could pretend that he finally found sleep at last and avoid whatever the hell is going on, but Buccellati doesn’t like it when he tries to evade uncomfortable situations.

“Yeah.  Can’t sleep.”

Which isn’t incorrect.  It turns out a giant hole in your chest, albeit one that feels no pain even if you prod your exposed flesh curiously, makes it hell finding a comfortable position to catch a few minutes of rest.  When he lies down to rest, he feels the absence in his chest keenly.

“When you were out there…the train, did it stop?”

“No.”

It kept rolling on.  He spoke with the tobacco baron as he smoked and watched the silvery lakes and pines roll on out of sight, and never once did the train stop. 

It’s only stopped a few times since he’s boarded, however long ago that was.  The first person he saw leave the train was the charred man.  They let him off at a stop near the mountains and the entire train crowded around to bid him goodbye.

“Where’s he going after this?” Abbacchio asked.  “What’s the next thing?”

“Who knows, darling?” another passenger replied.  He thinks it was the woman with the knife in her back but he was too distracted staring at the world beyond the train to commit it to memory.

“But he made it off the train.  Wherever he needs to go, I’m sure he’ll find it.”

And after the brief stop, the train moved on.

In the present, Sorbet sighs, relieved.

“I woke up and thought perhaps he left,” he says.

“I know he wouldn’t leave without me.  He never has.  He waited until I died to kill himself, after all.  But every time he gets up, I think he won’t come back this time.”

He keeps drumming against the seat.

“Have you ever been in love, Abbacchio?”

He nods, words suddenly difficult.  He’s been in love.  He is in love.  When he closes his eyes, he sees Bruno, and when he draws a breath, Buccellati is the wind in his lungs.

“When you love a man, when you really love a man, it hurts.  Not because he hurts you but because you worry for him.  You worry about him.  His joy is your joy and his sorrow is your sorrow.  The beautiful moments outnumber everything else.  He whispers silly things into your ear and he laughs at his own bad jokes and you think that maybe you could leave everything behind and run away from all the killing, all the nonsense just to be with him.  And I wish we did.  We ran towards it instead and look where it got us.  He died.”

Drum.

Drum.

Drum.

“He’s doing better than he was.  His good days outnumber his bad days.  We’ve been on this train a very long time, Abbacchio.  Maybe we’ll finally arrive at our destination soon.  He thinks so but I’m not so certain.  Before we boarded, when we were…elsewhere, he couldn’t stop screaming.  When we made it out of there, he found his words again, but sometimes his thoughts catch up to him and he goes into the bathroom to scream until he drowns them out again.  And each time, I think he won’t come back.  And each time, he does, but it hurts.  I worry about him.” 

Another sigh.

“I would take his fear and his sorrow from him if I could.  I do my best to ease it, but death is not freedom from yourself.  I could, when I was alive.  You could replay the past.  I took emotional distress away.”

“That’s an awfully kind stand for a hit man.”

Sorbet snorts.

“Hardly.  I bottled suffering to inflict on others later.  You must never forget that we are not kind men, Abbacchio.  Perhaps we might learn how to be.  This is the purpose of all this, isn’t it?  It would be good, I think, to be kind.  And maybe then there will come a day when he no longer screams and I no longer worry when he leaves.  But then, I suppose I will always worry about him.”

Drum.

Drum. 

Then he stops, takes to worrying at a loose thread on his blanket instead.  He shrouds most of his body with it at all times and so Abbacchio forgets, but it’s easy to tell right now that he’s missing not an insignificant portion of his torso.  He mentioned once that he retains all sensation in the portions of himself he stores in the duffel bag and the idea makes Abbacchio shudder.

“I apologize,” Sorbet says, “Certainly you have better things to do than listen to me fret because my boyfriend got up.”

What better things?  Looking about the window?  Smoking?” Abbacchio says.  “You’re fine.  Not like I can sleep, anyway.”

“Bad habit to pick up, smoking.”

“What’s it going to do, kill me?”

“Still.”

The attendants buzz around him if he loiters in the corridor too long for their liking.  At the beginning of the trip, he tested their patience, tested their limits, but he sees little point in that anymore.  Maybe there was never any point to it at all except lashing out at the closest thing within reach since that asshole who killed him isn’t here for him to antagonize.  He gives the attendants a wide berth, stays out of their way as much as possible, and they leave him alone except to knock on the door at mealtimes to let them know the time.

Gelato’s been gone awhile.  Usually when Abbacchio’s out of the compartment this long, they flock around him and try to usher him back.  Then again, typically when he’s been out of the compartment this long, it’s because he was trying to be a dick, not because he was having a panic attack in the middle of the night.

“You want me to check up on him?”

But he shakes his head no, so Abbacchio remains seated.

“He doesn’t like people seeing him like this.”

He gets it.  When he lived, there would be days when his mind ate himself.  He’d stay in a half-made bed and look at the television without really seeing it and eventually he’d find the strength to drag himself to his feet, if only because Passione needed him or rather, because Buccellati needed him.  He never gave a shit about the gang as an organization.

He moved in with him after his landlord kicked him out for falling behind on his rent again.  It’s not as if he didn’t have the money because he did.  Passione didn’t pay well but it paid.  It’s just that the days blurred in his mind and he never found the presence of mind to force his body to write a check or go to the bank.  Tomorrow, he always promised himself, I’ll take care of it tomorrow, but he rarely did until the last possible minute.

There were less bad days in Buccellati’s house.  Making sure Narancia and Fugo (and later, Mista) didn’t burn the house down sticking random objects into the toaster again distracted him from fixating on that gnawing pit within himself that whispered ‘ugly stupid thing useless little murderer’ constantly.  Knowing Buccellati might realize just how little grip he had on himself by the state of his room kept him vacuuming and picking his clothes off the floor, though even the possibility of Bruno’s judgment couldn’t bring him to dust his shelves except for those rare days that came twice a year at most where something possessed him and he’d clean his room from top to bottom.  Every time, he’d promise himself that now that it was clean, he’d keep up on it, but he never did.

Less but not none.  He learned to lock his door after the first time Narancia burst into his room during one of his spells.  Fugo respected his personal boundaries too much to do that and Mista didn’t live with them, but Narancia always acted before his brain caught up with the rest of him.  He learned to knock after that, and when he retreated into himself for hours on end, sometimes he’d emerge to find that the boy left candy –always shoplifted- by his door like an offering.

The minutes pass.

“So what’s the deal with you two?” Abbacchio asks at last, mostly to kill the silence rather than anything else. 

“Did you meet in Passione or did you come into it already packaged together?  Two assassins for the price of one.”

“We knew each other before,” Sorbet replies.  “He became a mercenary after he was discharged from the military.  I’d already taken up the gun by then.  Similar career fields, I suppose.”

“You met through work, I guess?”

And he winces inside a little over how that sounds, as if the two met at an office party for a law firm instead of probably meeting while carrying out something sordid and bloody together.  Abbacchio likes Sorbet as much as he can like anyone he’s forced to spend time with on public transportation, but he can’t forget what he is.  What he’s done.  Now that he remembers his life and death, he recalls the news reports about bodies almost too disfigured to recognize found in Milan.

“Oh no.  No.  We lived in the same apartment complex.  He broke into my residence one day to steal a few bulbs of garlic for a pesto he was working on when he thought I was asleep and the rest is history.”

And when he speaks, there’s a small smile at the memory.

“Passione recruited us in the 80s, and after its formation, Gelato was transferred to Risotto Nero’s hit squad.  There were doubts about the efficiency of my stand’s ability in combat situations, but after heavy persuasion, I followed him some years later.  We made excellent partners.  Neither of our stands are inherently oriented towards assassinations but that’s what we were for.”

He adjust the blanket as he talks.  Sorbet must have died while they dismembered his hands because he’s missing the first joints of two fingers on the right.

“I am not bragging about what I have done.  We’ve accomplished little to be proud of in our lives.  We were killers and not nearly as repentant as we should have been.  In the end, it took us nowhere except here.  I cannot undo my actions, I know this, but I view this afterlife as a means to become the sort of man I should have been in life.”

Abbacchio wants to become righteous.  Wants to become true.  Wants to become the person Buccellati thinks he can be.  Wants to make him proud.  Wants to forever silence that voice whispering self-hate into his ear.

“Hope you can do it,” he says, “Might be fucking hard for a serial killer though.”

Contract killer.  We mustn’t confuse the two.  Serial killers do it for cheap thrills or sexual release.  I find that distasteful.  Contract killers do it for the money.  I never worked for free.”  

“I heard the news reports from Milan,” Abbacchio says. “Was that business, then?”

That?  I took work on the side to make rent and to charge my stand.  You dismember a sex offender now and again and everyone demonizes you for it.”

Sorbet makes a dismissive hand gesture.

“That’s modern media for you.  It never tells the full story.  I only know how to murder and to maim.  I had to contribute to society somehow.”

There was a time that Abbacchio, still fresh-faced and on the force, would argue that criminals, however heinous, should be processed with the due diligence of the law in the courts, but this Abbacchio, older and less naive, has seen enough shit he can't forget, so instead he grunts an affirmation and uncurls from himself.  Good for him.

That’s the deal with us, Abbacchio.  We’re a pair of terrible men and we’re all we have.  Might I have a question in return?  You don’t have to answer.  Call it curiosity.  I know very little about you.”

He could say no.  There’s nothing he enjoys more than telling people no, even in situations where he knows he should say yes instead.  Call it a quirk.  Call it stubbornness.  Call it whatever you like.

“Sure.  I guess.”

“You loved someone, didn’t you?  I know what pining looks like.  Did you leave him behind?”

He should have said no.  He holds Bruno close to him in his heart, dear and secret and forever out of reach.

“Yeah.  I did.”

“Then I’m sorry for the two of you.”

“Don’t,” Abbacchio says, “Don’t feel sorry for me.  We weren’t even together.  He’ll get over me before long and move on.  After all, I’m not the first team member Buccellati’s lost, am I?”

Bruno will mourn in that quiet, muted way of his, but he’ll move on quickly when there are missions to think about, Passione to run.  Day to day, he’ll concentrate on the living, and over time, he’ll only remember him when April and her storms roll around.  Necessity will force him into cold, orderly Buccellati, but there will come a day when someone comes around who brings color into his life, and day by day, little by little, he’ll bring Bruno into the world again.  They’ll love each other.  And he’ll be tender and he’ll be sweet and he’ll be open, all the things Abbacchio fails to be, and they’ll be so happy together.  An April will come when Bruno doesn’t remember his death.  He’ll feel guilty about that later but as time passes, his memory will fall to the wayside as ugly ghosts like him should.

But Abbacchio will remember him always.

“I think,” Sorbet says, “that perhaps you misunderstand Bruno Buccellati’s capacity for moving on.  I only knew him as a boy but he kept the past close to him.  I apologize.  I’m prying into painful memories.”

But aren’t they all?

Gelato returns shortly after that.  Abbacchio turns his face to the window, pretends he’s asleep.

“Hey, baby,” he whispers as he sits down, voice hoarse.  “It’s me.  Wanna know a fun fact?”

Abbacchio supposes that Sorbet nods.

“I think I like you, babe.  I really think I do.”

And Sorbet naps and he worries.

Gelato chatters and sometimes he screams.

Abbacchio stares out the window at the world passing by and he pines over the living.  Sometimes he goes and smokes cigarettes with the tobacco baron.  They eat breakfast and lunch together, but he eats dinner alone so they can have privacy and he can have silence.  The train stops and they bid goodbye to the woman with the knife in her back.  Sorbet and Abbacchio read the obituaries together, Gelato occasionally commenting on particular gruesome deaths.  They fall into an easy rhythm.  They fall into a familiar pattern.  Each day and night blends into the next.

One day, the train stops and the feathered attendant knocks on the door.

Leone Abbacchio.  Collect your baggage.  Follow.

 


Oh, I'll be good to him,
I'll bring joy to him
Oh, everyone says
There'll come a day
When I'll walk alongside of him
To know him is to love, love, love him
And I do, I really do, I do