The tongues of the receding waves lapped against Bruno’s ankles, soaking through his spotted pants and turning the fine linen translucent. His footprints that lightly marked the places he’d been were effortlessly swept away with the ebbing tides. Leaving him standing, slowly sinking into the shore beneath him. A midday Neapolitan sun beat down on his raven hair - but he couldn’t feel the warmth. He knows, the water itself, should have felt cool against the hot grains of sand. He knows of the itchiness that should be present from the coarse seashore settling in his clothes. And he knows that he should feel the pristine mediterranean waters ghosting across his skin; but he doesn’t.
A facade can only approach the original, after all, forever separated by sense. Everything has its limit. In the end, perception may be powerful; but a soul hosted in no body could never breach reality. Not when it willingly held itself back.
He continued to sink into the golden sand, aquamarine waves steadily lapping against his form - unwavering in its pull. The grains gathered and settled around him, slowly digging his grave. Bruno made no effort to move, to fight against the current; it was a fate he was willing to accept.
A soft gasp broke him from his thoughts. “Bruno..?” An unsettlingly familiar timber called out behind him.
He felt the older man’s gaze boring holes into his back from the distance. “Yes?” The question lingered the line between a command and an inquiry. He allowed no emotion to enter his voice.
Bucciarati slowly turned over his right shoulder, leaving his legs planted in the place they’d been buried all day since he’d left Leone and Narancia back at the house.
“Papà,” was the only word he breathed out, barely above a whisper. It was tinged with emotion; a complex muddle neither could even begin to comprehend. Once again, Bruno was frozen in place. But now, there was a different reason for it entirely.
Paolo stood there in shock, in one hand resided a bucket; in the other, his now agape mouth. His eyes were drawn wide, in what could be seen as a mix of shock, horror, despair and - much to Paolo's own displeasure - happiness. The faux gravity brought the metal bucket crashing into the dry sand where he stood. And all strength abandoned the man’s limbs, leaving him to succumb to it as well.
Bruno looked onto his father's sullen crumpled form with a sense of unwanted detachment; his emotions laid just out of his current reach.
So, he took a step; unearthing his feet from the sandy confines they once knew. Leaving holes, soon to be covered by the marine force.
Then, he took another; all of his previously bound feelings seemed closer than before.
And another .
And another. There was no longer a wall; rather a door.
He now stood two meters away from him, both staring owlishly into the other's eyes. The words ‘his father' sat heavily at the forefront of his mind. This was his padre .
This was his papà.
He barely recognized his feet carrying themselves towards Paolo. Maybe he wasn’t even walking at all. This world didn’t abide by normal logic, after all. But it all ends the same, with his hand gracing the side of his father’s face, and his knees digging new holes into the Neapolitan sand. There was no pressure, no body heat, no recognition of the soft skin underneath his fingertips. But, deep in his soul, Bruno swore he could feel a tiny spark of warmth filling his being. He deepened the embrace.
“Papà-,” fell from his lips. His head dipped to rest in the crook of his father’s neck and his eyes closed. He swore he could feel two arms cradling his body, if only for a second.
Paolo whispered against his son’s ear, “Mio figlio…” He held Bruno close, one hand wrapped around his head and the other - his torso. His voice was laced with fallen tears, “Why are you here…?”
Bruno visibly stiffened. An unseen grimace formed on his face as the memories flooded his mind again. The sound of the crashing waves brought him back to the present - back to his papà’s embrace. He swallowed; his throat suddenly felt way too dry. The implications of that action flying past his head. “I,” He paused, trying to think of a correct answer. “I tried to save them, papà...” were the words he decided to choke out. Although he looked through blurred vision, he didn’t let them fall.
“Bruno- I’m so sorry.” He voiced through thick tears, “Mio figlio, you shouldn’t be here. It’s too soon…”
The younger Bucciarati knitted his eyebrows together and gathered his resolve. He detached himself from the embrace, preferring to take his father’s hands in his own. Two pairs of deep blue eyes met; one was filled with emotion, the other with determination. “Papà, it… isn’t too soon. I could have died any day. I was.. lucky, in the end. I helped people.”
A worry-ridden, mirthless smile graced the elder’s face, “Your mother always said your kindness would be the end of you, Bruno.”
“She wasn’t wrong…” He said through a humorless laugh.
His father’s red-rimmed eyes searched his son’s features, “I felt you- a few days ago. I thought you were here, but I couldn’t find you, Bruno... What happened to you?”
A pregnant pause filled the air, suffocating the two within it. “A lot…” was all he responded with.
The corners of Paolo’s mouth tugged down slightly, his midnight blue irises were swirling with sympathy. Then, he removed his hand from the gentle grasp and instead reached for the discarded bucket filled with water, that by all rights of physics, should not be there anymore. As he slowly got to his feet, he voiced for his son to come with him, and led him towards the rocky shallows near the base of a sheer cliff. “You still remember how to forage, right?” He joked as he knelt near a shallow pool and examined its contents.
“Do not underestimate me, padre.” He responded as he took a seat across from his father while he unceremoniously rolled up his sleeves.
Paolo reached into the pool and plucked out a mussel that had found its home on one of the rocks lining the pool. “You were in the mafia, weren’t you?” He questioned while examining the mollusks’ shell, gently discarding it once he’d found a hole.
Bruno cast his gaze away from his father and down into the pool. “How did you-”
He picked up another mussel, “Mio figlio, you were always missing after my accident.” Satisfied, he threw it into the bucket. “You really thought I wouldn’t notice?”
“I was hoping you wouldn’t.” He responded as he grabbed a net from the bucket.
His hands lifted a larger rock from the pool, unleashing the wildlife to scurry towards a new hiding place. His son was ready; net in hand, he caught the lot of shrimp with practiced ease. “Your mother was right. You’re too kind for your own good, kid.” He paused as he reached for another mollusk, “You shouldn’t have given up your life for mine…”
He moved some of his hair behind his ear, “That was my choice, Papà.”
He hummed as he placed a few more mussels into the pail, “You know, Bruno.” He lifted up another rock, “When you first come here, you appear to the people you want to see most. If they’re dead, then... of course. And don’t think that I’m mad because I didn’t see you, I just want to know about your life, Figlio.”
He met his father’s eyes with a genuine smile, “I saw my family. My team from my days as a capo.”
“A caporegime… That’s quite an accomplishment, right?” He ignored the implications of his son’s family being dead. “Tell me about them.”
Bruno unearthed one of the bigger stones from the pool and a molted crab scuttled from underneath. “There’s this boy named Narancia; he was seventeen. He’s an extremely passionate person as much as he is unwaveringly loyal.” The warmth from before sparked to life once more, lighting up Bruno’s senses and surroundings, “He’s immature and a little brat, but I love him.” Paolo caught the crab and threw it into the bucket with the rest of the wildlife.
“He’s here, I’m guessing?” The older Bucciarati responded.
Through lightly gritted teeth, Bruno replied, “Yes.”
“And the rest of your team?” Paolo redirected the conversation.
A sigh fell from his son’s lips, “There’s Pannacotta - he’s sixteen - I picked him up around three years ago, when he almost beat someone to death. He’s hot headed and way smarter than the both of us put together. He helped me build my squad. Then there’s Guido - eighteen. A fantastic shot, and way too easy going for his own good. He’s also, surprisingly, terrified of the number four.” True fondness was encapsulated within his smile, it was easy for Paolo to notice. Suddenly, his son paused, his lips drawing into a tight line, “Lastly, there’s Giorno and Leone.” His arms shot to his sides, almost as if the wind bit at him.
“And, what’s up with them?” He asked, sitting his chin on the heels of his palms.
His voice iced over, tinged with sadness, “Giorno Giovanna joined us a week ago. I was sent to interrogate him for murdering a low ranking soldato.”
“Technically, no; the man killed himself,” Bruno waved the thought away; it was irrelevant. “But, Giorno… he’s like an all consuming force...”
“What do you mean by that?” He inquired.
“He’s like an unstoppable current. I got pulled in and went along for the ride before I even realized it.” He glazed over the rest, not hoping to divulge too many details from the raw memories. Scooping up another vat of wildlife, he continued. “He stopped the drug trade singlehandedly at fifteen, Papà.”
Paolo looked astonished, “I’d like to meet him.”
A wave broke against the rocks, spraying Bruno with cool water. “You’ll have to wait.” He grinned, thinking back on the boy’s accomplishments.
“Good,” he smirked. “So, Bruno, tell me about this Leone.”
Bruno breathed, trying to place the correct words together. How was he going to tell him? “Well, he’s an ex-cop. He’s brash and sullen, but he’s so much more than that. He cares about people, although he’s afraid to show it. He is one of the most dedicated individuals I’ve met.”
“Sounds almost like you love him.” he laughed.
“ I do .” He responded automatically, almost wincing at the utterance of the words. The stones on which he knelt were almost hot enough to burn his soles.
Paolo’s icy blue eyes bore into Bruno with a knowing gaze, “So, he’s the one you wanted to see... Bruno, when can I meet him?”
“...You want to meet him?” He didn’t expect to sound so out of breath.
“Of course I do.” Happiness tinged his voice. “If mio figlio is dating someone then it’s his father’s duty to vet him, right?”
He felt a tear fall down his cheek.
“ Tonight .”